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Wednesday, 17 April 2019

40 New Health Studies That Will Change The Way You Live

From groundbreaking treatments to the latest in prevention, these new health studies could have a major impact on how you live your life. Here’s the latest news from the world of medicine.


1. Midday naps reduce blood pressure

A Greek study of 386 middle-aged hypertensive patients found that those who grabbed some midday shut-eye had lower blood pressure than their counterparts who powered through the afternoon. After adjusting for other factors, including age and alcohol intake, the 24-hour ambulatory BP (a measure of your blood pressure as you’re going about your day, as opposed to sitting in the doctor’s office waiting to be seen) was five per cent lower in people who took a 60-minute nap. This reduction is big enough to decrease the risk of heart attacks and lower the mount of antihypertensive medication potentially needed.

2. Being informed ups cancer-treatment success rate

Cancer treatments are almost twice as likely to work on patients who are given written information about their conditions, its therapeutic procedures and its potential impact on their working lives, according to a recent report from the University of London in England. The researchers speculated that knowing what to expect reduces stress and uncertainty, which are known to interfere with health. For working patients, it’s also helpful to be warned ahead of time that cancer treatment causes fatigue and they may wish to adjust their workloads accordingly.

3. Today’s seniors staying in better cognitive shape

On average, people over 50 are scoring better on cognitive tests than they were six years ago, continuing a trend of increasingly sharp seniors. Rising levels of education account for some of this effect, but researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria say there’s also another reason: the intellectual demands that come with using computers and smartphones are giving aging minds an ongoing workout.

4. Sizes of portions and plates contribute to overeating

A systematic review of more than 70 previous studies has concluded that people consistently consume more food and drink when offered larger portions, packages or tableware. According to the review’s authors, these findings could justify decreasing portion sizes in restaurants, cafeterias and shops in an effort to reduce our exposure to inflated services and to fight the obesity epidemic.

5. Flu vaccine could diminish stroke risk

For the first two months after a seasonal flu shot, the chances of suffering a stroke drop significantly, according to research funded by the United Kingdom’s National Institute for Health Research. The overall stroke rate among immunized people was approximately 20 per cent lower than what statisticians would otherwise expect. Getting vaccinated early in the flu season made a bigger difference than doing it later. Medical scientists suspect that strokes are sometimes set off by influenza, although they aren’t sure how. 

6. Calcium supplements don’t reduce fractures

People over 50—and women in particular—are often advised to take calcium pills to avoid broken bones. After considering more than 40 previous studies, a systematic review out of New Zealand has concluded this precautionary measure isn’t necessary. “There is currently no evidence that increasing calcium intake prevents fractures,” the researchers wrote. In short, calcium supplements may not be worth it unless you suffer from a severe calcium deficiency.

7. TV raises risk of fatal pulmonary embolism

Sitting in front of the TV screen for five hours or longer a day doubles the risk of dying from pulmonary embolism (a blockage in one of the pulmonary arteries in your lungs), compared to 2.5 hours or less. The average Canadian watches around four hours of TV a day. Blood clots are associated with sitting for long stretches of time, so standing up and walking around is a good preventative measure. 

8. In-person contact guards against depression

The more often seniors see family and friends, the less likely they are to develop depressive symptoms, says a paper published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Of the 11,065 participants, those who met up with loved ones or friends at least three times a week had a depression rate of 6.5 per cent after two years, compared to 11.5 per cent in those who met them every few months or less. 

9. Standing desks linked with sedentary off time

In a British study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 40 office workers were given workstations that wallowed them to either sit of stand. After three months, the subjects were more sedentary in their leisure time than before, but their sitting time still decreased from 10 hours and five minutes a day to nine hours and 21 minutes. The researchers recommended finding ways to be active outside of work, to avoid cancelling out the effects of sitting less on the job. 

10. Sleepwalkers often feel no pain after accidents

After studying 47 people who had hurt themselves at least once while sleepwalking, researchers in Montpellier, France, found that 37 of them didn’t experience pain until they woke up. One man climbed onto his roof, fell off and broke his leg but didn’t awaken until morning. Paradoxically, sleepwalkers were more likely to experience chronic pain and migraines in their waking lives. This suggests a relationship between sleepwalking brain activity and malfunctioning pain perception, the researchers said.

