Today’s Headlines: Action Movies, Brain Training and E-Cigs

Action movies make you snack more. There’s a reason that a box of popcorn is empty by the end of the film. A group of researchers set out to see if watching an action movie, The Island, would affect the snacking habits of viewers. They had participants watch either an action movie with or without sound or an interview. “While the people watching the interview show ate 104.3 g of food, those who watched the clip of The Island consumed a total of 206.5 g — nearly twice the amount. Watching The Island on mute did diminish appetites, but at 142.1 g the amount consumed was still 36% more than that of the interview group. The total calorie intake of both groups watching the action clip was also higher, at 354 calories with sound and 314 without, compared with just 215 calories for the third group.” This may also mean that having the TV on in the background, even if the sound isn’t on, could be increasing your eating. The researchers note that this occurs because you’re paying less attention to what you put in your mouth. (TIME)

Brain training with healthy food may make it more appetizing. It always feels like diets make us crave the sweets we can’t have. But a new study out this week indicates the opposite might be true. Obese participants were randomly assigned to a low-calorie, high-fiber diet and education or no intervention. The education program “taught them to devalue cravings for high calorie foods and enhance their preference for more satisfying foods with higher protein and fiber.” After six months, MRI brain scans found “areas of the brain reward center associated with learning and addiction showed increased sensitivity to healthy, lower-calorie foods, indicating an increased reward and enjoyment of healthier food cues. The area also showed decreased sensitivity to the unhealthy higher-calorie foods.” This indicates that time away from unhealthy food and intensive education about what we should be eating can have profound effects on the way our brain finds reward in the foods we eat. (CBS)

Secondhand “smoke” from e-cigs may not be safe. As more and more smokers switch to e-cigs, much remains unknown about the safety of the nicotine alternatives. A new study found that the vapor given off by e-cigs contain “an overall 10-fold decrease in exposure to harmful particles compared to traditional cigarette smoke. However, they did find a significant increase in exposure to some harmful metals coming from e-cigarette smoke.” Those metals included chromium, nickel, lead and zinc. The researchers note that while their “results demonstrate that overall electronic cigarettes seem to be less harmful than regular cigarettes, their elevated content of toxic metals such as nickel and chromium do raise concerns.” While e-cigs have been marketed as a safer and healthier than their tobacco cousins, much still remains unknown about their effects on health. (Fox)

Low-Carb Diets May Be Better Than Low-Fat for Reducing Risk of Heart Disease

Bread with Caution Tape

It seems that every few a months a new diet hits the market claiming to be easier than its predecessors and to lead to more weight loss. Many of these diets call for reductions in calories, often through lowering carbohydrates, fats or both. Studies have gone back and forth about whether one is more helpful than the other, both when it comes to weight loss and overall health. Proponents of the low-fat lifestyle have claimed that diets high in fat increase cholesterol intake and could lead to heart disease. Those on the low-carb side pointed to conflicting evidence about the association between dietary fat and heart disease and the prominent role carbohydrates have played in the obesity epidemic. Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Tomatoes, Overconfidence and Colonoscopies

Tomatoes may lead to less prostate cancer. It looks like tomatoes are more than just a tasty addition to a burger or salad. New research out of the UK this week found that men who ate 10 or more portions of tomatoes per week were 18% less likely than men with less tomato in their diet to develop prostate cancer. “Eating the recommended five servings of fruit or vegetables or more a day was also found to decrease risk by 24%, compared with men who ate two-and-a-half servings or less. ‘Our findings suggest that tomatoes may be important in prostate cancer prevention,’” said one of the researchers on the team. The authors emphasize further studies are still needed to confirm the findings. “The cancer-fighting properties of tomatoes are thought to be due to lycopene, an antioxidant which can protect against DNA and cell damage. The researchers also looked at two other dietary components linked with prostate cancer risk – selenium, found in flour-based foods such as bread and pasta, and calcium, found in dairy products such as milk and cheese. Men who had optimal intake of these three dietary components had a lower risk of prostate cancer, they said.” Experts emphasize these foods should be included as part of a balanced diet. (BBC)

More support for “fake it ‘til you make it.” It looks like we may have underestimated the importance of confidence. A group of researchers gathered a group of students and asked them to estimate their grades. They were then rated by others on how smart or talented they were perceived to be. The researchers “found that students who over-estimated their own grades tended to be perceived as more talented, and students who underestimated their grades were seen as less talented, regardless of their actual capabilities.” As per the authors, “our results support the idea that self-deception facilitates the deception of others. Overconfident individuals were overrated and underconfident individuals were underrated.” The findings have broader implications for who might be rising to the top. “The researchers also warned that over-confidence can have more of an effect on individual decisions like picking a mate or hiring for jobs, resulting in self-deceptive and risk-prone people being promoted to powerful roles. (TIME)

