Today’s Headlines: Sugary Drinks, Surgery Complications, and Diabetes

Sugary drinks linked to thousands of deaths every year. You probably know that sugary drinks aren’t good for you, but you probably didn’t realize they might lead to death. That’s the finding in a study out this week. “By contributing to obesity and, through that, to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks appears to claim the lives of about 25,000 American adults yearly and is linked worldwide to the deaths of 180,000 each year. To generate those estimates of sugary beverages’ health toll, researchers combed through national dietary surveys that captured patterns of beverage consumption in 51 countries from 1980 to 2010. The researchers then mined resource databases to discern the availability and consumption of sugar in 187 countries. They tallied consumption of drinks, homemade and mass-produced, that deliver 50 calories or more per 8-ounce serving, and did not count 100% fruit juices.” The research showed that the U.S. is second behind Mexico in terms of deaths caused by sugary drink consumption. (LA Times)

If you have a complication from surgery, head to the same hospital. When something doesn’t seem quite right after surgery, it can be hard to figure out what to do. A new study published this week has found that you’ll probably be better off going back to the hospital that did the surgery. “The team analyzed Medicare claims data from 2001 to 2011 on patients readmitted to the hospital within 30 days after major surgeries, including coronary artery bypass surgery, removal of the colon or pancreas, and hip or knee replacement. Between six and 22 percent, depending on the surgery, went back to the hospital within a month. More than half the time, patients were readmitted or transferred to the hospital where they had the surgery. Those who returned to the original hospital where the surgery was done were 26 percent less likely to die within three months of surgery than those admitted to a different hospital.” The researchers point out that this is likely because the original surgeon knows the patient and their medical background when they arrive, allowing them to act quickly to try and fix what might be wrong. Often, ambulances called in these cases will take a person in trouble to the closest hospital, which may not be the right hospital. According to the authors, “patients should try to stay in the immediate vicinity of their surgical hospital for at least a week in case something goes wrong.” (Fox)

If you’re on the road to diabetes, you probably have no idea. Type 2 diabetes has been on the rise for many years, but according to a new study part of the trouble in preventing it is that many don’t even know they’re at risk. “To gauge awareness of a diabetes risk among people with pre-diabetes, researchers gathered a large group of people and weeded out those who said they already had diabetes. Then, they reviewed A1c test results for everyone else to see whether their average blood sugar had been elevated over the last few weeks, an early sign of diabetes. Out of 2,694 adults with high blood sugar, only 288 or one in eight were aware of their status. People who were aware of their condition were about 30 percent more likely to exercise and get at least 150 minutes of moderate activity each week. They were also about 80 percent more likely to attempt weight loss and to have shed pounds in the past year. Lacking awareness, people with the elevated blood sugar levels often fail to make lifestyle changes such as getting more exercise or eating less sugary food that might prevent them from ultimately becoming diabetic.” The team says people who think they might be at risk should talk to their doctor about whether they need to be tested and should ask for an explanation on what the results mean and whether they need to make changes in their lifestyle. (Reuters)

“Healthy” Fitness Foods May Inspire More Eating, Less Exercise

woman grocery store nutrition label buying jamWhat was the last healthy snack you had? Can you remember what made you think it was healthy? Food producers put large amounts of time, creativity, and money into designing their food packaging to make you buy it, even if that packaging might be a little misleading, and health foods are no exception. New research recently released has revealed that the marketing around the health snacks you eat may be leading you unknowingly into weight gaining behaviors. Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Diets, Trans Fats and Nuts

Getting on a diet may matter more than which one. When deciding to cut down on your calories, you probably spend a lot of time analyzing which diet would best fit your needs. But a new study released this week has found that decision may not be as important as you might think. “The team divided about 200 obese adults into two groups at random. Members of one group were allowed to choose either a low-carb or a low-fat plan. They were also allowed to switch diets after three months if they desired. Those in the comparison group were randomly assigned to one of the diets, regardless of their food preferences, and didn’t get an option to switch plans at any point. For 48 weeks, the participants used books and printed handouts as well as telephone and group counseling to follow their respective diets. After nearly a year of dieting, those in the choice group had lost an average of 12.5 pounds, while those in the comparison group had lost an average of almost 15 pounds.” While the researchers aren’t sure why choosing your own diet didn’t seem to help weight loss, they think that people pick diets with food they prefer, which they’re also more likely to eat more of. As one member of the team pointed out, “the findings are a reminder that to really lose weight, you have to make changes to your diet, and they may not always be changes you like.” (Reuters)

