Today’s Headlines: Exercising Can Help Lower Risk of Heart Disease, How to Undo the Damage of a Sedentary Lifestyle, and What May Be Causing Your Gluten Sensitivity

Exercising for two and a half hours per week may decrease your risk of heart disease. Women under the age of 50 can lower their risk by about 25 percent if they maintain an active lifestyle. “Regardless of body weight, women who reported doing moderate intensity activity such as brisk walking had lower risk of heart disease than those with little or no exercise. Overall, women who spent a total of 2.5 hours per week being moderately active were about 25 percent less likely to be diagnosed with coronary heart disease than those who were not active at all. Though apparent benefits were seen even in overweight and obese women, researchers found the greatest benefit among normal-weight women. Those who were active for 2.5 hours a week had half the heart disease risk of obese, inactive women.” The intensity of the exercise did not seem to matter; only the amount – researchers agreed that any exercise, whether light, moderate, or vigorous, could help the heart if done on a regular basis. (Fox)

There may be a way to undo the damage caused by sitting too much. A sedentary lifestyle has been associated with an increased risk of health problems and a lower life expectancy in many different studies. “It comes down to fitting in an hour of walking or other physical activity a day. It doesn’t have to be a super-intense fitness routine to offer benefits, say the authors of a new study…The increased risk of death linked with sitting for eight hours a day was eliminated for people who were physically active for at least one hour a day. What’s more, the eight-hour-a-day sitters who exercised had a significantly lower risk of death compared to people who sat for fewer hours a day but weren’t active, the authors found.” If you sit for a majority of the day at your job, make sure to add an hour of exercise into your day to improve your overall health. (CBS)

The reason people are sensitive to gluten may have been discovered. A new study from Columbia University, in conjunction with the University of Bologna, has found a possible cause for gluten sensitivity. “The team…found that patients who experience various gastrointestinal symptoms in response to wheat ingestion may be suffering from a body-wide inflammatory immune reaction not seen in patients with celiac disease. The inflammation, researchers said, is due to a weakened gut, and the condition is referred to as non-celiac gluten or wheat sensitivity (NCWS). Symptoms of NCWS include intestinal problems, as well as fatigue, cognitive difficulties, or mood disturbances. The study did not extend to those with celiac disease, a more serious condition involving gluten, but the researchers are hoping that further studies will help them find more answers involving both issues. (Fox)

Today’s Headlines: How Exercise Can Help Your Knees, The Computer Training That May Lower Your Risk For Dementia, and Why You May Not Need a Yearly Body Scan

Physical therapy may be just as effective as surgery for your knees. A small clinical trial from Denmark and Norway found that physical therapy can alleviate pain and help those with degenerative meniscal tears save money by avoiding surgery. “Out of 140 adults with degenerative meniscal tears, half received arthroscopic surgery and were given exercises to perform at home; the other half were prescribed 12 weeks of supervised exercise sessions, two to three times a week. Three months later, the second group actually scored higher on tests of thigh muscle strength than the surgery group. After two years, improvement in both groups was equal: The participants reported similar progression in terms of pain, ability to play sports and participate in recreation, and knee-related quality of life.” Researchers recommended trying alternative therapies and only resorting to surgery if pain becomes a persistent problem. (Time)

Decrease your risk of dementia through brain training. New research has found that certain activities can delay the onset of dementia. “For those who got the commercially available brain-training exercises, the cumulative risk of developing cognitive decline or dementia over 10 years was 33% lower than for participants who got no training at all…Compared to study participants who got no training at all, recruits who went through more than 10 of the computerized brain-training sessions were 48% less likely over 10 years to experience dementia or cognitive decline.” The computer game used, called Double Decision, is available for purchase: “The game exercises an individual’s ability to detect, remember and respond to cues that appear and disappear quickly in varying locations on a computer screen.” (LA Times)

The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force said that yearly body scans for skin cancer are unnecessary. The task force claimed that there was not enough evidence to outweigh the potential danger from these screenings. “Grossman [vice chairman of the task force] stressed that the statement doesn’t apply to people who have skin lesions or any other kind of suspicious growths or to those with an increased risk of cancer or a family history of the disease. But unnecessary screening could lead to overtreatment, including unneeded biopsies with unwanted side effects, he noted. And while it seems ‘intuitive’ that full-body exams would result in cancer being caught early, Grossman said the research suggests that some doctors are much more adept than others at finding lesions.” While more research needs to be done on how effective the screenings are and who should be getting them, everyone should protect their skin from the sun by wearing sunglasses, sunscreen, and protective clothing. (Washington Post)

