Today’s Headlines: Contraceptive Pills, Alcohol and Smoking

Some newer forms of birth control pills may carry higher risk of clots. Birth control pills have long been known to slightly increase a woman’s risk for certain types of blood clots. A new study out this week has found that certain newer forms of contraceptive pills may increase that risk more than their older counterparts. “The researchers analyzed patient databases from 2001 and 2013 and found 5,062 cases of clotting among women ages 15 to 49. They matched each of these women with up to five women who did not have a blood clot in the same year but were of similar age and treated at a similar medical practice. Women taking older-generation drugs were about 2.5 times as likely to have a blood clot as women not taking any oral contraceptives over the previous year. Those taking newer types of combined pills were about four times as likely to suffer a clot compared to women not taking oral contraceptives.” That doesn’t mean you should stop your contraception. The researchers are quick to caution that the low risk should be balanced against other considerations. Getting pregnant, for example, increases your risk for clots by ten times, far more than contraceptives. “The newer pills may also result in reduced acne, headache, depression, weight-gain, breast symptoms and breakthrough bleeding compared to older pills.” Those concerned should discuss their risk and different options for contraception with their doctor. (Reuters)

Moderate drinking may not be so good for seniors. Over the last decade, several studies have found evidence that alcohol may be good for the heart in small amounts. But some research is showing that there are caveats to that claim. A new study has found older adults may be at risk for subtle heart issues with just one to two drinks per day. “The study involved more than 4,400 adults, average age 76. The investigators found that women who drank even moderately (one drink daily) experienced a small reduction in heart function. Among men, consuming more than two drinks per day or 14 per week (considered heavy drinking) was also linked to damaging heart changes.” The researchers acknowledge that small amounts of alcohol may still help the heart, but say not enough is known about how much that amount is to avoid all harm. “In spite of potential benefits associated with low alcohol intake, the findings highlight possible hazards to the heart with increased amounts of alcohol consumption in the elderly, particularly among women. This reinforces recommendations that those who drink should not overindulge and that those who don’t currently drink shouldn’t start just for health reasons.” (CBS)

Smoking may be tied to higher risk of suicide. Smoking is bad for you in all sorts of ways, but a new analysis of health data of smokers and former smokers has added suicide to that list. “In February, a report examined more than 100,000 deaths among smokers and former smokers. The analysis concluded that the 21 diseases officially tied to smoking accounted for only 83% of the observed deaths. Three other researchers tracked down the supplementary data and looked further into smoking and suicide risk to see if it might account for some of the missing deaths. They found that women who smoked were 4.4 times more likely to kill themselves compared to never-smokers. Among men, smokers were 3.2 times more likely to commit suicide than men with no history of smoking. In fact, only one life-ending illness related to smoking – ischemic disorders of the intestines – had a higher risk ratio for both men and women than suicide.” The researchers think the increase in suicide may come from the ways nicotine affects how your brain functions. They say that an increasing number of studies are linking nicotine to brain changes related to suicide and depression. (LA Times)

Preventing Hip Fractures Is More About Preventing Falls

Hip leg pelvis xrayIf you’re over the age of 65 or have a family member who is, you’ve probably heard about hip fractures. These breaks are far more common in the senior population and are concerning because they often signal a rapid worsening of health. The assumption has long been that the weakening of bones with age, called osteoporosis, was the main culprit behind why older adults were so likely to get these fractures. But new research out this week has found that lowering your risk of falls may actually be the main player in preventing hip fractures. Read more  »

Skipping Meals May Boost Belly Fat


You’ve probably heard that skipping meals isn’t the best way to lose weight, but it’s certainly a tempting one. Dramatically dropping daily calories can help you drop pounds quickly, but it also deprives your body of needed calories throughout the day and causes your blood sugar to yo-yo. New research out this week has found that all that mayhem may boost your risk of diabetes while making it more likely that you’ll put on belly fat when you do regain the weight. Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Dense Breasts, Hot Flashes and Exercise