Time to say goodbye to trans fats. Health professionals have known for years that trans-fats, the artificial fats made during some forms of food processing, are bad for you. They’ve been shown to boost bad cholesterol and up your risk of heart disease and stroke. While some states and cities have banned their presence in food, the FDA is taking a national stance. “Artificial trans-fats are generally unsafe and food manufacturers will have to phase out their use over the next three years. The action is expected to reduce coronary heart disease and prevent thousands of fatal heart attacks every year. Under the ruling, partially hydrogenated oils are no longer ‘generally recognized as safe’ or GRAS. That means food manufacturers would have to ask the FDA for permission to use them in food products. The FDA encourages consumers seeking to reduce trans-fat intake to check a food’s ingredient list for partially hydrogenated oils to determine whether or not a product contains partially hydrogenated oils.” The ruling will go into effect three years from now, giving manufacturers ample time to switch over their recipes. In the meantime, steer clear of anything that has partially hydrogenated oils. (NBC)

Nuts drop risk of death due to a variety of different diseases. Nuts have been in the limelight recently as purveyors of all sorts of health benefits. A new study out this week adds to the list of reasons to chow down. “Researchers looked at data from 120,000 men and women aged 55 to 69 who participated in the Netherlands Cohort study. Participants were asked questions about how frequently they ate tree nuts, peanuts, and peanut butter, and how much they consumed. Compared to those not eating any nuts or peanuts, the relative reductions in mortality rate for people who consumed at least 10 grams of nuts or peanuts per day were 23 percent regarding total mortality risk (all deaths), 21 percent for cancer, 17 percent for cardiovascular deaths, and 39 percent for respiratory deaths. Ten grams of nuts equals less than a half handful and eating more than 15 grams was not associated with further reduction in mortality risk. To support their findings, the researchers also conducted a meta-analysis of previously published studies on the effect of nut consumption on cancer and respiratory mortality. The research showed a similar pattern.” Unfortunately, the benefits didn’t extend to nut butters, so it’s best to stick to whole nuts for your daily dose. (CBS)

Cigarette Smoking Leads to Many Kinds of Cancer, Half of Cancer Death

Woman Smoking and Reading the PaperWhen cancer and smoking come in the same sentence, many people think about lung cancer. This is because lung cancer was the first to be associated with smoking and the way smoking could lead to lung disease is more obvious. But fewer people realize that cancer risk from smoking goes far beyond the lungs. The carcinogens in smoke penetrate deep into the body and affect many other organs. In an effort to put real numbers on the damage cancer does to the human body and to the health of the population as a whole, a group of researchers have published a study analyzing how smoking contributes to cancer death in America. Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Heartburn, Alzheimer’s Disease and CPR

Some drugs for treating heartburn may increase heart attack risk. Heartburn is an unpleasant symptom of stomach acid refluxing back up into the esophagus. Newer medications, called proton pump inhibitors or PPIs, block the stomach from making that acid. But new data released this week has found those drugs may carry a heart risk. “The researchers used clinical notes recorded at Stanford University and a web-based electronic health record system of mostly private practices. They used almost three million medical records to study the incidence of PPI use and of cardiovascular risk. They found that people with gastrointestinal reflux disease who took PPIs were 16 percent more likely to experience a heart attack than those who did not, and were twice as likely to die of a heart issue.” The team points out that this risk probably drops to normal after the drugs are stopped. The problem is, many people take these drugs for much longer than they’re supposed to. The team also thinks those who take these drugs may be sicker to begin with, making them more likely to have heart issues. (Reuters)

Staying mentally active doesn’t prevent Alzheimer’s, can delay it. The common wisdom about keeping your brain healthy with age is to keep it busy, but most of those recommendations came from studies looking at brains after death. Now, a team of researchers has looked at living brains to see how these mental gymnastics might help in the living. “The researchers collected data on the current and lifetime physical and mental activity of almost 200 people who didn’t have any memory or thinking problems. Their average age was 74. People in the study had PET and MRI scans so researchers could gauge signs of Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, participants took tests to evaluate their thinking and mental skills. They found that histories of mental activity were related to overall intelligence and generally to performance on tests of mental performance. But, these activities weren’t related to the presence of Alzheimer’s disease markers, such as beta-amyloid deposits in the brain. In fact, although people who kept their brains busy with stimulating mental activities had higher IQs and better mental performance, researchers found no relationship between mental or physical activity and signs of Alzheimer’s disease in the brain.” The researchers think their results show that keeping fit, both physically and mentally, can stave off symptoms of Alzheimer’s even when the brain might appear to be declining. (CBS)