Today’s Headlines: Why Government-Subsidized Food May Not Be the Best Food, The Chemicals Being Removed From Wal-Mart Products, and New Regions Discovered in the Brain

The U.S. government’s agricultural subsidies encourage the production of unhealthy foods. Crops like corn and wheat and foods like meat are often turned into sweeteners, refined carbs, and processed meats, which are usually inexpensive but less nutritious. This impacts public health as a whole. “CDC researchers found that, of the 10,000 adults surveyed, those who had the highest consumption of federally subsidized foods had a 37 percent higher risk of obesity, the New York Times reported. This group was also more likely to have abdominal fat, abnormal cholesterol, and high levels of blood sugar.” The CDC is hoping that this information, in addition to past research, will encourage a change in the way subsidies are approved and distributed. (Fox)

Wal-Mart announced that eight chemicals will be removed from their products. Many of these harmful chemicals have been found in Wal-Mart’s cleaning, beauty, and personal products. “The chemicals Wal-Mart wants to remove include butylparaben, used as a preservative in cosmetics, and triclosan, used in clothing, kitchenware, furniture and toys. Triclosan is also used in toothpaste, but Wal-Mart said it would not press for its removal because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other regulators have deemed it safe for this use.” This announcement comes as a way to uphold Wal-Mart’s 2013 promise to be more transparent about the products being sold in their stores. (Reuters)

97 “territories” in the brain have been discovered. Researchers have released a new map of the brain identifying areas that didn’t exist before. “The new map identifies 180 areas for each hemisphere, including 97 new territories along with 83 previously known regions. Each area has been defined based on the fact that they are “similar within themselves, but different from their neighbors,” explained Glasser [a neuroscience doctoral student]. Each has a unique microstructural architecture (including thickness of the cortex), plus a unique pattern of activity and connectivity with other brain areas…The newly identified areas mainly reside in regions of higher cognitive function… A dozen distinct cortical areas, for instance, have been identified within the area known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is involved in planning, working memory and abstract thinking, among other functions.” These discoveries allow scientists and doctors to learn more about the brain which can help improve diagnoses and operations. (CNN)

Today’s Headlines: 10 Risk Factors of a Stroke, How a Vaginal Ring Can Protect Against HIV, and an Announcement From the CDC About Gonorrhea

Researchers have found that there are 10 common conditions that could be warning signs for a stroke. While not all factors can be cured or prevented, researchers believe that knowing about them and monitoring them could prevent nine out of 10 strokes. “To estimate each risk factor’s effect on stroke risk, study authors calculated each one’s population attributable risk (PAR), a measurement used to determine how eliminating an individual risk factor could impact an overall disease burden. Study authors found that the PAR was about 48 percent for hypertension— making it the biggest risk factor for stroke— about 36 percent for physical inactivity, about 23 percent for poor diet, 19 percent for obesity, 12 percent for smoking, 9 percent for heart causes, 4 percent for diabetes, 6 percent for alcohol intake, 6 percent for stress, and 27 percent for lipids.” If you have any of these health issues, you may want to talk to your doctor about stroke risk to ensure you are taking any proper precautions. (Fox)

A study released on Monday stated that a vaginal ring can protect against HIV. While the risk of contracting HIV varies from woman to woman, the silicone ring may help decrease the risk in all women who use it. “The vaginal ring releases a drug called dapirivine, which can help stop the virus from infecting cells…On average, women’s risk of catching the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was cut by 56 percent, the team found. Women who used it the most — mostly older women — reduced the risk by at least 75 percent.” The ring was designed as a discreet tool to help women protect themselves from sexually-transmitted infections. (NBC)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that the resistance of the drug used to fight gonorrhea has increased by 400%. Gonorrhea, a sexually-transmitted disease, is relatively common in the U.S. and the number of new infections is rising. “Health officials warn that gonorrhea is growing increasingly resistant to the antibiotic azithromycin—which, when used in conjunction with the antibiotic ceftriaxone, treats the sexually transmitted disease. It is the only treatment left.” The CDC still recommends doctors treat gonorrhea patients with the same regimen but is calling for new treatments to be developed. (Time)

