Today’s Headlines: Dairy, Mini Stomachs and Political Leanings

Milk consumption related to increased fracture risk. If you’re a woman, you’ve probably been told many times to get enough milk to keep your bones strong into old age. But a massive study out of Sweden has found that advice may be woefully incorrect. “A team of scientists in Sweden examined the dietary habits of 61,400 women in 1987-1990 and 45,300 men in 1997 and then monitored their health for years afterwards…. In the 20-year follow-up period in which the women were monitored, those who drank more than three glasses, or 680 ml, of milk a day were more likely to develop fractures than those who had consumed less. The high-intake group had a higher risk of death too.” But dairy isn’t all bad. “When fermented milk products such as yoghurt were considered, the opposite pattern was observed–people who consumed more had a lower risk of fractures. The authors think this could be due to sugars in milk, which have been shown to accelerate ageing in some early animal studies.” (BBC)

Researchers have made mini stomachs for research. While the stomach might not seem like an overly complex organ, it’s been hard to replicate its microscopic structure in the lab. That’s because many different types of cells are involved in the digestion of your food. “These mini-stomachs aren’t exactly tiny versions of the organ that digests your food, but they’re a big step in the right direction. In fact, the organoid is basically like a stomach you’d find in a very developed fetus, or perhaps in a newborn baby. It’s not quite fully developed.” The development is a first step in allowing “researchers to better study illnesses of the stomach, like those that cause ulcers and even cancer. The tissue may even be used as a treatment in and of itself by way of tiny grated patches that would grow over ulcerated stomachs.” While the research is exciting, it still has its limitations. “Those stomach-like organoids grow from stem cells in around a month, but they don’t get past an embryonic stage of development.” (Washington Post)

Your brain reveals your political leanings. While many of us think we have well-thought-out reasons for our political leanings, it may have more to do with the nuances of how your brain is wired. “A team of scientists who studied the brains of liberal, moderate and conservative people found that they could tell who leaned left and who leaned right based on how their brains responded to disgusting pictures.” The researchers used MRI to look at at how the brains of participants responded to pleasant, neutral and disgusting pictures. “When shown a disgusting image–particularly one of a mutilated animal body–the conservatives’ brains reacted more strongly and in different ways, compared with the liberals’ brains. Although our results suggest that disgusting pictures evoke very different emotional processing in conservatives and liberals, it will take a range of targeted studies in the future to tease apart the separate contribution of each brain circuit. The difference between the two groups was stark in spite of the fact that, oddly enough, these neural responses didn’t match the conscious ratings that participants gave those pictures.” The research shows much more goes into why we hold out political ideas than just reasoned argument. (LA Times)

As Many as 20% of Schizophrenia Cases May Be Related to Toxoplasmosis

woman with cat

Most have only heard of the little parasite Toxoplasma gondii in the context of cats and pregnant women. If you’ve been pregnant, you may have heard your doctor tell you to steer clear of the kitty litter.  This is because Toxoplasma, which infects cats, can pass to humans through cat feces and infect the developing fetus. That infection can lead to a host of problems like hearing loss, vision problems, jaundice and low birth weight. Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Heart Failure, Chocolate and the Body Clock

Gut microbes may play a role in heart failure. We’ve heard a lot lately about how the bacteria in and on our bodies can affect our health, but it looks like these microscopic passengers are responsible for a wider variety of disease than we thought. “In a new study, a team of researchers found that high-fat, high-cholesterol foods put some people at higher risk of developing heart failure because of the microbes in their body that are part of the digestive process. People with these microbes may also be at risk for more severe consequences from heart failure, including death. Since people have different levels of these microbes and the products they release into blood, a simple blood test may be able to tell us who’s at greater risk.” The researchers still say that maintaining a healthy diet is the best way to avoid heart disease, but their research brings us one step closer to understanding exactly how diet influences our health and figuring out who needs special attention. (Fox)

Chocolate may help with your memory. A key component of many delicious desserts, dark chocolate is also rich in healthful antioxidants and flavanols that can help stave off a variety of diseases. New research is showing it may also help with memory. “After three months of consuming a special cocoa concoction, someone with the typical memory of a 60-year-old improved their memory to that of a 30- or 40-year-old, the researchers reported.” But they point out you shouldn’t run out and buy that chocolate bar just yet. “Flavanols are found in many types of foods, including tea leaves, fruits and vegetables, as well as raw cocoa. However, the manner in which most consumer chocolate products are produced renders them flavanol-free. The study therefore relied on a process developed by the food company Mars Inc. that could specifically preserve and isolate the flavanol in powder form, before being mixed into either water or milk for consumption.” The research shows that what we eat may have an important effect on how our brain works, but more research is needed to understand exactly how this occurs. (CBS)