Not all women with dense breasts need extra tests. Dense breast tissue can serve as a barrier to detecting cancer since it can hide growths normally picked up on mammogram. But new research has found that not all of those women necessarily need extra tests to make up for the screening troubles. “The study findings come from 365,426 women ages 40 to 74. The researchers wanted to know if they could detect whether, among all the women with dense breasts, any subgroups had a higher risk than others of developing an ‘interval’ cancer found less than a year after a normal mammogram. They used an online calculator to estimate a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer in the next five years. The study found that women with certain combinations of breast density and five-year risk levels had the highest odds of an interval cancer. Two groups had high rates of interval cancer, defined as more than one per 1,000 mammograms. One group included women with a five-year risk of 1.67% or higher and extremely dense breasts. The second group had a five-year risk of 2.5% or higher and ‘heterogeneously dense’ findings on mammography.” The researchers hope their findings will prompt more in-depth conversations between doctors and patients about what a woman’s real risk for cancer is and which tests are really going to make a difference in their care. (New York Times)

Alternative treatments for hot flashes can be hit or miss. While hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has been the most reliable treatment for women experiencing menopause symptoms, some go for other options because of the risks of HRT. New research has found those alternatives may not be so reliable. “The team analyzed past studies on treatments ranging from exercise to antidepressants and behavioral therapy. For exercise, there was insufficient or conflicting evidence that it relieved hot flashes, but the researchers say it is worth trying because it could help improve overall quality of life and offset the increase in heart disease risk women face after menopause. Evidence for supplements or a diet rich in phytoestrogens (such as soy) was also weak. For selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), commonly used to treat depression and anxiety, there was evidence that they are effective in decreasing both the frequency and severity of hot flashes. Gababentin, a drug used to treat some types of seizures and nerve pain, has also been studied as an alternative to hormone therapy, and some research has found it to be effective as well. Finally, behavioral interventions such as cognitive therapy and alternative medical therapy such as acupuncture still only have limited evidence.” That isn’t to say that these treatments don’t work for some. The results instead show that more needs to be done to nail down exactly what’s most effective and for whom. (Reuters)

Exercise extends life span and lower death risk even late in life. Exercise has long been known to add years to life, but many assumed that only held when you had a lot of years left. New data out this week, however, has shown that people on the older end of the spectrum still get a lot out of physical activity. “The trial tracking 68 to 77 year olds found that doing less than an hour a week of light exercise had no impact. But overall those putting in the equivalent of six, 30-minute sessions of any intensity, were 40% less likely to have died during the 11-year study. Even when men were 73 years of age on average at start of follow-up, active persons had five years longer expected lifetime than the sedentary. Physical activity was as beneficial as smoking cessation at reducing deaths.” The team also found that light activity reduced risk of death as long as it was done for more than an hour per week. The research shows that staying fit and active as you get older is important to keeping yourself healthy. (BBC)

Visualizing Appears to Boost Performance More Than Actual Practice

woman meditating relaxingThe old saying goes that practice makes perfect, but new research has started to show that using mental imagery to rehearse what you have to do can help as well. Past research focused on professional athletes, who often benefit from imagining the many ways a game or race could go. But new research out this week has found that everyday people can also benefit and that using visualization may actually work better at improving your performance at something than practicing that activity in the real world. Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Failing Diets, Smoking and The Dress

When it comes to diets your head might be in it, but your heart probably isn’t. It’s easy to decide you want to go on a diet, but sticking to it can be a lot more challenging. A group of researchers think they know why. “In two separate experiments involving about 300 people, the researchers looked at whether the decision-making factors people use to change their eating behaviors are the same ones they use to guide their food consumption. The researchers asked men and women about their thoughts and feelings about eating specific foods, such as carrots or pizza, and categories of foods, such as high-fat foods or fruits and vegetables. The results showed that the factors that guide diet planning differ from those that guide actual diet behavior. People’s thoughts drive their plans to change eating behavior, such as deciding to lose weight, by making healthier food choices or increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables in the diet. But it’s momentary feelings, such as a desire for a tasty, high-calorie food or negative associations with a food, that affect people’s actual food choices.” The researchers say the best way to make change is to try and switch over to things you enjoy, like from potato chips to a vegetable you like. That way you find something that’s intellectually and emotionally appealing. (Fox)