11. Talk therapy better than light treatment for SAD

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is depression triggered by the shorter days of winter. Light therapy—sitting next to a bright box that simulates the sun—is considered the gold-standard treatment. However, a University of Vermont study of 177 sufferers found that, when it comes to preventing SAD from returning, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is more effective. Once patients learn coping strategies through CBT, they keep them for life. 

12. Degree of “chemo brain” depends on drug taken

One of chemotherapy’s potential effects is long-lasting mental cloudiness. A recent JAMA Oncology paper compared breast-cancer patients who received anthracycline-based therapy to those who took other kinds of chemo drugs. The women—participants in a study by Stanford University in California—reported cognitive dysfunction, but the anthracycline patients performed significantly worse on verbal memory tasks. 

13. Food labels influence perceived tastiness

In an experiment out of Ghent University in Belgium, 129 people sampled four Gouda cheeses. On average, they ascribed a less salty flavour to the cheese with the “reduced salt” tag and didn’t like the cheese marked “light” as much as the “regular” one. Unbeknownst to the tasters, they were actually eating the same product every time. The take-away: health labels influence flavour perception, and some foods that sport them may be yummier than we suspect.

14. Shoe inserts a good choice for toe arthritis

It’s estimated that 44 per cent of seniors over 80 have osteoarthritis in their big toes. Some patients use foot orthoses (shoe inserts) or rocker-sole footwear (shoes with curved soles) to reduce pressure on the toe joint. An investigation sponsored by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia found that both interventions relieved pain. However, foot orthoses might be the better bet—they were less likely to cause backaches and impair balance.

15. Testosterone replacement not a first-line therapy

The European Menopause and Andropause Society (EMAS) has published its position on testosterone therapy (TRT): while worthwhile in some cases, it isn’t recommended for all older men with declining testosterone. TRT is controversial because of its possible effects on the risks for heart disease and prostate cancer, and until more is known, the EMAS urges patients to first try exercising more, quitting smoking and cutting down on alcohol.

16. Cataract surgery doesn’t reduce falls

Dizziness often diminishes after routine cataract surgery, according to the results of a recent English study published in Opthalmic & Physiological Optics. However, the proportion of subjects who took a tumble over the next six months held steady (when compared to the six months prior to the operation) at around 20 per cent. One reason may have been the number of patients who switched to multifocal glasses following the surgery. These have been associated with an increased risk of falling: the ground, and obstacles on it, can appear blurry when viewed through the wrong segment of the lenses.

17. Anemia linked with cognitive impairment

A German study with over 4,000 participants aged 50 to 80 found an association between anemia (a shortage of red blood cells) and mild cognitive impairment, which is a stage between typical age-related cognitive decline and dementia. Supplements or blood transfusions can often improve anemia, and treating this conditions might provide a way of slowing down unwanted changes to the brain.

18. Sniffing, gasping can prevent fainting

A sudden drop in blood pressure and heart rate cause vasovagal syncope, the most common type of fainting. In a Slovakian study presented at the latest conference held by the Acute Cardiovascular Care Association, patients with a history of this problem, which can lead to injuries when sufferers fall, volunteered for a head-tilt test that simulated the effect of standing up too quickly. When their blood pressure started to fall, they sniffed or gasped twice. This seemed to interrupt the fainting process and prevent a loss of consciousness.

19. Attitudes about aging may affect hearing, memory

In a study from the University of Toronto, 301 seniors aged 56 to 96 were presented with scenarios, related to a loss of independence and abilities, that were designed to gauge their views on getting older. The subjects who harboured negative feelings about aging and their ability to remember or hear things ended up scoring poorly on hearing and memory tests. The researchers surmised that low confidence could be a factor and encouraged older people to question age stereotypes and to use training exercises to enhance their mental and physical performance.

20. Kidney damage can begin in prediabetes

It’s a well-known fact that diabetes is a leading cause of kidney problems, but the damage may start sooner than previously thought. A group of researchers at the University Hospital of North Norway have unearthed evidence that the kidneys, which filter waste out of the blood, are already starting to lose functionality at the prediabetes stage (defined by blood-sugar levels that are higher than normal but not yet elevated enough for an official diabetes diagnosis). For people with prediabetes, a balanced diet and an active lifestyle are optimal ways to prevent diabetes and kidney disease. 

