Today’s Headlines: Knuckle Cracking, Divorce and Gut Bacteria

Cause of knuckle cracking sound figured out. There’s been a long debate in the scientific community about the popping sound your joints make when you crack them, with some saying it was the formation of a bubble in the joint that made the noise and others claiming it was the collapse of the bubble. “In a study published Wednesday, researchers report that they believe the sound that we hear when cracking knuckle joints is caused by the formation of a bubble in joint fluid, not the collapse.” The team put a knuckle popper’s hand into an MRI and slowly pulled his finger until it popped. “In every single test crack, the formation of a cavity in the joint fluid was seen at the exact moment the sound was heard. Furthermore, the researchers didn’t observe any collapse of the cavity at all — at least not in the immediate aftermath of the knuckle cracking — so they don’t see how it could cause the noise.” The team hopes to shed light on why some people can crack their joints while others can’t and wonder whether that might have implications for joint health. (Washington Post)

Getting divorced ups heart attack risk, remarriage doesn’t help. We’ve long known that divorce is a stressful, emotionally turbulent time in a person’s life. New research has now found that life event can up someone’s heart attack risk, but that getting remarried doesn’t necessarily help. “An analysis of 15,827 people showed women were worst affected, and barely reduced the risk if they remarried. During the course of the study, between 1992 and 2010, roughly one in three people divorced at least once. Women who divorced once were 24% more likely to have had a heart attack in the study than women who were continuously married. The figure was 77% for those having multiple divorces. In men, there was a modest 10% extra risk for one divorce and 30% increase after multiple divorces. The study argued that chronic stress, linked to divorce, had a long-term impact on the body, but couldn’t figure out why there were gender differences.” The authors point out that gender differences also exist in mental illnesses like depression, but can’t say for sure if the underlying mechanism is the same. (BBC)

Snoring can have serious effects on brain health. Snoring might seem like more of an annoyance for those who share a bed with snorers. But more and more research is indicating snoring, which is often a sign of sleep apnea or breathing issues during sleep, can lead to serious health side effects. New research out this week indicates that those who snore may have worse brain health than those who don’t. “Researchers reviewed the medical histories of almost 2,500 people ages 55 to 90 who were enrolled in a previous Alzheimer’s disease study and reevaluated every six months. Participants self-reported a diagnosis of sleep apnea or obstructive sleep apnea, and whether they used a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine at night. People who would go on to have mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease tended to first show signs of memory decline years earlier if they had sleep-disordered breathing that was untreated. Those without sleep-disordered breathing and those with the disorder who used a CPAP machine all began to experience mental decline at the same age.” The age difference was large, with those who went untreated experiencing cognitive decline 13 years earlier on average than their normal or treated counterparts. The researchers hope this emphasizes the importance of seeking medical advice for sleep apnea, which is treatable. (Reuters)

New Blood Test May Help Predict Who Will Get Breast Cancer

Blood SamplesThe challenge of treating cancer is often to try and catch it early. In the beginning stages, cancer is growing rapidly, but often hasn’t spread to other locations. That makes removing the cancer much easier and makes the likelihood low that the cancer will come back. The trouble is, catching cancer early can be tricky and by the time you find it, it might already be too late. To help with this problem, a group of researchers has come up with a way to predict who’s likely to get cancer two to five years before they would normally be diagnosed.

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Today’s Headlines: Rita Wilson, Cheese and Long Work Days

Rita Wilson removes dangerous breast cancer with double mastectomy. Actress Rita Wilson has spoken out about the details of her breast cancer treatment. “Wilson revealed in a statement that she underwent a double mastectomy after being diagnosed with invasive lobular carcinoma, a form of breast cancer. ‘I have taken a leave from the play Fish in the Dark to deal with a personal health issue,’ Wilson said in the statement. ‘Last week, with my husband by my side, and with the love and support of family and friends, I underwent a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction for breast cancer after a diagnosis of invasive lobular carcinoma. I am recovering and, most importantly, expected to make a full recovery. Why? Because I caught this early, have excellent doctors and because I got a second opinion.’” Initial biopsies of a suspicious area of Wilson’s breast had shown no cancer. But Wilson decided to get a second pathologist’s opinion on the biopsy, which turned out to be crucial in discovering a potentially dangerous cancer. According to Wilson, “a second opinion is necessary and vital. Not just by another doctor but by another pathologist.” Click here to read the fully story.  (CNN)