Financial incentives help smokers to quit. Quitting smoking and breaking nicotine addiction can be incredibly challenging, but new research points to money as a new way to help drop the habit. “The team ran a pilot program, signing up 2,538 people from across the United States. They were assigned to one of five groups, each with a different incentive: an $800 reward for quitting as an individual; a reward for quitting as a group of six; putting down an upfront deposit of $150 that would be doubled and returned if the smoker quit; a competitive deposit (competing for other participants’ deposits and matching funds); or the usual counseling with free smoking cessation aids such as nicotine gum. Only 6 percent of those who got counseling and stop-smoking aids were able to quit. But 12 to 14 percent of those in the rewards groups were able to quit for six months or more.” The researchers found that when people have to bet some of their money up front, they tend to be especially motivated. While rewards for not smoking worked well, having something to lose if you failed to stop was most effective for quitting in the long run. (NBC)

It’s all about the lighting when it comes to seeing The Dress. The Internet exploded with arguments about the true color of a dress pictured in a photo that circulated online. New research has helped to understand why it was that people had such difficulty figuring out the true color. “Researchers learned that people vary when it comes to color perception largely due to differences in how people perceive light. What was possibly throwing people off was the lighting in the photo. Daylight lighting can look bluish around midafternoon and it can look yellowish in the morning or later in the evening. Normally, people use reference points and surrounding context to perceive colors and they unknowingly filter out the blue or yellow-hued lighting. But the photo of the dress had no reference points. Therefore, people looking at the dress were not able to filter out the lighting that was influencing their perception of the color.” In other words, the colors you picked hinged on how your brain interpreted the daylight shining on it. Even among those who had the same opinion about the true colors, the researchers found nuances. Some who saw it as blue might see a light or dark blue for example, while those who saw it as gold saw a spectrum of yellow to brown. (TIME)

Rejection Makes You Spurn New Love, Rather Than Rebound

couple relationship problems rejectionNo one likes rejection and being turned down by someone you like can be a major hit to your ego. Common wisdom has been that being rejected makes you look for a “rebound” acceptance to fill the void, even if that rebound isn’t as good as the person you didn’t quite catch. But new research published this week has found that wisdom to depend on who’s doing the rejecting. It seems that being turned down, at least when it comes to initial efforts at romance, can actually make you pickier when it comes to accepting or rejecting other offers for love. Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Earworms, Brain Health and Miscarriage Misconceptions

Chewing gum may help get that song out of your head. Catchy tunes can end up playing over and over again in your head, but a group of researchers has found that chewing gum might prevent these earworms from getting stuck. The team recruited 98 people and had them listen to catchy music. “After playing the participants two different catchy tunes the researchers asked them to try not to think of the songs they had just heard over the next three minutes. Each time the participant thought of the song, they were instructed to hit a key.” A third just listened to the songs, a third listened while tapping their fingers, and the rest listened while chewing gum. “Those who chewed gum reported hearing the song less than those with no activity or who just tapped their fingers.” Those who chewed the gum were 33% less likely to have the song come back into their head. The researchers think the act of chewing gum may make the music harder to hear, which prevents it from catching in your brain as easily. (Fox)

Mediterranean diet found to be good for brain health. The Mediterranean diet has been found to have a variety of health benefits including lower blood pressure and rates of heart disease. But new research has found it may also help your brain. “The study involved 447 cognitively healthy participants, 55 to 80 years of age. Two groups followed the Mediterranean diet and added either 30 grams of mixed nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds) a day, or five tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil a day. The third group, acting as a control, was advised to follow a low-fat diet. Most subjects were followed for just over four years. The results showed that, compared with the control group, memory function remained stronger in the Mediterranean diet plus nuts group, while frontal (attention and executive function) and global cognition benefited in the Mediterranean diet plus olive oil group. The changes observed in cognition were small and showed that oils and nuts helped slow decline rather than actually prevent it.” The researchers think anti-inflammatory agents like antioxidants present in nuts and plant oils may be helping to block damaging processes that normally lead to brain decline. The results point to the need for variety in a healthy diet. (WSJ)