21. Eggs could help prevent type 2 diabetes

According to new research from the University of Eastern Finland, moderate egg consumption (approximately four a week) may reduce the risk of a common health condition around the world: Type 2 diabetes. Although eggs are high in cholesterol, they also contain nutrients that can improve sugar metabolism and reduce inflammation. (Health studies also show that eggs are among the best brain food for babies.) And in Finland—as opposed to the United States, where previous studies took place—eggs aren’t paired as often with processed meats, which are associated with a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes.

22. Trust grows with age and promotes happiness

A research paper published in Social Psychological and Personality Science suggests that, as people get older, they are better able to forgive minor disappointments and see the good in others. The researchers analyzed a sample of nearly 200,000 subjects from 83 countries and found an association between aging and increased trust that held firm regardless of the person’s generation. Although being trusting makes you easier prey for scammers, it remains good for your overall sense of well-being, they concluded.

23. Risk of exercise-related cardiac arrest minimal

Although they make the headlines, heart attacks during sports are quite rare, according to a study from Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in California. Only five per cent of sudden cardiac arrests were associated with sports in the most affected age group, the 35 to 65 set. And these victims had a better chance of surviving than counterparts who suffered the same kind of heart incident in non-athletic situations. The study authors concluded the their findings reinforced “the high-benefit/low-risk nature of sports activity” in the oder population.

24. Popular weed killer likely a carcinogen

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, the world’s most commonly used herbicide, “probably” causes cancer, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has declared. Scientists spent nearly a year reviewing studies linking non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma to glyphosate. The WHO has yet to weigh in on how much exposure is required to raise one’s risk—most people are exposed only to low levels. According to Health Canada, the doses that affected animals were more than 100 times higher than what a human would be exposed to when using glyphosate “according to label directions.” 

25. Mindfulness therapy as effective as drugs

People who’ve suffered from clinical depression have a high risk of relapse, so they normally stay on antidepressants for at least two years after they starts to feel better. However, a study of 424 patients in remission, from the United Kingdom, found that a treatment called mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) resulted in approximately the same success rate (between 53 and 56 per cent) as medication. MBCT combines the rational problem-solving approach of cognitive behavioural therapy with “mindfulness” techniques designed to reduce stress. 

26. Western eating wreaks havoc on colons

The typical Western diet is high in fat and low in fibre, while the foods consumed in certain African countries have the opposite qualities. In a study published in Nature Communications, Americans ate a South African-style diet for two weeks, while 20 rural South Africans ate like Americans. Even after such a short interval, the nutritional swap led to changes in the types of bacteria and the degree of inflammation in the bowels of each group. This may partly explain why residents of Western countries—including people of African descent—are much more likely to develop colon cancer than Africans are. 

27. Use an electric bike, cycle more

During a recent controlled experiment from the Institute of Transport Economics in Norway, cyclists who were given unlimited access to an electric bike doubled the distance they travelled by bicycle. While electric bikes can be pedalled like their non-electric counterparts, they also have a battery-powered motor that can be used for propulsion. They provide less exercise than an ordinary bicycle but still more than a car. 

28. Menopausal symptoms last longer than believed

A new JAMA Internal Medicine study of nearly 1,500 American women from a variety of genetic backgrounds suggests menopausal discomforts such as hot flashes and night sweats last for 7.4 years on average—and can sometimes continue for more than a decade. The researchers concluded that the medical community needs to develop safe longer-term therapy for these symptoms. 

29. Mediterranean diet boosts brainpower

A Mediterranean-style enriched with olive oil or nuts might help minimize the decline of cognitive function in older people. That’s the conclusion of a trial conducted in Barcelona, Spain, and published in JAMA Internal Medicine. Over six years, subjects assigned to diets rich in produce, legumes, whole grains and fish had lower losses of brain function than those in the control group. 

30. Looking tired? You’ll be judged for it

We know sleep deprivation is bad for our minds and bodies, but research shows it’s bad for how others perceive us, too. In studies from the University of Stockholm published earlier this year, participants examined photos of people with varying amounts of shut-eye and evaluated their attractiveness, health, reliability, leadership, employability and trustworthiness. When the photographed subjects appeared tired, they scored worse on these measures than when they looked well rested. The implications are that getting enough sleep could help further a person’s career and interpersonal relationships. 

