80+ 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.
Unwillingness to Try New Foods Linked to Risks
If you’re reluctant to taste dishes you haven’t encountered before, there’s a scientific term for that: “food neophobia.” A study from Finland and Estonia associated this behavioural trait with lower-quality diets, which may explain why it was also linked to an increased risk of type-2 diabetes and more inflammatory biomarkers in the blood—regardless of age, sex or body weight. Some people may be genetically predisposed to food neophobia, but they can still overcome it. To add more variety to your diet, be persistent. “An individual may need to try a new food 10 to 15 times before getting accustomed to it,” says co-author Heikki Sarin, a dietician.
These are the foods you should never eat past the expiration date.
Managing Pain, Minimizing Opioids After Surgery
Many patients can recover form surgery with few or no opioids, suggests a study or 190 subjects undergoing six common operations (e.g. gallbladder removal; hernia repair). Participants were told what to expect in terms of pain and advised to alternate 600 milligrams of ibuprofen and 650 milligrams of acetaminophen every three hours. They were also given a small opioid prescription to use if and when the other drugs weren’t cutting it. Over half didn’t take any opioids, and many of the rest left some of their prescription unused. Ninety-one per cent felt their pain was “manageable.” The takeaway: not everyone’s needs are the same, so rather than defaulting to opioids, consider whether you could first try to get by without them.
Candles and Indoor Air Quality
Wondering if the candles you’re using to create a cozy home pose a threat to your lungs? So were researchers at the Danish Environmental Protection Agency, since 39 per cent of Danes enjoy candles at home daily or almost daily. Frequent candle burning can leave a lot of ultrafine particles in the air, which are tiny enough to penetrate deep into the lungs. Safe limits remain undefined, but what’s certain is that you should place candles away from drafts (e.g. open windows; heat sources); a disturbed flame may not burn through all the wax that’s being drawn into it, creating soot.
Getting the Most Lutein From Spinach
Found in many leafy greens, the antioxidant lutein may help prevent macular degeneration (the most common cause of irreversible vision loss in seniors), among other conditions. A Swedish team prepared baby spinach in various ways to see how much of this nutrient was bioaccessible in each dish. Boiling, steaming or frying the spinach degraded much of its lutein. Interestingly, reheating it in the microwave compensated for this loss somewhat by making it release more lutein. The best method of all, even better than leaving the raw leaves alone, was liberating their lutein by liquefying them in a smoothie.
Work: Reattachment Matters, Too
It’s now well-known that mentally detaching from work when it’s time to go home is an important part of avoiding burnout. But learning to reattach at the start of a new day is a health habit as well. Rebuilding a mental connection to your work could be as simple as taking a few minutes to think about your goals for the day and the approaches and resources you’ll use to achieve them. German and American researchers recently associated reattachment with better focus, an improved mood, a great sense of control and a higher likelihood of seeking and getting support from colleagues. Past studies have shown that several of these factors can help buffer the negative health effects of workplace stress.
Watch out for these signs of burnout.
Are Your Muscle Aches Truly From Statins?
Sore muscles are a known possible side effect of statins. But there’s evidence that many of the people who believe they can’t tolerate this cholesterol-lowering class of drugs are mistaken. First, it’s easy to misattribute to statins muscle aches that may actually be caused by obesity or exercise. Then there’s the “drucebo effect”: experiences that result from expectations about a drug, not the drug itself. (It differs from the placebo effect insofar as there’s an actual medication involved, not just a sugar pill.)
In trials where subjects don’t know whether they’re taking real statins or not, even some of those in the placebo group complain of muscle symptoms. And when people know for sure they’re taking statins, a greater proportion of them report problems. An international team of scientists who analyzed a selection of past trials estimated that the drucebo effect caused 38 to 78 per cent of the muscle-ache side effects experienced by participants.
Your doctor can determine whether statins are the likely cause of your discomfort, in part by administering a questionnaire and, sometimes, by testing your blood for signs of muscle damage. If so, “other [kinds of] statins, lower doses or statins taken intermittently will often by considered,” says co-investigator Dr. G.B. John Mancini of the University of British Columbia. Stopping them altogether isn’t a decision to take lightly, since they do prolong lives.
To keep your muscles and joints healthy, make sure to follow these pain management tips from Canadian physiotherapists.