Cheese may encourage certain kinds of healthy gut bacteria. You’ve probably heard that cheese is not so good for you, but the French are well known both for eating lots of cheese and for being healthier than their diet would suggest. Research out this week brings us one step closer to understanding why that might be the case. “The research—funded in part by Arla Foods (a Danish food company that produces dairy products) and the Danish Dairy Research Foundation—analyzed data from 15 healthy young men who ate three diets for two weeks. All diets had the same amount of calories and fat, but one was rich in 1.5% fat milk, another required eating 1.7 grams of cow cheese per day, and the third was a control diet. The researchers analyzed the men’s urine and feces to figure out how dairy is metabolized and what effect it had on markers of blood cholesterol levels.” Researchers saw more metabolites like short-chain fatty acids like butyrate and propionate that they know are related to the metabolism of the microflora in the dairy eaters. “They also had lower levels than the control group of TMAO, a metabolite produced when the body metabolizes choline, which is found in many animal-derived foods like red meat.” More short chain fatty acids and lower levels of TMAO have been associated with lower levels of cholesterol, which may help stave off heart disease. (TIME)

Long days at work can lead to more boozy evenings. While a beer or glass of wine might seem like a great way to unwind at the end of a long day, too many long work days might be causing you to overdo it. “A review of 61 studies across 14 countries (for a total of more than 330,000 subjects) linked working more than 48 hours a week with ‘risky’ alcohol use. Researchers found that when subjects worked those longer hours they were 11% more likely to be heavy drinkers than those who punched in for no more than the typical 40-hour workweek. For the purposes of this study, the team defined ‘risky’ drinking as more than 14 alcoholic drinks per week for women and more than 21 for men. The CDC defines heavy drinking as more than eight drinks a week for women, 15 drinks if you’re a guy. The researchers warn the study is observational and more studies are needed. But the team did find that switching to longer hours also changed your drinking habits. Over a six-year period, 12% of normal drinkers evolved into heavy drinkers after they started working longer hours.” (Fox)

Tango Helps Those With Parkinson’s

older couple dancing on the beachLearning to tango might seem like a challenge for even the most coordinated of enthusiasts, let alone for people who struggle with everyday movement. But new research released this week has found that learning a few dance moves can have a wide range of benefits for those with Parkinson’s disease. The findings open up a new approach to treating the disease that is both enjoyable and addresses many of the problems sufferers commonly encounter. Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Plastic Surgery, Arts and Crafts, and Being Short

Plastic surgery may change the way people think about you. Going under the knife to perk up your facial features has become a popular way to try to fight the appearance of aging, but new research is indicating it may also influence how others judge your personality. “In the study, the researchers asked people to rate either before or after photos of women who had had cosmetic procedures. Not only did they ask them to evaluate how attractive and how feminine she was, they also had people make guesses about her personality based on the photos. Why the personality traits? Previous studies have shown that physical features have a strong correlation to certain personality types. They found that people consistently rated the post-op photos as higher on things like social skills, likability, femininity and overall attractiveness.” But some have pointed to several problems with the way the study was done. “Asking people to rate faces on these characteristics is a bit artificial to begin with. The personality traits people were asked to assess have biased terms–like ‘aggressiveness.’ Raters might be saying that faces have certain traits only because they’re forced to make a choice when they might not if they weren’t in a study setting.” (TIME)

Sticking to hobbies, arts and crafts as you age can help your brain. While it can be easy to scoff at the arts-and-crafts activities offered in many community and senior centers, it seems these social pastimes can stave off some forms of brain disease. “256 people ages 85 to 89 with normal cognitive function filled out questionnaires about their typical activities at age 50 and also during the year prior to study enrollment. Every 15 months for roughly the next four years, the participants completed in-person mental status checkups with tests of memory, language, visual-spatial skills and executive function, which include abilities like reasoning and problem solving. Those who said they engaged in things like painting, quilting or book clubs during middle age were less likely to develop memory impairments that may precede dementia.” The study indicates that these sorts of activities could help to keep a person’s mind active and help stave off diseases associated with aging. “As you use your brain for these activities, we believe that you preserve or maintain function of the brain cells; you may also develop new neurons or neuronal connections that preserve memory and thinking skills.” (Reuters)