CPR and cell phones can save lives when a person collapses. Getting certified in CPR might seem like a pain, but it’s the best method available to save a person’s life when their heart stops far from medical help. Researchers have confirmed that benefit and developed a new way to boost survival even more. “Cardiac arrest strikes about 420,000 people outside a hospital in the U.S. each year. Another 275,000 such cases occur in Europe. The study found that while 4 percent of the 14,869 people who didn’t get CPR survived for 30 days after their cardiac arrest, the rate rose to 10.5 percent for the 15,512 who did.  Not surprisingly, when the researchers looked at the time between a person’s collapse and the start of CPR, the 30-day survival rate was highest when CPR was begun within three minutes of collapse. The highest 30-day survival rate – 21.6 percent – was among people who collapsed away from home with CPR initiated within three minutes. The rate was just over 19 percent among patients under age 73 who were treated within three minutes; it was 11 percent for older patients who received prompt attention.” The team then set up a cell phone system that could be used to call volunteers trained in CPR who were nearby for help. The system dramatically increased the speed with which CPR was started after a person was found down, which should mean better survival. (Fox)

How a Satisfying Finish Can Skew Your Thinking

woman deciding which choiceWhat is it you like about a restaurant? Its great appetizers? Its juicy steaks? Or is it maybe whatever you happened to eat last before you left? It’s easy to think that the way you feel about the places you eat, the movies you watch or the stores you frequent is based on their overall quality. But new research published this week throws that idea into question. The data suggests that your brain favors some experiences more than others and that timing is key when it comes to how you feel about something. Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Placenta Eating, Statins and Multitasking

There’s no evidence for the “health benefits” of placenta eating. A number of celebrities have been making a big deal recently over eating their placenta after birth claiming that it has a wide variety of health benefits. But a new survey of studies out this week has found no evidence for any of those claims. “The review looked at 10 published studies related to placenta eating, but it could not find any data to support the claims that eating the placenta raw, cooked or in pill form carried any health benefits. Placentophagy, as the act of eating placentas is known, has been said to reduce pain after delivery, increase energy levels, help with breastmilk production and enhance bonding between mother and child. Some are also convinced that it replenishes iron stores in the body, but the research team said this was based on subjective reports rather than scientific research.” Importantly, the team pointed out that no studies have been done on the risks of eating the placenta. “The organ acts as a filter to absorb and protect the developing fetus from toxins and pollutants. As a result, bacteria, viruses and heavy metals could remain within the placenta tissues after birth. Since the dosing is inconsistent and there are no regulations as to how the placenta is stored and prepared, women really don’t know what they are ingesting.” (BBC)

Statins don’t seem to increase memory troubles compared to other cholesterol drugs. Concern has simmered for some time about the possible effects of cholesterol-lowering statin medications on memory. But new research out this week has found that they’re no more likely to cause memory issues than other drugs for high cholesterol. “For the new study, the researchers compared medical record data from more than 482,500 people not on cholesterol drugs to a similar number of people who were taking statins and nearly 26,500 people who were taking other types of cholesterol-lowering medications. Overall, 0.08 percent of statin users had some sort of memory problem noted in their medical record within 30 days after starting statins, compared to 0.02 percent of those not taking cholesterol-lowering medications. But when the researchers compared people taking other kinds of cholesterol-lowering medications to those not taking any such drugs at all, they found a similar pattern.” The researchers think the increased rate is occurring because doctors start to looking for and finding more memory issues when they put their patients on drugs for cholesterol, not because the drugs are leading to memory problems. (Reuters)