Today’s Headlines: The Connection Between Soda and Cancer, Why Being Overweight Can Decrease Your Life Span, and an Update on the Zika Virus

A new study suggests that drinking soda could increase your risk for developing cancer in your gallbladder or liver. These cancers have been observed to affect those with a higher BMI and increased blood sugar levels, both of which can be caused by drinking soda in excess. “To explore this possibility, researchers analyzed survey data on the eating and drinking habits of more than 70,000 adults then followed them for more than 13 years on average to see whether cancers got diagnosed.”

“Only about 150 people developed biliary tract or gallbladder cancers during the study period. But compared with people who avoided sugar-sweetened drinks altogether, individuals who consumed two or more juice drinks or sodas, including artificially sweetened sodas, a day had more than twice the risk of developing gallbladder tumors and 79 percent higher odds of getting biliary tract cancer, the study found.” The study was preliminary and does not prove that soda and cancer are definitely linked, but the researchers would like to continue to look into their hypothesis. (NBC)

Researchers are now adding being overweight, not just obese, to the list of risk factors that could cause premature death. New evidence shows that just a “slight increase in BMI” may cause issues later in life. “According to the report, people with BMI readings above the recommended range who were considered overweight showed an 11% increased risk of dying early, defined as death before age 70, compared to people who maintained their recommended BMI. For people with BMI between 30 and 35, the first category for obesity, the risk of premature death increased to 45%, and for those with the highest level of obesity, or BMI of 40 or more, the risk nearly tripled.” The study was done in 32 different countries and collected data from four million people so the researchers are very confident in their results and believe that doctors should continue to emphasize the importance of being a healthy weight. (Time)

Zika may be over with in the next two to three years. While Zika is a global health concern right now, scientists expect that it will die out after a couple years due to developing immunity. “The researchers, whose work is published in the journal Science, estimated that infections from the mosquito-borne virus will become so widespread in affected countries that populations will develop what is called “herd immunity.” This occurs when a high percentage of a population has become immune to an infection either through developing natural immunity or through vaccination, making a wider outbreak less likely.That would prevent further transmission of the Zika virus for at least a decade, with only smaller, intermittent outbreaks, they said.” There is currently no vaccine for Zika, however the virus seems “unable to infect the same person twice.” (Reuters)

Today’s Headlines: Flour Recalls Due to E. Coli, The Correlation Between Drinking Water and Weight Loss, and The Gene That May Put You at a Greater Risk for Skin Cancer

General Mills issued a recall on many products containing contaminating batches of flour. The products being recalled include Krusteaz Blueberry Pancake Mix, Betty Crocker Delights Super Moist Party Rainbow Chip Cake Mix, and Betty Crocker Delights Super Moist Carrot Cake Mix. “General Mills has voluntarily recalled 30 million pounds of flour since the E. coli outbreak was reported in June by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention…Among the 42 reported cases of E. coli infection in the outbreak, 11 people were hospitalized, according to the CDC.” Learn more about the symptoms of this foodborne illness and if you have purchased any of these items, you are urged to call for a refund and throw the package away so it’s not consumed. (ABC and CBS)

Researchers at the University of Michigan medical school believe there is a correlation between water intake and weight loss. The average American does not drink enough water, which could be a factor in the national obesity epidemic. “About 33% of the people in the study weren’t adequately hydrated. What’s more, the researchers found a link between dehydration and overweight. People who weren’t hydrated enough had higher BMIs than those who were. There may be all kinds of explanations for these findings. People with obesity need more water than people who have smaller bodies, making the hydration threshold potentially harder to reach. But some research suggests that water can play a role in weight control, showing that when overweight people drink water before a meal, they eat fewer calories than if they eat it without water.” You can tell if you’re hydrated by looking at the color of your urine – if it’s dark, you may be dehydrated. This study only suggests a correlation and more research needs to be done. (Time)