How to Shift Your Body Clock Ahead
Due to the fact that a late sleep/wake cycle clashes with societal demands, such as the nine-to-five workday, it can contribute to a slew of issues ranging from mood swings to an increased mortality risk. However, “night owls” taking part in a trial published in the journal Sleep Medicine were able to adjust their cycles by an average of two hours within three weeks. Each day, they got up earlier than usual, had breakfast soon afterwards, took in as much morning outdoor light as possible, ate lunch at a set time, avoided caffeine and napping from late afternoon onward, ate dinner before 7 p.m., limited light in the evening and went to bed early. The tweaked routine saw them performing better and feeling less sleepy, less stressed and less depressed.
Poor Sleep Hurts
Inadequate shut-eye may make you more sensitive to pain the next day, according to findings published in The Journal of Neuroscience. Healthy volunteers endured getting uncomfortable (but not harmful) levels of heat applied to their legs—once after eight hours of sleep and once after staying up all night. When they were sleep-deprived, areas of their brains involved in sensing, processing and tempering pain showed different patterns of activity, and participants found a greater range of temperatures to be unpleasant. Since pulling an all-nighter is an extreme and hopefully rare situation, the study authors also surveyed people about more modest sleep fluctuations in their daily lives. Here, too, better nights tended to precede less painful days.
These are the best sleeping positions for a good night’s rest.
Overcoming Compulsive Phone Use
It makes you feel frustrated with yourself, but you do it anyway: check your phone automatically and spend time glued to it rather than sleeping, exercising or doing the things you actually want to do. During interviews about this habit with adults of various ages, as well as teens, University of Washington investigators noticed that not all phone use left participants feeling regretful: they valued meaningful experiences, such as messaging with friends or learning new skills. That may explain why they felt ambivalent about apps that would lock them out of their phones altogether for blocks of time. The researchers suggested deleting apps and feeds that give you only short-lived pleasure that you otherwise find meaningless.
Concerned you might be addicted to social media? Here’s expert advice on how to unplug.
The Life-Saving Hands-Only Version of CPR
Traditional cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) includes both chest compressions and rescue breaths. Some people are reluctant to perform the technique because they’re afraid of contracting an infectious disease. But for cardiac arrest, you can leave out the mouth-to-mouth breathing and still make a difference. A review of national Swedish data found that between 2000 and 2017, the likelihood that someone going into cardiac arrest out of hospital would receive CPR from a bystander rose by nearly 70 per cent. During the same period, hands-only CPR was added to Sweden’s first-aid guidelines, and the rate of people using it increased sixfold. Compared to no CPR, either version at least doubled the patient’s chances of survival.
Read this CPR guide so you know what to do if someone is ever experiencing a life-threatening emergency.
PTSD: Talk Therapy Versus Drugs Alone
In the short term, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) tends to respond similarly to psychotherapy (e.g. cognitive behavioural therapy), medication (e.g. SSRIs) or both combined. However, compared to pharmaceutical treatment by itself, psychotherapy—with or without drugs—is more likely to lead to long-lasting improvement, according to a meta-analysis of 12 previous randomized clinical trials. In real life, people commonly wait for weeks or months to access talk therapy. Medication alone isn’t useless, especially if you need support right away. “Patients just need to know what outcomes to expect from the different treatment approaches,” said co-author Dr. Heike Gerger.
Learn to spot the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Seniors and Fractures Related to Dog Walking
Taking a furry friend out for strolls is a great way to get regular exercise, although the benefits may not outweigh the risks for everyone. A JAMA Surgery study of data from around 100 American emergency departments concluded that dog walking has been causing an increasing number of broken bones among old people. Seventeen per cent of these injuries were hip fractures, which can lead to a sudden loss of mobility and an ensuing serious decline in overall health. It’s not that seniors as a group shouldn’t own dogs, the researchers said, but they should consider their individual risk factors, such as low bone density. Accidents are less likely if you choose a smaller breed and put your pooch through obedience training.
The Benefits of Self-Kindness
If your inner voice is too hard on you for your faults and failures, then your health could be the worse for it. In a British experiment, participants who listened to a recording designed to make them feel self-critical showed signs of a stimulated threat system in their bodies: increased heart rate, more sweating and so on. This response is a natural and necessary part of life, but in excess, it can take a toll on both physical and mental well-being.
