Medical Notes 19-05


Medical Notes this week…

Cancer deaths are continuing to decline. In fact, a report from the American Cancer Society trumpets a major milestone—cancer death rates have dropped every year for the last 25 years. Overall, they’ve dropped 27 percent since 1991… but some cancers are even more striking. For example, lung cancer death rates are down by 48 percent among men. Breast cancer death rates are down by 40 percent, and prostate cancer death rates have dropped by 51 percent.

Parents of teenagers are remarkably pessimistic that schools are keeping their kids safe. A study in the Journal of Community Health shows that 36 percent of parents believe their local high school is “highly likely” to have a shooter incident in the next three years. The study finds that the majority of parents are dissatisfied with the systems schools have in place to counteract gun violence.

Two drugs commonly prescribed for type two diabetes may significantly raise the risk for heart attacks. The drugs, sulfonylureas (sul-fon-eye-loor-ee-ahs) and basal insulin, are often prescribed when metformin doesn’t work. But a study in the journal JAMA Network Open shows that patients who take basil insulin are twice as likely to experience cardiovascular harm, and those taking sulfonylureas are 36 percent more likely to be harmed than patients taking newer second-line drugs. Experts say the results should prompt large scale changes in how type two diabetes is treated.

And finally… more than half of people who take medical marijuana for chronic pain admit they’ve driven while under the influence… and one in five users say they’ve driven while they were “very high” in the last six months. The study in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence surveyed medical marijuana users in Michigan… where recreational marijuana is also legal. Researchers say they’re troubled that users don’t think there’s much risk to driving under the influence of pot… but they admit they’re not sure how marijuana affects driving for people who use it every day.

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Medical Notes 19-04


Medical Notes this week…

A drinkable cocktail of designer molecules is showing promise in stopping the development of dementia. A study in the journal Cell Reports finds that a cocktail based on an old antibiotic can keep amyloid beta peptides from binding to prion proteins—one of the first steps in Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers say the cocktail has also repaired synapses in the brains of rats… restoring memories. Scientists will now start testing the cocktail for toxicity.

If you’re using sugar substitutes as part of a weight loss resolution, a new study says “don’t bother.” In fact, the study in the journal BMJ finds there’s no compelling evidence that sugar substitutes help regulate any important health variable. Blood sugar levels and the risk of heart disease or cancer did not benefit from the use of saccharin, aspartame, or other artificial sweeteners. People who used plain old sugar ended up pretty much in the same place health-wise.

And finally… shaming people for what they do isn’t right… even though new research suggests that it can get people who engage in dangerous activities to quit. A study in the Journal of Consumer Affairs shows that smokers are more likely to quit if they’re told that their peers disapprove of smoking. However, experts warn that shaming people leads others to think that the bad effects of a bad habit are all their fault… and they deserve what they get.

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Medical Notes 18-50


Medical Notes this week…

Millions of people take low dose aspirin in hopes of warding off a heart attack. Millions more take omega-3 fish oil supplements in part for the same reason. But a pair of studies in the Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine show that if you’re healthy and haven’t had a heart attack already… neither one will do you much good. In both studies, heart events were virtually the same as for people taking a placebo. And those taking aspirin had nearly twice the stomach bleeding… and a lot more indigestion.

People who’ve suffered a terrible loss often suffer worse health afterward. Now scientists have tracked one reason. A study at Rice University shows that people suffering from severe grief experience as much as 53 percent higher levels of inflammation throughout the body compared to normal people, and that outward signs of depression are no guide to the inflammation going on inside. Researchers say inflammation contributes to almost every disease in older people… especially heart attack and stroke.

And finally… some people consider attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder to be a disability. But a study in The Journal of Creative Behavior finds that in some fields, like marketing, product design, and technology, having ADHD is an asset to employment. Researchers find that people with ADHD resist conformity and ignore typical information. In short, they much more easily think outside the box.

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Medical Notes 18-44


Medical Notes this week…

Some people are more likely than others to become persistent opioid users after surgery, and a new report from “Choices Matter” finds that millennial women are at greatest risk. Researchers say the number of women age 18 to 34 who become persistent opioid users six months after surgery rose by 17 percent last year alone. Forty percent more women than men continue using opioid painkillers long after surgery, and while 12 percent of patients overall become addicted or dependent on them after surgery, that number is 18 percent among millennials.

Over the last decade or so, a number of studies have come out suggesting that a glass of wine per day is good for your heart. But a new study finds that the risks of drinking far outweigh the benefits. In fact, researchers say consuming just one drink per day, every day increases the risk of premature death by 20 percent. The study in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research explains that daily drinking increases cancer risk so much that it overshadows any heart benefit.