Those with single polyps may not need frequent colonoscopies. Right now, if you get a colonoscopy and have a polyp removed, your next appointment will be made for five years later instead of 10 since you’re thought to be at higher risk of cancer. A new study throws that into question this week. “Researchers tracked 40,826 polypectomy (polyp removal) patients for a median of eight years. Patients who had a single low-risk polyp removed had a much lower risk of colon cancer, compared to the general population and to patients who had multiple or aggressive polyps removed. Overall, the mortality rate was similar between polypectomy patients and the general population – however, those who had high-risk polyps removed had a significantly higher mortality.” About one quarter of all colonoscopies done in the U.S. are a result of increased screening after initial polyp removal. According to the lead author, “these findings support more intense surveillance of the high-risk group, but should maybe lead to reconsideration of the guidelines regarding the low-risk group.” (Fox)

Today’s Headlines: Drinking Wine, Weight Perception and Hangovers

Keeping your wine consumption under control. A single drink on a daily basis can be good for your health, but controlling your intake can be challenging. A new study out this week looked at factors that influence how much wine a person pours. Participants were asked to pour either white or red wine into glasses of various shapes and sizes and were given different instructions about pouring. “Wide glasses caused subjects to pour 11.9% more than narrow ones. Holding the glass as opposed to leaving it on the table resulted in a 12.2% bigger serving. And when the glass sizes were the same, participants poured 9.2% less red wine than white because, the researchers theorize, the lower color contrast between white wine and a clear glass makes the glass look less full.” Researchers found gender and BMI also mattered. “Men in the study poured more than the women did and men with high BMI poured about 19% more than men with average BMI. For women, body mass didn’t make a difference.” Using a rule of thumb for measuring also helped. When asked to follow the rule “drink as much as you want, but fill the glass only halfway up each time you pour,” high-BMI men drank 31% less than those who didn’t, and men of average BMI drank 26% less. Women, on the whole, drank 27% less when they used the half-empty rule.” (TIME)

Parents of obese kids think they’re okay. Obesity is a problem for all age groups in the U.S., but it looks like the changing bodies of Americans are affecting the weights we think are okay. A new study out this week “examined height and weight data on 2,871 children from the 1988 to 1994 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and 3,202 similar kids from the 2005 to 2010 cycles of the survey…In the 1988 to 1994 data set, 78 percent of parents of an overweight boy and 61 percent of parents of an overweight girl, identified the child as ‘about the right weight.’ That number increased to 83 percent for boys and 78 percent for girls in the 2005 to 2010 period. Similarly, for obese boys, 26 percent of parents said they were ‘about the right weight’ in 1988 compared to 37 percent in 2010.” And it wasn’t just the parents. “Many kids also identify themselves as about the right weight even if they are overweight or obese, and those kids are less likely to try to lose weight.” This is concerning because parents who perceive their child’s weight as a problem are more likely to try and encourage healthy eating and exercise. (Reuters)

Getting hangovers might be genetic. While a night of heavy drinking is the surest way to end up with a headache the next morning, a new study from Australia indicates that genetics may influence how likely that is to happen. “Researchers looked for links between the study participants’ genetic makeups and the number of hangovers they reported in the past year. The results showed that genetic factors accounted for 45 percent of the difference in hangover frequency in women and 40 percent in men. The other half probably comes from outside influences unrelated to DNA, such as how quickly a person drinks, whether they eat while they drink and their tolerance for alcohol.” The authors think these findings might help identify people at risk for alcoholism since those with the genetic predisposition “also drank to the point of being intoxicated more frequently than people who didn’t have the hangover genes.” (Fox)

Today’s Headlines: Atrial Fibrillation, Instant Noodles and Traveling with Medications

Working out keeps your heart regular. For some time, doctors worried that the stress of exercise might increase your risk of an irregular beat, also known as atrial fibrillation (AF). A new study this week lays those fears to rest in finding that “ the risk of atrial fibrillation was lowered by up to 44 percent with regular physical activity” in post-menopausal women. Weight was also tied to risk, with the study finding that “obese women were most likely to develop AF, but more physical activity reduced that risk. Obese, sedentary women’s AF risk was 30 percent higher than that of a sedentary woman with normal BMI, and 44 percent higher than that of a normal-weight woman who exercised.” The authors suspect that exercise’s role in decreasing inflammation may play a role, but caution to consult a physician before starting a new exercise routine. (Reuters)