Another group listened to a recording that guided them to offer friendly wishes to someone they liked and then to themselves. Their hearts slowed and their perspiration decreased, suggesting that cultivating self-kindness can help with emotional and physiological regulation.
Reaction to Stressors Impacts Long-Term Health
People who “let go” of the stressful events of daily life (a flat tire or an insult from a stranger, say) enjoy better long-term health, on average, than those who allow negative feelings to linger. This was the finding of a Psychological Science study that first surveyed people about their emotions over the course of a week, then checked on their health 10 years later. Even after controlling for the number of stressors facing each person and the intensity of their initial reactions, those who didn’t still feel badly on the day after an event had a lower chance of developing a disability or chronic illness. These expert stress management tips can help.
A Single Concussion Raises Dementia Risk
In a cohort study of more than 2.5 million Danes, subjects who’d had a traumatic brain injury (TBI) were more likely to go on to develop dementia. The more TBIs, the greater the risk, but even one minor incident (a concussion) increased it by 17 per cent compared to people who were never injured. If you’ve had a concussion, don’t panic: your absolute chance of getting dementia remains quite low. That said, you might like to manage the other known risk factors, which include alcohol, and take precautions against getting hurt again. Brush up on the latest research on how to prevent dementia.
Stomach Pain Among Signs of Meningococcal Infection
A patient arriving at a hospital with a high fever, vomiting and a stiff neck is often tested for meningococcal disease, an infection that can cause meningitis and prove lethal if it isn’t treated quickly. However, if the patient also had a bad bellyache, the doctor might first think of investigating other causes (gastroenteritis or appendicitis, for example). That’s why patients and doctors alike should be aware that a meningococcal strain called group W, which is growing more prevalent, has been known to cause abdominal symptoms. Find out 10 more stomach pains you should never ignore.
A Photo a Day For General Well-Being
Taking a photograph each day and posting it online is a popular hobby, if the millions of pictures tagged “#365” are any indication. To explore how this habit affects health and happiness, British researchers studied online photo journals and interviewed their creators. Daily photography improved respondents’ lives by making them mindful of the present moment, by motivating them to exercise (going for a walk to get a shot), by giving them opportunities to interact with others who shared their interests and by creating a storehouse of memories.
Getting Active After a Heart Attack Halves Mortality Risk
Everybody knows that people who exercise regularly are less likely to have a heart attack, but what’s the impact of getting active after one occurs? To find out, Swedish health scientists analyzed data from more than 22,000 heart-attack patients. Compared to those who were inactive, those who started or continued an exercise habit were over 50 per cent less likely to die over the next four years. All heart-attack survivors should exercise twice a week or more, the lead author said. Start off with activity that feels moderate, not strenuous, and if you notice chest discomfort or long-lasting palpitations, notify your doctor.
Antibiotics May Foster Kidney Stones
Kidney stones have grown more common since the 1960s and 1970s, and a 2018 study of almost 260,000 U.K. patients’ records from the past decade suggests that certain antibiotics may be partly to blame. After controlling for other variables, people who took sulphas, cephalosporins, fluoroquinolones, nitrofurantoin, methenamine or broad-spectrum penicillins had a greater chance of developing kidney stones within a year. The risk increase ranged from 27 per cent to more than 100 per cent, depending on the drug class.
Would you be able to recognize these common kidney stone symptoms?
Multivitamins Don’t Prevent Cardiovascular Disease
Many people pop daily multivitamins in the hopes of improving their general health and life expectancy. Canadian and French researchers decided to see whether these supplements help prevent the world’s leading cause of death: cardiovascular disease. After pooling the findings from recent trials, they concluded that multivitamins don’t show any significant effect on the risk of CVD, heart attacks or strokes. With exceptions, such as some pregnant women and irritable-bowel-disorder sufferers, most people can get all the vitamins and minerals they need from food, without having to buy supplements.
Check out these heart health tips from heart doctors.
Seeing the Same Doctor Reduces Mortality Risk
Based on evidence from 22 previous studies, a British review linked continuity of care (repeated contact between a patient and the same doctor) with a modest but significant reduction in the risk of dying. A strong doctor-patient relationship can result in better monitoring, improved responsiveness to the patient’s concerns, tailored treatment and better adherence to said treatment, since the patient is likely to trust the doctor more.
Make sure you avoid these common doctor appointment mistakes.