People who have a recessive gene for red hair may be at a higher risk for skin cancer. A new study from the UK found that while red-headed, fair-skinned people have an increased risk for skin cancer, those that had the “red hair gene” were also predisposed to these risks. “Around 25% of UK adults have one version of the gene called MC1R which increases their risk of malignant melanoma. These carriers may not always look like “easy burners,” say the researchers – but they are. Although not true redheads, they will have pale skin and some freckles and are prone to sun damage. Their natural hair colour can range from brown through to blond, sometimes with a hint of red…patients who had at least one copy of a genetic variant of MC1R had 42% more sun-associated mutations in their cancers than individuals without these variations – equivalent to the toll of an additional 21 years in the sun.” The study raises awareness about this gene so people can get tested and take proper precautions if necessary. (BBC)

Today’s Headlines: Dermatologists Say Popular Sunscreens Are Not Effective, the Way to Slow Down Bone Loss, and Why Certain Foods May Be to Blame For Health Issues

Certain sunscreens are ineffective, despite their reviews and reputation. Dermatologists tested 65 best-selling sunscreens, the top 1% of all sunscreen purchases on Amazon.com to see how beneficial they really were. “40% of them did not meet the criteria put forth by the American Academy of Dermatology. Of these 65 sunscreens [that were tested], seven (or 11%) did not have an SPF of at least 30, five (or 8%) did not protect against both UVA and UVB rays, and 25 (or 38%) were not designed to withstand water or sweat.” Products in the study did not meet standards if they could be easily washed away. The American Academy of Dermatologists urged consumers to pay attention to the three most important factors when choosing sunscreen: SPF 30 or higher, broad spectrum protection, and water resistance. (LA Times)

Exercising multiple times a week may help strengthen your bones. As women get older, their bones get weaker but a new study has found that regular, light exercise may be the key to good bone health. “[The study]  found that women who exercised consistently every week experienced bone loss, but the reduction was significantly less than a control group that didn’t exercise regularly. In regular exercisers, bone density decreased by 1.5% in the spine and 5.7% in the hip over 16 years. Among controls, bone density in the spine and hips declined by 5.8% and 9.7%, respectively.” The study found that exercising twice a week was necessary and any less would be ineffective. (WSJ)

Eating too much government-subsidized food may lead to adverse health effects. The CDC studied foods like wheat, rice, dairy, and other affordable but typically processed foods. “Even though these are not the foods the government tells us to eat with their dietary guidelines, they’re the foods the government makes cheap. More than half of Americans’ calories came from subsidized foods, the study authors found. In the research group’s prior work, this hasn’t proven to be a good thing; diets full of subsidized food were rich in dairy, carbohydrates and meat and low in fruits, vegetables and overall quality. Younger, poorer, less educated people eat vastly more quantities of subsidized food, the same group of researchers found. Compared to people who ate the least amount of subsidized food, the people who ate the most had a 37% higher risk of being obese, a 41% greater risk of having belly fat, a 34% higher risk for having signs of elevated inflammation and a 14% higher risk of having abnormal cholesterol.” Researchers suggested government subsidies be adjusted to encourage more fruit and vegetable production. (Time)

Today’s Headlines: Why You Can Eat Butter in Moderation, The Benefits of Eating on a Schedule, and Why You Shouldn’t Worry Too Much About Subway Germs

Having butter in your diet may not be as harmful as previously thought. In a new study, researchers claim that while butter is in no way considered a health food, it’s acceptable to eat in moderation. “[They] found no clear evidence that butter does any harm or good by itself. People who ate the most butter were slightly more likely to die during the various study periods than were people who ate little or none, but the risk was very slight, the team reported in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE.” The researchers noted that the foods you eat with butter – i.e bagels, pasta, etc. – may be more concerning than butter itself. (NBC)

Irregular eating may affect your health. Two studies found that issues like obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes were more prevalent among those who didn’t eat on regular schedules. “One of the reviews examined international eating patterns and found a possible link between obesity and eating more calories in the evening. The other paper concluded that people who consistently ate six meals a day had better cholesterol and insulin levels than those who ate meals with variable frequency—in this case, anywhere from three to nine meals a day.” Researchers are still trying to explain and understand the link between metabolism and circadian rhythms. (Time)

Germs in the subway shouldn’t concern you. Subway poles are commonly viewed as bacteria-ridden and dirty but a new Harvard study shows that the germs on these surfaces aren’t necessarily harmful. “All the surfaces were contaminated with generally innocuous human skin bacteria, including various strains of propionibacterium, corynebacterium, staphylococcus and streptococcus, among others. Some strains of these bacteria can cause disease under certain circumstances, but all are carried by healthy people and usually cause no problems.” The team concluded that these microbes were equivalent to the germs you would receive if shaking another individual’s hands. (NYT)