Instant noodles may be hurting your health. In a pinch, instant noodles have always seemed like a good way to get in a quick meal. But new research suggests that doing so may actually be bad for you. The study “found that independent of other factors, [South Korean] women who ate instant noodles at least twice a week were 68 percent more likely to have metabolic syndrome,” a constellation of health conditions that includes high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol. Interestingly, the same effect was not seen in men. Researchers said this “may be because women report their diet more accurately or because postmenopausal women are more sensitive to the dietary effect of carbohydrates, sodium and saturated fat.” (NYT)

There are challenges of traveling with medications. Think twice about what you might need to carry with you next time you board a plane with your meds on hand. A study by Australian researchers of embassy requirements for those traveling with medications found “their recommendations varied widely, and tended to be much more strict than the recommendations of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), an independent body implementing United Nations Drug Control Conventions.” According to the researchers, many embassies said all drugs required special certification of ownership and personal use, beyond a valid prescription. In some countries, a visitor is required to consult a local clinician to validate ongoing need for the medication. Some countries warn that if authorities are in doubt, they have the right to deny entry or confiscate the medications.” The authors recommend discussing medications and travel plans with a physician well before departing. (Fox)

Bias Favors Men Over Women When Asking for Flexible Work Hours

Working mother

Flexible work hours have often seemed like the ideal solution for a working mom: maintain a career while also finding time to take care of the kids. But a new study out this week has found that flex time work requests are perceived very differently by employers depending on the gender of the person filing the request and that men, rather than women, may be the ones who have benefited the most from this new opportunity. Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Caregiving, Best Friends and Vitamin D

Women bear the burden of caregiving more than men. As the U.S. population ages, more and more people are called on to care for elderly parents. A new study out this week finds that “women step up to provide care for their aging parents more than twice as often as men…In families with children of both sexes, the gender of the child is the single biggest factor in determining who will provide care for the aging parent: Daughters will increase the time they spend with an elderly parent to compensate for sons who reduce theirs, effectively ceding the responsibility to their sisters.” The researchers noted that rather than basing their decision on how much time they could possibly provide, men tended to focus more on whether the duties were already being adequately handled by others. One author notes “the data suggest that despite a shift toward more gender equality in the United States in the past few decades, the imbalance is ‘acute’ when it comes to caring for aging parents.” (Washington Post)

One in 10 lack a best friend. Everyone needs a shoulder to cry on, but not everyone may have a close confidant to go to in times of trouble. A new study from the U.K. has found that “One in 10 people questioned said they did not have a close friend…[and] while the survey found 85% of individuals questioned felt they had a good relationship with their partners, 19% had never or rarely felt loved in the two weeks before the survey.” While the study shows a majority of people have healthy, close relationships it also reveals that a significant number of people live without these strong connections. The researchers point out that “relationships are the asset which can get us through good times and bad, and it is worrying to think that there are people who feel they have no one they can turn to during life’s challenges. We know that strong relationships are vital for both individuals and society as a whole, so investing in them is crucial.” (Guardian)

Vitamin D may help your asthma. Supplementing your sun exposure with a vitamin D supplement may help your lung function. Researchers got the idea from the observation that asthma is more common in northern parts of the globe where vitamin D is lower because of less sun exposure. “Asthma sufferers who received vitamin D supplements for six months, in addition to their regular inhalers, could breathe a little easier than those who relied only on the inhalers. The researchers say the results, if confirmed by larger studies, might help the many people who sometimes have troublesome asthma symptoms even though they use medication.” Important to note is that these results reflected only how well lungs were functioning, which didn’t necessarily correlate with whether participants felt better. A physician should always be consulted before starting new supplements or medications. (Fox)


Women Often Turn to Anti-Aging Clinicians Seeking Menopause Relief

Worried depressed woman

The word “menopause” conjures up dread of hot flashes, night sweats and a host of other unpleasant symptoms in the minds of many women. While all women will go through it, symptoms will vary, with some remaining relatively unaffected and others finding their symptoms intolerable and debilitating. Several mechanisms are likely responsible for triggering menopause, but the changes mainly occur within the ovaries. With the end of ovulation, a woman’s ovaries stop producing estrogen in response to the body’s other hormonal signals. The end result is low estrogen and levels will fluctuate around menopause as the body readjusts to a new state of infertility without support from the ovaries. This adjustment results in many of the symptoms women experience during this transition period. Read more  »