Lentils Lower Blood Glucose
Good news for diabetics: not only are lentils rich in protein, fibre and micronutrients, it turns out they can also help with blood-glucose management. An experiment conducted at the University of Guelph compared eating a serving of starchy food (rice or potatoes) to eating the same foods with half of the portion swapped out for lentils. The lentils slowed the release of the meal’s sugars, resulting in blood-glucose levels that were 20 to 35 per cent lower. Find out more painless ways to increase dietary fibre.
Celiac Patients Unwittingly Consuming Gluten
Managing celiac disease usually requires ingesting 10 milligrams or less of gluten per day, but this is easier said than done, according to a study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The stool and urine of people trying to follow a gluten-free diet revealed that they were being exposed to an estimated average of 150 to 400 milligrams per day. Lesser-known sources include certain medications, lipsticks, sauces and vitamins. Celiac patients who are experiencing symptoms should re-examine their habits with the advice of a dietitian or doctor.
Find out more things your poop can teach you about your health.
New Migraine Prevention Treatment Available
The first medication developed specifically to prevent migraines—rather than repurposed from treatments for other kinds of conditions—has been approved in Europe. Erenumab (brand name Aimovig) is the first in a class of drugs that will tackle the problem by blocking a particular receptor that transmits migraine pain. Taken as a monthly home injection, it has been shown to reduce the frequency of migraines by more than 50 per cent for over half of patients, and even eliminate them for some. The short-term side effects seem to be infrequent and mild (e.g., injection pain, possible nasal infections), although, as with any new drug, little is known about the longer-term effects.
Oranges Ward Off Macular Degeneration
Regular enjoyment of oranges may help prevent macular degeneration, a major cause of age-related vision loss. An observational study of more than 2,000 seniors, conducted from the Westmead Institute for Medical Research in Australia, calculated a 60 per cent reduced risk in subjects who tended to eat at least one orange daily. In addition to the vitamin C present, flavonoids might also explain the effect, since these compounds prevent oxidative stress and reduce inflammation in the body. Get to know more foods that fight inflammation.
Alcohol Impairment May Persist Into Hangover
Having alcohol in your system hampers your ability to think straight. But even after it’s left your bloodstream, your mental performance might remain subpar for a while, according to a review of 19 studies. The authors, from the University of Bath in England, collected evidence that concentration, reaction times, memory and driving ability continue to be poorer the day after a heavy drinking session. Hangovers involve fatigue and changes to levels of hormones and cytokines (molecules that help regulate immune responses), any of which might explain these effects.
Make sure you know how to drink without getting a hangover.
Airport Security a Germ Hotspot
A group of Finnish and British scientists took a trip to Helsinki Airport to see how many respiratory viruses (flu, for example) they could find on various surfaces. While they found no sign of these germs in the toilets, there were traces of viruses in half of the samples they took from the trays in the security area. Noting that these trays are handled by nearly all embarking passengers and that they aren’t routinely disinfected at every airport, they recommended using hand sanitizer before and after passing through. Once you’re on board, this is the right way to germ-proof your plane seat.
Veggies Lower Breast-Cancer Risk
In two large observational studies analyzed by Harvard health scientists, eating 5.5 or more servings of fruit and veggies each day was associated with an 11 per cent reduced likelihood of getting breast cancer, compared to 2.5 servings or less. The effect was even more pronounced for aggressive forms of breast cancer such as ER-negative and HER2-enriched tumours. Cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cauliflower and kale) and orange/yellow ones (carrots, squash) appeared to pack the greatest preventive punch. Here are more simple ways you can reduce your risk of breast cancer.
Staying Hydrated Prevents Bladder Infections
Approximately half of all women experience urinary-tract infections. A 2018 trial enrolled Bulgarian subjects who had a history of repeated bladder infections and who normally drank less than 1.5 litres of fluid per day. Half of them were asked to add an additional 1.5 litres of water to their usual daily intake. Over the following year, this group had only around half the number of infections compared to the women who continued with their previous habits. The scientists speculated that fluids flush bacteria and hamper their ability to attach to the bladder. Here’s how much water you need to drink to stay hydrated.
Losing Weight May Reverse Atrial Fibrillation
Encouraging new evidence from Australia shows that people who have atrial fibrillation (AF) may be able to reverse the progression of the heart condition by adjusting lifestyle factors and shedding excess pounds. In a study of patients with a body mass index of 27 or higher, the majority of those who took off 10 per cent or more of their body weight went from persistent AF to shorter-term episodes—or even stopped experiencing an irregular heart rhythm altogether.