The internal body clock drives many cellular processes. Most of us notice our body clock only when dragging ourselves out of bed after a late night or when making an international flight. Now new research is showing that our internal body clock determines more than just when we go to bed and wake up. “Researchers investigated the impact of the time of day on the way DNA functions in experiments on mice. Every two hours they looked at samples from the kidney, liver, lung, adrenal gland, aorta, brainstem, cerebellum, brown fat, white fat, heart, hypothalamus, lung and skeletal muscle. They showed that 43% of genes, sections of DNA, involved in protein manufacture altered their activity throughout the day. Two major windows of activity were observed in the study – dawn and dusk.” The research builds on observations that certain drugs work better at certain times of the day. “Heart disease, for example, is driven by artery-clogging cholesterol, which is mostly made in the liver at night. Taking statins in the evening makes them more effective.” The findings of the research could help doctors better understand when certain medications may be most effective as treatment for certain conditions. (BBC)

Today’s Headlines: Music, Hand Washing and Foot Pain

Listening to music while you work out may boost performance. It seems like most people in today’s gyms are wearing headphones and a new study out this week shows why having some our own personal playlist may be so appealing. The authors “recruited 20 young, healthy adult volunteers, without experience in high-intensity interval training….Using stationary bicycles, they completed four 30-second bouts of what the researchers call “all-out” pedaling, at the highest intensity that each volunteer could stand. Each 30-second bout was followed by four minutes of recovery time.” The participants repeated the regimen on two other occasions, once with their own music and once without. “The volunteers all reported that the intervals had been hard. In fact, their feelings about the difficulty were almost identical, whether they had been listening to music or not. What is interesting is that their power output had been substantially greater when they were listening to music, but they did not find that effort to be more unpleasant.” Planning to push yourself during your next workout? Make sure you have some tunes to keep you company. (NYT)

Doctors are washing their hands but patients aren’t. While there’s been a big push to stop infection by having doctors wash their hands in the hospital, no similar encouragement has been given to patients. A new study has now indicated that “hand washing followed less than a third of bathroom visits, and washing or hand-sanitizer use happened only rarely after patients entered or left a room.” This is concerning because patients, like doctors, can carry serious infection. “One in 25 hospital patients has at least one infection contracted at the hospital at any given time…many of them serious or even life threatening.” The researchers found that many common spaces, like kitchens or common rooms, are used by patients without any hand washing. “The researchers point to a previous study that found requiring patients to disinfect their hands four times a day significantly reduced the number of respiratory and gastrointestinal disease outbreaks in a psychiatric ward.” The message? Stopping infection is everyone’s responsibility, not just your doctor’s. (Fox)

Extra depth shoes help all foot pain in older adults. Foot pain is a common complaint in old age, but it can prove very difficult to treat. “The structure and function of the foot changes significantly with age…. With advancing age, the foot to exhibits increased soft tissue stiffness, decreased range of motion, decreased strength, and a more pronated posture.” This changes the way weight is distributed on the foot, which can lead to problems down the road. The researchers set out to see if extra depth shoes, normally used in diabetic patients, might help with foot pain from other causes. “The extra-depth footwear group was more likely to report their foot pain had moderately or markedly improved over the four month period and they also developed fewer keratotic lesions, like corns or calluses, than the comparison group. When the participants took the foot health questionnaire again, the special footwear group scored 11 points better for pain and 10 points better for function than the comparison group.” These findings held regardless of the cause of foot pain. (Reuters)

Olive Oil Found to Be Best for Frying

Olive oil

We all know we’re supposed to go for baked or grilled when we have the option, but we all indulge in a fried food once in a while. Fried food is delicious because of the fats and oils that are infused into the food during the frying process, not to mention the crispy layer of bread crumbs that’s often added on top. Unfortunately, those two ingredients are also what can make fried food so bad for you. Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Breast Cancer, Vaccines and Walnuts

One version of a gene may protect Latinas from breast cancer. The average woman has about a 1 in 7 chance of developing breast cancer at some point in her life, but that number drops to 1 in 10 if you’re a Latina. A new study has found that “a genetic trait protects many women of Latin American descent from breast cancer” and that the “single difference in the human genome makes Latinas who inherit it about 40% less likely to develop breast cancer.” If a woman inherits two copies of the protective version, her risk drops by 80%. “Women who carry the genetic variant have breast tissue that appears less dense on mammograms. High-density breast tissue is a known risk factor for breast cancer. The hereditary quirk appears to have originated in indigenous American peoples in South America, and it doesn’t appear equally in all Hispanic women. As many as 20% of Latinas in California are likely to have at least one copy of the variant, significantly lowering their risk of breast cancer, while about 10% of Puerto Rican women are likely to have inherited it, the researchers said.” (WSJ)