Most people believe common myths about miscarriage. Miscarriage is a tragic and challenging event, but researchers have found that many buy into myths about miscarriage that can make the tragedy more painful. “More than half of the 1,000 adults who responded to the survey incorrectly believed miscarriages are rare and many thought they could occur for reasons that actually don’t affect miscarriage risk at all. Miscarriages are not uncommon, yet almost half of those women who have suffered a miscarriage have felt guilt and a sense of isolation about what happened. Men were more than twice as likely as women to think miscarriages were rare, the survey found. 76 percent believed a stressful event could cause miscarriage and 64 percent thought lifting heavy objects could cause miscarriages, but neither stress nor lifting causes pregnancy loss. Other things that do not cause miscarriage include past sexually transmitted infections, past abortions, past use of an intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control or previously using other birth control, getting into an argument or not wanting the pregnancy. Yet, more than one in five respondents thought at least one of these could cause miscarriage.” The researchers say the problem is that most people get their information from unreliable sources that may make them attribute the miscarriage to something they did. In reality, most miscarriages are caused by genetic problems that couldn’t have been prevented. (CBS)

Study in ICU Nurses Reveals the Power of Mindfulness

stressed woman at deskEveryone encounters stress over the course of their lives, but some experience it more often than others. Some jobs, like working in the military, certain fields of healthcare or in the fire or police department, put workers in highly stressful situations on a constant basis and that stress can have serious health effects. A new study published this week looked for better ways to handle that stress and found that mindfulness may go a long way in controlling the stress response. Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Late Night Snacks, Healthy Eating and Sex

Food reward in the brain varies over the course of the day. It’s common to get hungry for a late-night snack, but a team of researchers has figured out why those snacks leave you feeling unfulfilled. “The team used an MRI to measure how people’s brains respond to different types of food images at different times of the day. Fifteen healthy women viewed a total of 360 images, once in the morning and a day later in the evening, over two separate occasions. Subjects looked at images of low-calorie and high-calorie foods. All participants showed greater neural responses in their MRIs when looking at images of high-calorie foods. However, the evening scans showed a lower response to both types of food pictures in areas of the brain that measure rewards. Participants in the study were told to avoid eating for a number of hours before each MRI session. Although they maintained the same diet on all days of the study, they also said that they were more preoccupied with thoughts of food in the evening and believed that they could eat more.” The researchers think this lack of reward in response to food pushes people to eat more at night. “Food is not as appealing, but people keep eating because they’re trying to get that same high or same satisfaction from eating food that they get during the day.” (CBS)

Healthy eating boosts brain power in the long run. It can be tough to keep track of the various foods that have been associated with brain benefits, but a new study out this week says that eating healthy is probably enough. “A new study tracked the diets and mental states of some 27,860 people, age 55 and over, in 40 middle- and high-income countries for just over five years. On average, 16.8% of the men and women followed were found to have lost some cognitive horsepower in the study’s five-year span. But that average obscures a clear pattern: Those whose diets were most healthful were least likely to experience cognitive decline, and those with the least healthful diets were most likely. Compared to participants who reported eating diets that were least healthful, the most healthful eaters were 24% less likely to have experienced cognitive decline—problems of memory, attention and reasoning ability—over a roughly five-year period.” The authors think the effect has to do with the vitamins and other nutrients healthy food provides. “Poor nutrition is likely to rob both body and brain of vitamins and minerals that not only promote the generation of healthy new cells but help guard against inflammation, help break down fats and protect cells from stress.” (LA Times)

Sex isn’t as affected by menopause as previously thought. You’ve probably heard that sexual function is all downhill once you hit menopause, but a new study contradicts that common myth. “The researchers studied four years’ worth of answers that women provided about their sexual health both before and after menopause. They expected that sexual drive and problems with sexual function would increase with time and be higher among women after menopause. But the rate of sexual dysfunction over the four-year study period was about the same—22% to 23%—for both pre- and post-menopausal women. That suggests that menopause isn’t as important a contributor to sexual issues as once thought. What’s more, the proportion of women reporting improvements in sexual function during the study also remained about the same in pre- and post-menopausal women, hinting that declines in things like desire or arousal can be reversed to a certain extent.” The team says older women should be encouraged by this information. “Where you start doesn’t have to dictate where you end up when it comes to sexual function. By modifying your life and attitudes about sexual desire you can change things for the better, even if you are getting older.” (TIME)