Check out some of the most bizarre weight loss tips that actually work!
Antibiotics Can Replace Appendicitis Surgery
If you have abdominal pain that gradually grows severe, see a doctor as soon as possible. It could be appendicitis (an inflamed appendix), a dangerous problem that requires treatment. If you catch it before it ruptures your appendix or causes other complications, you won’t necessarily need surgery, according to a Finnish trial published in JAMA. It tracked 257 people with uncomplicated appendicitis who tried 10 days of antibiotics before taking further steps. Over the next five years, 100 of them wound up getting their appendix removed, although none of them were hurt by delaying the operation. Here are eight more organs you can live without.
Discrimination Can Raise Blood Pressure
Unfair interactions can gradually get under your skin—and into your veins. A 2018 study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine looked at over 2,000 middle-aged American women from various backgrounds who’d been asked how often they faced everyday discrimination. These experiences could include harassment, name-calling or being presumed dishonest or unintelligent. Those who frequently endured unjust treatment were more likely to see their blood pressure go up over the next decade.
Do you ever catch yourself discriminating? Learn how to battle your prejudices.
Daily Aspirin Doesn’t Benefit Healthy Seniors
Because Aspirin reduces blood clotting, people who’ve had a heart attack or stroke are often advised to take a daily dose to help prevent recurrence. A recent trial conducted in the United States and Australia explored whether seniors without cardiovascular disease (CDV) should do the same. Over 19,000 healthy seniors were assigned to either an Aspirin group or a placebo group. After an average follow-up of 4.7 years, there was no significant difference between the two groups’ rates of CDV or their chances of remaining free from disability. However, people taking the medication had a slightly higher rate of serious hemorrhages. The conclusion: daily Aspirin’s benefits outweigh its risks for people with certain cardiovascular conditions, but not for everyone. Here are more health myths doctors wish you’d stop believing.
New ALS Treatment Approved
Until recently, only one drug was available in Canada for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease or motor neuron disease. That medication, riluzole (brand name Rilutek), can prolong patients’ average survival by two to three months. Now a second option has been approved: edaravone (Radicava), which slowed physical-function loss by 33 per cent in a 2014 Japanese trial of people with early-stage ALS. The disease remains uncured and terminal, but the ALS Society of Canada hopes the new treatment’s acceptance “will build momentum for the development of additional therapies,” according to CEO Tammy Moore.
Insufficient Sleep Linked to Dehydration
In a Pennsylvania State University study involving over 20,000 participants, people who said they regularly got only six hours of sleep each night ran a greater risk of inadequate hydration than those who got eight hours. The reason might lie with a hormone called vasopressin, which helps regulate the body’s fluid levels. It’s released in greater quantities later in the sleep cycle; therefore, people with less shut-eye might not have the optimal amount of it. “If you’re short on sleep,” said lead author Asher Rosinger, “and you experience fatigue, irritability or a poorer mood, drink extra water.”
Pick up these daily habits for better sleep.
Certain Supplements Might Aid Tumour Growth
Found in many fruits and veggies, antioxidants have a reputation as cancer preventers because they neutralize free radicals, molecules that can damage cells. However, some past clinical trials have associated taking antioxidant supplements during cancer treatment with worse outcomes. After observing how the antioxidants N-acetylcysteine and vitamin E affected melanoma in mice and human cell cultures, researchers at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden offered an explanation: they may protect healthy cells and cancerous ones. “Until more is known about the effects of antioxidant supplements in cancer patients,” says a guide from the U.S. National Cancer Institute, “they should be used with caution.”
Here are 50 myths about cancer doctors wish you’d stop believing.
Evening Exercise Doesn’t Necessarily Hamper Sleep
Breaking a sweat after dinnertime interferes with your shut-eye—or does it? It’s a widely held notion, but it’s not the conclusion of a recent Swiss review of the highest-quality studies on the topic. The analysis found that although “vigorous” training (activity that leaves you too breathless to speak) within one hour of bedtime might be bad for your sleep, an earlier timetable or more moderate exercise has a neutral-to-beneficial effect. It’s welcome news to people who can’t fit a workout into other parts of their day. There is, however, a serious downside to sleeping in on weekends.