Being short may up your risk of heart disease. It seems like there’s another reason to resent being a few inches shorter than everyone else. New research out this week has found that being short may relate to heart disease risk. “After gathering genetic data from nearly 200,000 men and women worldwide, the investigators found that each extra 2.5 inches of height brings a 13.5 percent reduction in heart disease risk. The relationship is present throughout the range of adult heights. A person who is five feet tall has a 30 percent greater chance of developing heart disease than someone who is 5 feet 6, said a lead author of the new study. Experts have noted that shorter people are more likely to get heart disease in a variety of populations and ethnic groups, even after accounting for such risk factors as smoking and cholesterol, diabetes and obesity. But few researchers took the finding seriously.” The researchers don’t know what the reason is for the association, but think it may have something to do the genetics of height. (NY Times)

Getting Some Exercise Drops Your Risk of Liver Disease

jogging running coupleIt used to be that people with liver disease were mostly heavy drinkers. But as waistlines began to expand in the ’80s and ’90s, doctors noticed an increasing number of overweight and obese patients who seemed to have liver disease but who didn’t drink. Further research found that it was their weight, not their alcohol consumption that was causing problems for their liver function. Past guidelines had suggested that exercise might help stave off liver disease, but new research has shown that exercise is better than most realized. Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Exercise, Supplements and Mammograms

Even a little exercise is better than none. While current health guidelines recommend at least two to three hours of physical activity per week for optimal health, many fall below that mark. New research has shown that shouldn’t discourage you. “During years of follow-up, the team found that people who did less than the minimum recommended amount of physical activity still had a considerable decrease in risk of death compared to people who did no activity at all. Researchers looked at data on more than 660,000 men and women in the U.S. and Europe. Half the studies had tracked participants for more than 14 years. Based on self-reports of physical activity, people who did less than the recommended minimum of activity were still 20 percent less likely to die during the studies than people who were not active at all.” That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother to hit the minimum benchmarks. “Mortality risk was 31 percent lower for people who did one to two times the recommended minimum, and 37 percent lower for those who did two to three times the recommended minimum.” Still, the research shows that whatever you can fit in is better than nothing at all. (Reuters)

Acacia rigidula supplements may contain dangerous amphetamine. The FDA doesn’t verify the claims you see on herbal supplements, and recent research has shown these companies make outlandish claims about what their herbs do and may even add dangerous chemicals to get the right effect. “A new study found the stimulant beta-methylphenylethylamine, or BMPEA, in more than half of 21 brands of Acacia rigidula supplements. The products tested were marketed for weight loss, athletic performance and to improve brain function, the researchers said. BMPEA has been shown to raise blood pressure and heart rates in dogs and cats but has not been studied in humans. The World Anti-Doping Agency classifies it as a doping agent because it is closely related to amphetamine. BMPEA is the latest in a series of amphetamine-like stimulants that have appeared in supplements. Acacia rigidula, a shrub that is native to Texas, does not naturally contain BMPEA. The FDA began investigating the product after a study in the late 1990s suggested there could be trace amounts of amphetamine in the plant. The agency found no amphetamine and no BMPEA in the plant itself but high levels of synthetic BMPEA.” Rises in blood pressure and heart rate can increase the risk of stroke and heart disease. Acacia rigidula is also known as blackbrush acacia, Chaparro Prieto and Vachellia rigidula. (Fox)

Mammograms may lead to many false positives, higher cost. While there’s no doubt that mammograms help to detect breast cancer, the test has come under fire lately around concerns that it may lead some women to get more workups than they really need. “A new report estimates that the U.S. spends $4 billion a year on unnecessary medical costs due to mammograms that generate false alarms and on treatment of breast tumors unlikely to cause problems. The study breaks the cost down as follows: $2.8 billion resulting from false-positive mammograms and another $1.2 billion attributed to breast cancer overdiagnosis. That’s the treatment of tumors that grow slowly or not at all, and are unlikely to develop into life-threatening disease during a woman’s lifetime. The cost estimates cover women ages 40-59. Apart from the financial cost of screening tests and treatment, false positives and overdiagnosis expose women to risks from additional medical procedures, not to mention psychological distress. It’s not uncommon for mammograms to turn up some apparent abnormality that has to be resolved with more imaging tests or a biopsy.” The researchers hope their findings will continue the conversation about how best to use the mammogram as a screening tool for breast cancer. (CBS)