A person’s mix of intestinal bacteria can mean the difference between being thin or obese. Now a new study shows that the bacteria in an infant’s mouth can predict obesity. The study in the journal Scientific Reports finds that a child’s oral bacteria at age two can predict obesity two years later. Researchers hope the finding may lead to preventive steps for children who are found to be at risk.

Lung cancer deaths in California are 28 percent lower than the rest of the country, and that gap is increasing by almost a percentage point per year. What are they doing right? A new study in the journal Cancer Prevention Research gives credit to the state’s aggressive anti-smoking campaign. Researchers say the campaign has resulted in a 39 percent lower rate of people who start smoking compared to the U.S. as a whole, a 30 percent lower consumption of cigarettes among those who do smoke, and a 24 percent higher early quit rate.

And finally… if you want to avoid getting sick this flu season, science has proven a way to increase the odds—turn on your tv. A study in the journal BMC Infectious Disease shows that people who watch more tv get sick with the flu less often. The reason is pretty obvious. Those people are staying home and have a lot less chance to catch a flu virus from someone else.

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Medical Notes 18-40


Medical Notes this week…

Researchers have found another way they might be able to identify Alzheimer’s disease at an early stage. A study in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology shows that an eye exam using already-available technology can reveal thinning in the retina of the eye… which is strongly correlated with early Alzheimer’s. Scientists used the technique to study 30 patients in their mid 70’s, none of whom had Alzheimer’s symptoms. Seventeen of them had thinning in the retina, indicating they may have early Alzheimer’s. Pet scans and other tests then indicated the eye test was right.

About 10 percent of people in the U.S. experience sleepless nights as a result of restless legs syndrome at one time or another. But now researchers say they’ve identified how the painful syndrome is triggered. A study in the journal Sleep Medicine shows that the area of the brain controlling leg movement seems to be in a constant state of readiness… as if the conscious brain is asking for the legs to move. Scientists hope the finding may lead to better ways to treat the condition.

And finally… wrinkles are usually a telltale sign of aging, but they might be a sign of something else as well–heart disease risk. A new study from French researchers suggests that deep forehead wrinkles—more than are typical for a person’s age—could be an easy, low-cost way to identify people with atherosclerosis. The study finds that over a 20-year period, people with deep wrinkles were nearly 10 times more likely to die of heart disease than people with a smooth forehead.

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Medical Notes 18-38


Medical Notes this week…

What’s the safest level of alcohol consumption? A new study concludes there’s no such thing. Research in the journal “The Lancet” builds from the fact that nearly three million deaths a year are attributed to alcohol use… and concludes that zero alcohol consumption minimizes that risk. Therefore, researchers say, it’s a myth that one or two drinks a day are good for you. They want national health officials around the world to take action to get people to drink less… or not at all.

Set your alarm clocks accordingly—researchers have found the ideal amount of hours you should spend sleeping each night. A study presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress shows that six to eight hours of sleep per night is most beneficial for heart health. More than that or less than that is bad for the heart. Scientists say if you’re having trouble regulating your sleep schedule, try going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, even on weekends, and avoid alcohol and caffeine before bed.

Not every pregnancy is planned… and it turns out knowing you were an accident can strongly impact your relationships with others. A study in the “Journal of Social and Personal Relationships” shows knowing your birth was unwanted or unplanned is associated with attachment insecurity. Experts urge parents to be careful when informing a child of their birth status. Knowing you’re an “oops” could have more serious outcomes than you might expect.

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Medical Notes 17-17

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Medical Notes this week…

We’ve reported on how dogs can sniff out a variety of diseases in people with scientists trying to create a mechanical nose to do the same thing. Now a study presented to the American Chemical Society shows they’re making progress. Researchers have identified a signature odor in 90% of cases of prostate cancer and have developed a chemical test to detect it. Doctors are looking for an alternative to the PSA test to detect prostate cancer because of the high proportion of false positives.

People who are depressed have a surprisingly high risk for heart disease. A new study in the journal Atherosclerosis shows that depression is just as much of a cardiovascular risk as obesity and high cholesterol. The 10-year study finds that depression is to blame for about 15% of all heart disease deaths, a rate exceeded only by smoking and high blood pressure. About 350 million people around the world suffer from depression.

It might be easier to get into an argument when you’re tired because you’re misreading the emotions of other people. A study in the journal Neurobiology of Sleep and Circadian Rhythms shows that sleepy people have trouble interpreting some emotions in the faces of others compared to those who are well rested. Tired people can read fear and anger in others’ faces but more subtle emotions are misinterpreted far more often.

And finally, slightly more than half of parents give sports the green light for their kids but about one in every six completely rule them out. The reason? Concussions. The rest of parents, about a third of them, allow participation on a sport by sport basis, according to a Harris survey for the American Osteopathic Association. About two thirds of parents say basketball and baseball are ok for kids. But less than 20% approve of their children playing football.

And that’s Medical Notes this week.