Hypnosis Can Enhance Frontline Treatments
Thanks to outlandish pop-culture portrayals and an unregulated environment rife with pseudoscience, hypnosis isn’t gaining as much traction as mindfulness meditation, “even though they use a lot of the same mechanisms,” says Mathieu Landry, a neuroscience researcher at McGill University in Montreal. Evidence is mounting, however, that it can be used to supplement primary therapies for conditions that include phobias and chronic pain. For example, in a Dutch trial of patients with irritable bowel syndrome that wasn’t seeing satisfactory improvement through lifestyle changes and medication alone, hypnosis helped over 40 per cent of the subjects to reach “adequate symptom relief.” When offered by a GP or a psychologist, it’s worth considering, Landry says.
These are the signs you could use the help of a therapist.
Portable Air Purifiers May Shield the Heart
The air inside virtually every house contains at least some fine particulate matter. Coming from sources such as mould, fireplaces or cooking smoke, these microscopic particles increase the risk of respiratory and cardiovascular problems—especially in older people. In a JAMA Internal Medicine trial of seniors in Detroit, plugging in an air purifier at home not only reduced participants’ exposure to the noxious particles by roughly 30 to 50 per cent (depending on the filter), it also lowered their systolic blood pressure by a modest but meaningful average of 3.2 mm Hg. Available in Canada for as little as $100, these appliances could be an affordable way of reducing people’s health burdens. Can’t afford an air purifier? Here are the best air cleaning houseplants.
Non-Sugar Sweeteners: No Harms or Benefits (Yet)
From aspartame to sucralose to stevia, sugar substitutes are popular among the health conscious, but their effects on well-being—if any—are murky. To help the World Health Organization prepare guidelines for these products, European researchers reviewed 56 previous studies comparing people with different levels of intake. Overall, there seemed to be few notable health-outcome differences between the groups, and there was no convincing evidence that sugar alternatives help with weight loss. However, many of the studies so far have been poorly designed, small, short in duration or potentially biased, so future research may bring something new to light.
Get to know the real health risks of sugar.
Poor Listening a Common Factor in Misdiagnoses
Doctors’ listening skills matter when it comes to correctly identifying health problems, suggests a recent American study. In a sample of 184 reports of diagnostic errors, one half involved patients who’d complained of worrisome symptoms, noted that they weren’t getting better or told their doctors other relevant facts that were dismissed or ignored. If you feel like you aren’t being truly heard, get a second opinion or take an advocate along to your next appointment, suggests lead author Dr. Traber Giardina. “Whether it’s a friend, family member, caregiver or the hospital’s built-in patient advocate,” she says, “having another person involved makes it easier to get your concerns across.”
Find out why women’s pain often get dismissed.
Mess Can Lead to Distress
For people who don’t regularly sort through and purge their stuff, excess belongings can build up and disrupt well-being, suggests research published in Current Psychology. Social and emotional problems caused by a cluttered home—feeling overwhelmed, depression, family tensions—tended to increase with age. And among the older subjects, these issues were associated with reduced overall life satisfaction. There’s no harm in having a few possessions, the lead author said, but if you struggle to let go of anything, try instead to centre your sense of being “at home” on the important people in your life.
Don’t know where to start decluttering? Here are 26 things a professional organizer would throw out.
Self-Belief Could Improve Pain Recovery
The term “pain self-efficacy” refers to your belief that despite being in pain, you can still find ways to complete activities. In a British study of more than 1,000 physiotherapy patients with shoulder issues, those who started off with high levels of discomfort and disability but who had high pain self-efficacy were faring better, on average, six months later than people who began with milder problems but low self-efficacy. Believing in your abilities makes you more likely to do your home physio exercises and get back on track after flare-ups and setbacks, says lead author Rachel Chester. “Some patients improve their self-efficacy through observing others with similar problems and could thus benefit from working in groups,” she adds.
Read the true story of how one woman’s lower back pain turned out to be a rare kidney disorder.
Rethinking Hormone Replacement Therapy
It’s no secret that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) slightly raises the risk of breast cancer, heart disease, stroke and dangerous blood clots in the veins, known as venous thromboembolism (VTE). But for some women, the menopausal-symptom relief offered by HRT is worth the small gamble. Certain forms of the therapy may be safer than others, at least when it comes to VTE, suggests a British study of over 400,000 women. The researchers calculated that using HRT in pill form raised the likelihood of blood clots from 16 out of 10,000 cases to 25 out of 10,000 cases per year. By contrast, taking it through the skin with patches, creams or gels didn’t increase this risk at all.