Smoking for Weight Loss Makes Quitting Less Likely

woman quit smokingEver heard that smoking can help you lose a few pounds? If so, you’re not alone. Many people notice that they lose a little weight when they first start smoking, and some continue smoking for fear of weight gain if they stop. New research out this week has shown that the belief that smoking helps with weight loss can have a powerful influence over whether women decide to quit and may even overpower the effects of some of the usual tricks designed to get people off nicotine. Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Acetaminophen, Googling and Sitting

Tylenol doesn’t work for most chronic pain. When you have a sore back or aching knees, your first inclination might be to reach for acetaminophen. But according to new research out this week, that might not be the right choice for common causes of chronic pain. “Australian researchers reviewed three randomized trials that compared acetaminophen with a placebo for the relief of spinal pain, and 10 trials that compared their use for easing the pain of osteoarthritis. All together, the analysis included 5,366 patients. The review found high quality evidence that acetaminophen is ineffective in treating low back pain or disability. The studies of pain from knee and hip arthritis found a small but clinically insignificant short-term pain-relief effect for acetaminophen compared with a placebo.” This is not to say that acetaminophen never works. Instead, the researchers emphasize that it should probably be used for short-term pain. Those with chronic pain should talk to their doctors about other pain relievers that might help with chronic pain, especially if that pain is back pain or from arthritis. (New York Times)

Googling the answers to your questions make you feel smarter. When someone asks a question no one seems to know the answer to, it’s tempting to pull out your phone and find the answer. New findings published this week have found that doing so can make you feel smarter, but may not actually make you smarter. “The researchers asked 195 people to answer common questions, such as “how does a zipper work?” Half were told to look up the answers on the Internet, and half were told not to. Then they asked them to rate their ability to explain the answers to six unrelated questions. The group that had searched the Internet claimed much more knowledge than the group that hadn’t. They next asked 142 people to rate their ability to explain six concepts before and after they did the same experiment. Beforehand, they expressed the same confidence to explain the material. But afterward, those who used the Internet were confident they could give significantly better answers. And even when they rigged the online searches so that they produced no results, the Internet users rated themselves as more knowledgeable than non-Internet users.” The team found the Googling effect only applies to areas where people think the Internet might be useful, indicating people are storing in their brain where to find certain information, rather than the actual information itself. (Washington Post)

Sitting less also means less diabetes. When the newest season of your favorite TV show appears online, it can be tempting to watch the whole thing in one go. But new research has found that doing so regularly may increase your diabetes risk. “The group started with the population of people at higher risk of developing diabetes who were enrolled in the Diabetes Prevention Program. Some were assigned to exercise at least 150 minutes at a moderate level each week and change their diet with the goal of losing 7% of their body weight. Others were given the diabetes drug metformin, and another group was given a placebo. After more than three years, those who adopted the lifestyle changes lowered their risk of developing diabetes by 58%, compared to 31% for those taking the drug. The researchers also asked how much time they spent sitting at work and how much time they spent watching TV. The lifestyle group spent fewer hours sitting than the metformin and placebo groups, despite the fact that sitting less was not a specific goal of the program. And the more time they spent off their chairs, the lower their risk of going on to develop diabetes. Every hour spent sitting increased the risk of developing diabetes by 3.4%.” The results emphasize the importance of physical activity in lowering diabetes risk and suggest that efforts to help high-risk people avoid diabetes should include a goal of sitting less. (TIME)

Eyeliner Inside Lid May Irritate Eye, Cloud Contacts

Eye with black fashion make-upEyeliner has long been used to set off eyes and accentuate lashes, but new research is indicating that eyeliner applied too close to the inside of your lid may not be so kind to your eyes. While cosmetic companies have recommended using waterproof eyeliner when applying near the tear film of the eye, this team of researchers set out to see how much of that eyeliner still ends up on the surface of the eye and whether that might have any impact on the health of the eye. Read more  »