Vaccines don’t cause multiple sclerosis. Some anti-vaccine advocates had said in the past that vaccines could lead to multiple sclerosis (MS), but the studies had been small and gave conflicting evidence. “Scientists looked at about 4,700 people who received vaccines against hepatitis B (Hep B) and the human papillomavirus (HPV), and found no long-term risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS) or similar nervous-system diseases.” The authors think the small association in past research may be due to a triggering effect of infections. “The vaccine, like an infection, may accelerate the disease’s progression in patients who already have MS or other neurodegenerative autoimmune diseases. It may be that after vaccinations, patients move more quickly from the ‘subclinical’ stage of the disease, when no outward symptoms are seen, to a stage with visible symptoms.” In other words, the past association was probably just an unhappy coincidence. (Fox)

Walnuts may help delay Alzheimer’s disease. Nuts have shown their health benefits over and over and a new study out this week provides just one more reason to eat them. “Researchers at the New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities said experiments with Alzheimer’s-susceptible mice found that subjects that consumed walnuts showed significant improvement in their learning skills and memory compared with mice without them in their diet.” Learning and memory weren’t the only beneficiaries. “The study also found improvement in motor skills and reduction in anxiety. The mice in the experiment consumed an amount of walnuts that would be the equivalent for humans of eating about 1 to 1.5 ounces of walnuts a day.” The study comes after findings that walnut extract was helpful in reducing damage caused by brain proteins involved in Alzheimer’s. This study moved on to see whether that translated to whole walnuts. (Washington Post)

Aging Positively Leads to Mental and Physical Gains

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The media loves to plaster the virtues of youth in magazines, TV shows and billboards whenever it gets the chance. On the flip side, old age is often viewed negatively, and old people are often depicted as being slow, less intelligent, frail and often unable to care for themselves. In spite of all this cultural negativity, a new study has found that subtle positive messaging can lead to a healthier outlook on getting older and that those new attitudes can translate into benefits for the body as well as the mind. Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Unsaturated Fats, Ovarian Cancer and Weight Loss

Eating unsaturated fats balances weight gain. Gaining a few pounds may not seem like a big deal, but your body responds to the weight with resistance to insulin (a precursor of diabetes) and decreased blood vessel function. New research out this week has found that “unsaturated fats in the diet improved cholesterol levels despite the extra calories and subsequent weight gain.” A group of study participants increased their calories with muffins made with either saturated or unsaturated fats. “After seven weeks, each group had gained between two and three percent of their body weight, about 3.5 pounds (1.5 kilos) each, and waist girth increased by about one percent, but blood pressure did not change significantly.” When researchers looked at their blood, “the unsaturated oil group had lower cholesterol and lipid levels at the end of the study than they had at the beginning of the study. For the saturated oil group, cholesterol went up. Both groups showed signs of increased insulin resistance.” It seems that keeping your diet high in these fats is another way to protect yourself from the side effects of weight gain. (Reuters)

Researchers develop new tool for predicting ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer can be a tricky disease to detect. Its late discovery often means that it’s far more deadly than it might have been had it been found earlier. A group of researchers found a way to aggregate key data to determine how likely a finding in a woman’s abdomen is to be a cyst or a cancer. “The metric uses a combination of patient information, blood test results and ultrasound scans to predict the malignancy, type and stage of the cancer.” The tool isn’t just important for staging cancer: “It’s very important to get the pre-operative diagnosis right. If it isn’t right, the patient might have a more extensive operation than they need, for example having an ovary removed unnecessarily. That ovary removal could be a critical issue for young women in terms of fertility.” Earlier detection and better operations could shift women towards earlier stage cancer, where survival is 90%. (BBC)

When losing weight, it doesn’t matter how fast you do it. You might have heard that losing weight gradually helps you keep off the pounds, but a new study out this week has found that slow or fast, it doesn’t make much of a difference. “Despite its austerity, the extreme diet worked better for more people than the gradual diet, according to the study. Among the volunteers who made it to the end of the weight-loss portion of the study, 81% of those on the rapid plan lost at least 12.5% of their body weight. For volunteers on the gradual diet, only 62% achieved the same goal.” Despite the weight loss, gradual dieters saw better improvements in hip and waist circumference. The researchers then followed up three years later to see whether participants had regained the weight. “The net result after more than three years: Those who followed the gradual diet ended up losing 0.44 pounds more, on average, than those who followed the rapid diet.” (LA Times)

How Breakfast Changes Your Brain

cottage cheese berries

People tend to fall into one of two camps when it comes to breakfast: those who eat it and those who don’t. While some in the latter camp staunchly deny the need for breakfast, others may skip it for lack of time or energy to make it or to save a few calories. A new study out this week has found that skipping breakfast is a bad way to save calories since doing so may increase your cravings for food later in the day. Read more  »