Sharing Meals Can Prevent Malnutrition in Seniors
Enjoy your meals in the company of others when possible, recommends Canada’s new food guide, adding that for seniors this may “increase the amount of food you eat, which can help you get more of the important nutrients you need for health.” Around 34 per cent of Canadians over 65 are at nutritional risk. Feelings of hunger can decline naturally with age, and loneliness can further dull the appetite. The food guide suggests making mealtimes more sociable. Some ways to do this include joining a lunch group, inviting over family and checking with local seniors’ centres or churches about community dinners. When you’re alone, trying out new recipes or playing music can inspire you to eat.
Read the heartwarming story of how babies are spreading joy in seniors’ residences.
How (Not) to Talk About Cancer
Living with cancer is hard enough without the pressure to put on a brave face. That might explain why “hero” was an even more unpopular term than “cancer victim” in a British poll of over 2,000 people diagnosed with the disease. While some participants appreciated words such as “warrior” or “inspiration,” others said they didn’t accurately reflect their experiences. The euphemism “lost their battle” was disliked by 44 per cent of respondents, in part because it implies the person was defeated. (The preferred alternative: “died.”) While there’s no one right way to talk about cancer, a good starting point is to stick to the facts and not make assumptions about how someone might see themselves.
Next, find out how one woman used fentanyl to manage her terminal cancer symptoms.
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.
Here are nine surprising factors that can affect your blood pressure reading.
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. Here are the silent signs of kidney cancer you’re likely to ignore.
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.
Your “forgetfulness” could be a sign of another problem—and it’s not Alzheimer’s.
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. Here are 50 ways to lose weight without exercise.
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. Here are more stroke risk factors you can control.
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.
These are the best vitamins and supplements to take after surgery.
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. You might also try these five fitness gadgets that are guaranteed to get you off the couch.
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. Learn how to spot the signs of high functioning depression.
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. Here are the silent signs you need to move more.
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.
Read about the bizarre sleep disorder that causes you to binge eat in the night.
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. Here’s what it takes to be diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder.
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. Here are five ways to reduce your risk for breast cancer.
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. Here’s how to properly read a nutrition facts label.
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.
Here are 10 types of arthritis you could have—and how to tell the difference.
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.
Here are the prostate cancer signs all men should be on the lookout for.
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.
This is the leading cause of injury to seniors—and it’s often preventable.
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.
These 50 everyday habits can help reduce your risk for dementia.
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.
Think you know your health lingo? Here are 30 medical trivia questions only geniuses will get right!
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.
This is one of the best things you can do to ward off memory loss.
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. Here are four prediabetes mistakes to avoid.
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. Don’t miss the silent signs you might have diabetes.
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. Find out the one word that makes you instantly more trustworthy.
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. Making these 30 small changes to your daily routine can help boost your heart health.
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.” Don’t miss these 29 easy ways you can slash your cancer risk.
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. Here are 37 more stress-management strategies worth trying.
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. Don’t miss these 30 painless ways to increase dietary fibre.
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. Here are five more gadgets that are guaranteed to make you move more.
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. In the meantime, try these seven natural ways to treat menopause symptoms.
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. Feed your brain with this MIND diet meal plan.
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. (Check out the surprising connection between sleep deprivation and aging.) 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. Struggling with insomnia? Don’t miss these 12 secrets to a deeper sleep.
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. Struggling with a vice of your own? Here are 10 proven strategies to kick a bad health habit.
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. Are you sure it’s psoriasis? Here’s how to identify (and treat) six common skin conditions.
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. Here are more helpful hints for caregivers of aging parents.
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. Got a craving for it yourself? Here are eight ways you can train your brain to hate junk food.
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. Health studies suggest that eating these three foods can ease knee pain as well.
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.
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.
These are the best songs to help you sleep, according to science.
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. Could you be having a stroke without realizing it? Here are the seven signs of a stroke you might be ignoring.
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. (Here are five surprising ways to stay awake after a bad night’s sleep.) The authors concluded, “Sleep complaints should not be viewed as part of normal aging but should prompt the identification of underlying causes.”
“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. Here are more healthy work habits we should steal from Europeans.
Here are more medical discoveries you’ll wish you knew sooner.