Multitasking during exercise doesn’t decrease effort. Catching up on your favorite TV show might seem like a great way to take your mind off of sitting on the exercise bike, but many had worried that this sort of distraction might make the watcher slack off. Not so, according to new data released this week. “For the study, a team of researchers from the University of Florida asked 28 participants with Parkinson’s disease and 20 healthy older adults to complete a series of 12 increasingly difficult cognitive tasks while exercising on a stationary bicycle. Participants cycled 25 percent faster while performing the six easiest cognitive tasks. They slowed down as the tasks became more difficult, but never fell below their baseline cycling rate.” The researchers originally thought cyclists would slow when they took their mind off of the activity at hand, but were surprised to find that speed increased. “They explained that when a person exercises, a certain amount of physiological arousal occurs in the brain, which releases specific neurotransmitters, chemicals that send information throughout the brain and body. The team thinks that the arousing effect in the brain could facilitate motor performance.” (CBS)

Losing Weight May Help Asthma Symptoms

Woman using her inhaler

Asthma and obesity have both been on the rise in the U.S. over the last decade. More than one in three Americans is now obese and more than half are overweight. About 7% of American adults have asthma, which translates to about 15 million people living with symptoms of asthma. Past research has indicated that the rise of the two might be linked to each other and new research out this week has gone further to see if obesity might be contributing directly to a person’s asthma symptoms. Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Life Length, Hormone Replacement and Alcohol Problems

New risk scoring test gives prediction for how much life you have left. No one can see into the future, but a group of scientists have put together a risk calculator that gives you a sense of what your risk of death might be in the next five years. “Using a simple set of around a dozen questions about such things as the number of cars you own or whether you tend to be a slow or, better, a fast walker, the predictor can give a five-year death risk calculation for any Briton aged between 40 and 70 years old. To create the score, the team analyzed data collected from the UK Biobank between 2006 and 2010 from nearly half a million adults aged between 40 and 70. They used a statistical survival model to assess the probability that 655 specific demographic, lifestyle and health measurements could predict death from any cause.” The researchers are quick to say the test can’t really tell you how long you have left to live, but they hope it might change the way you live. “For most people, a high risk of dying in the next five years can be reduced by taking more exercise, quitting smoking and eating a healthier diet. Those with a high score should see this as a health warning and think hard about changing their lifestyle.” (Fox)

Hormone replacement might boost your mood without dulling memory. Women going through menopause experience a whole host of unpleasant symptoms, but many worry if the fix might be worse than the illness. New research out this week has found that taking hormone replacement might actually elevate mood without dulling memory the way some had feared. “After tracking 662 participants for an average of nearly three years, the trial found that women enrolled in the trial around age 50 didn’t perform worse on tests of short- and long-term memory, verbal fluency and reasoning skills regardless of whether they were on oral estrogens-plus-progesterone or an estradiol patch-plus-progesterones. Over time, however, women who were assigned to get oral estrogens and progesterone reported moods that were less anxious, tense, depressed and dejected than those reported by women who were on placebo medications or who received the estradiol patch-plus-progesterone. The study’s findings are in keeping with growing evidence that, for women who take hormone replacements close to the time of their last period, and who stay on it for just a few years rather than decades, easing the symptoms of menopause may not be so dangerous.” (LA Times)

Alcohol problems common in the U.S., but often untreated. Most of us have a drink or two on a regular basis, but new research indicates that drinking is a problem for a large number of people. “The new study looked at the prevalence of drinking issues based on a new definition for alcohol use disorders in the DSM-5 handbook. The new definition classifies problem drinkers as those who have two of 11 symptoms including continuing to drink even if it harms relationships, drinking harming performance at work of school, or inability to quit. The report shows that 30% of those interviewed had been a problem drinker at some point in their lives and 14% currently had problems. Many of the people had never been treated. Overall, men were more likely than women to have trouble with alcohol, and the issue was particularly noticeable among 18- to 29-year-olds, with about 7% showing symptoms of the most severe form of drinking problem, the study found. The researchers say that is in line with increasingly higher rates heavy of drinking among the age group.” The team hopes their research will help destigmatize drinking problems since the data indicates that many people share these problems. If you think your drinking habits might be a problem, talk to your doctor about ways to bring your drinking under control. (TIME)

New Research Comes Closer to Understanding the Causes of Schizophrenia

sad woman sitting aloneSchizophrenia is a debilitating mental illness that strikes young and middle-aged people in the prime of their life and often leaves them unable to work or function effectively in society. About one in every 100 Americans is affected by this illness, but the cause still remains largely unknown. This week, a group of researchers has used genome data to pull back the curtain on some of genetic causes of schizophrenia with the hope that a better understanding might help identify at risk individuals in the future and improve treatments when symptoms do appear. Read more  »