Today’s Headlines: An Update on the Nasal Spray Flu Vaccine, How Playing Cards Can Help Stroke Recovery, and the Benefits of Owning a Pet

This week, experts announced that they believe FluMist® is not effective. Advisors to the CDC found that it has not significantly prevented influenza in the last couple of years and therefore should not be the preferred vaccination method moving forward. “Vaccine experts say they are not sure [why the FluMist is not effective]. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cites one study that found FluMist only reduced the risk of serious influenza by 3 percent last year. Influenza is very difficult to vaccinate against. The virus is so mutation-prone that the vaccine has to be changed and made fresh every year. Even so, sometimes the circulating strains mutate faster than the vaccine makers make new vaccine.” The CDC still advises everyone to get the flu vaccine every year. (NBC)

Playing cards may assist stroke recovery. The act of holding objects and using hands and arms in some activities may increase motor skills. “…the type of task used for motor rehabilitation might be less relevant, as long as it is intensive, repetitive and gets the hands and arms moving…Approximately half of the patients, at random, were then allocated to the Wii rehab, while the rest were asked to do other recreational activities, such as playing cards…Both groups showed significant improvement in their motor skills at the end of the two weeks and four weeks later.” Other activities that appeared to be beneficial included playing Jenga® and bingo. (BBC)

If you own a pet, your lifespan may increase. A recent study has shown that female pet owners may lower their risk of dying from a stroke. “According to the National Death Index, as of 2006, 11 of every 1,000 non-pet owners had died of cardiovascular disease, compared to about 7 of every 1,000 pet owners. Specifically for stroke, male pet owners were just as likely to have died, but female pet owners were about 40 percent less likely to have died of stroke. Most of this association was driven by cat ownership, according to results in High Blood Pressure and Cardiovascular Prevention.” The research supporting and against owning a pet is ongoing. (Reuters)

Today’s Headlines: The Good News About Americans’ Diets, Google’s New Symptom Search Feature, and Why You Should Eat More Vegetables

New data shows that Americans are eating healthier foods and eliminating sodas and other sugar-filled drinks. Although the standard American diet has a poor reputation, a recent study shows that our eating habits are better than before. “Overall, the percentage of Americans with poor diets based on these AHA standards dropped from 56 percent to 46 percent during the study period. The proportion of people with ideal diets was low but inched up to 1.5 percent from less than 1 percent.” The study noted several factors such as household income, race, and geographic location that were influential when it came to healthy eating. While the increase is a step in the right direction, American diets still need improvement overall. (Fox)

Google wants to help you accurately search your symptoms. Google’s search results for symptoms can be unhelpful and sometimes make matters worse. “On Monday, it [Google] rolled out a new feature called symptom search. The next time you use the Google search app for iPhone and Android to look up something like “my tummy hurts,” “skin rash,” or “headache on one side,” you’ll see about a half-dozen digital cards you can swipe through right below the search box. Each of these cards briefly describes a common health problem related to your search term. Google worked with Harvard Medical School and the Mayo Clinic to build the symptom search cards. Where possible, the cards will mention whether self-treatment options are available, or whether a related health problem is serious enough to warrant professional medical care. Beneath the cards, you’ll see the same old list of website links—helpful or unhelpful as they may be.” While no online information is more sufficient than a visit to your doctor, Google hopes this new system will help you get more information on the health issues that affect you. (WSJ)

Add more vegetables on your plate to decrease your risk for diabetes. New research has found that increasing the amount of plant-based foods and decreasing the amount of animal-based foods in your diet may benefit your health overall. “On average, adults who ate a plant-based diet with few animal products cut their risk of Type 2 diabetes by 20 percent. But when researchers distinguished between healthful and unhealthful plant-based foods, they found that diabetes risk dropped by 34 percent among the healthful plant-based eaters. Notably, there wasn’t a benefit to plant-based eating when a person consumed a lot of refined carbohydrates and starchy vegetables. In that case, a person’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes increased slightly.” Plant-based foods are filled with many nutrients that can help balance and stabilize blood sugar levels and metabolism. (NYT)