31. Seeing calcified coronary arteries improves health

Of 189 Danish patients diagnosed with non-obstructive coronary artery disease, half were given standard information about risk and lifestyle. The other half were given this same advice, plus shown images of the specks of calcium forming in their arteries. This new research revealed that patients who saw these images were more likely to stop smoking (91 per cent versus 78 per cent), eat a healthy diet (66 per cent versus 36 per cent) and adhere to their statin therapy, suggesting that visualizing a health threat motivates people to make changes to reduce their risk. 

32. Psoriasis sufferers get the all-clear with new drugs

A new group of medications, known as IL-17A inhibitors, block a particular protein linked to inflammation in psoriatic skin. One such drug, secukinumab, was approved in Europe and North America in 2015, and a potential competitor, ixekizumab, is in the midst of Phase III clinical trials. Compared to previously existing treatments, they are giving more patients clear or near-clear skin within three months. It’s not all good news, though: the development of yet another IL-17A inhibitor, brodalumab, stopped after some patients reported suicidal thoughts during clinical trials. 

33. Dementia patients benefit from GPS

In a 2015 study of 200 Norwegians with dementia, almost all of the subjects enjoyed more independence and physical activity with the help of GPS devices. One nursing home resident tended to get lost and had been confined to the facility as a result. After receiving a device, he was free to take walks or visit cafes, since it was easy for staff to locate him. The study’s GPS users and their caregivers also reported improved peace of mind. 

34. No willpower? Blame stress

To identify why willpower wanes, scientists at the Laboratory for Social and Neural Systems Research at the University of Zurich recently enlisted the help of 51 health-conscious young men for a study published in Neuron. Split into two groups, the subjects looked at images of food and rated them according to healthfulness and tastiness. One group’s members then plunged a hand in ice water for up to three minutes, elevating their levels of the stress hormone cortisol. When the men were subsequently asked to identify which food pairings they found most appealing, the stressed set gravitated toward unhealthy options—comfort food.

35. Arthroscopy not for everyone

Each year, millions of people get arthroscopy, also known as keyhole knee surgery. But a new review funded by the Swedish Research Council has concluded that when it comes to middle-aged and elderly patients with knee pain and degenerative knee disease, the operation may be unadvisable. Yes, patients who underwent athroscopic treatment experienced a slight reduction in pain. However, the effect wasn’t permanent, and the surgery comes with a risk of complications—including deep-vein thrombosis—that may outweigh the benefits. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, physical therapy, exercise and anti-inflammatories can all be used to treat knee pain.

36. Walking aids help COPD sufferers

For people with moderate or advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), walking can be a challenge, due to decrease lung capacity and muscle function. Dutch researchers recently asked patients to try out two different aids: a rollator (a walker with wheels) and a draisine (which has a seat for support). The draisine outperformed the rollator for speed over short distances, but patients strolled longer and further with the rollator.

37. Music soothes post-surgery pain and anxiety

Patients who listen to music after undergoing surgery tend to feel less anxious and have less post-operative pain, according to a systematic review out of London, England, that weighed evidence from 73 studies. By way of illustration, one of the review’s authors maintained that listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon helped her relax in the hours following a recent hip operation. Given that music is inexpensive, non-invasive and safe, there is little to lose by playing favourite tunes to aid in recovery.

38. Stroke survivors’ spouses at risk of poor health

In a nod to the stresses of caregiving, Swedish researchers looked at the health-related quality of life of 248 stroke survivors’ partners—not only in the stroke’s immediate aftermath but also seven years later. Compared to a control group of 245, the spouses scored worse in such areas as body pain, social functioning and mental health—especially when their loved ones were disabled. The findings underline the need to find long-lasting ways to support families impacted by strokes.

39. Seniors report superior sleep quality

A study out of Switzerland’s University of Lausanne examining the sleeping patterns of people aged 40 to 80 found that on average, the more advanced subjects were in years, the more satisfied they were with their shut-eye. Getting older was also correlated with a decreased likelihood of reporting excessive daytime sleepiness.  The authors concluded, “Sleep complaints should not be viewed as part of normal aging but should prompt the identification of underlying causes.”

40. “On call” duties outside work hours take toll

Mobile phones and laptops let us work from just about anywhere at any time. But this convenience has a dark side, according to a German team that recently investigated the effect of “extended work availability” on cortisol levels. When someone is expected to respond to job-related requests beyond normal work hours, this “cannot be considered leisure time,” the scientists claimed. Since it impairs recovery from work, constant availability leaves the employee in a more stressed state the next morning. 

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