Monday, March 31, 2008

Is Popcorn a Health Hazard?

tidbits that tantalizeIt's Tasty - But, Is It Safe?

Perfect. With March Madness upon us, what could be better than a bag of buttery microwave popcorn and a seat in front of the TV? Games, lots and lots of games, should easily give you the chance to try all seven new buttery flavors of your favorite snack. But...

What if that wonderful treat is toxic?

Experts with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health, say that may be the case. The ingredient used to produce the buttery flavor, diacetyl, has been tied to lung disease in factory workers who manufacture microwave popcorn. Diacetyl has been linked to "Popcorn Workers Lung," a life-threatening illness.

The hazard exists primarily in factories that produce the popcorn. Workers who breathe the toxic diacetyl fumes are at risk. Bronchiolitis Obliterans (Popcorn Workers Lung) is an obstructive lung disease, in which the bronchioles, or airway branches, are blocked by fibrous tissue growth. The disease is irreversible, and the only treatment is a lung transplant.

There is a report of one consumer developing this disease: a man who consumed several bags of buttery microwave popcorn each day for 15 years.

Several U.S. popcorn makers, including ConAgra, General Mills and American Popcorn Co., have taken steps to remove diacetyl from their process. Congress is working on legislation to restrict the levels of diacetyl to which workers may be exposed.

So, while the risk at the consumer level appears to be slight, do yourself a favor. Buy some popcorn kernels and make your own "from scratch" popcorn. Yes, it's a radical idea - homemade food...

To read more about the report, see this from Reuters. To learn more about eating whole, healthy foods, see this from The World's Healthiest Foods.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Alzheimer's Patients Stuck in Forgetting Mode

news you may not knowToday - Something Special?

Do you have a perfect memory? Doubtful. In fact, a process of forming new memories and forgetting old ones continually takes place in our brains. Yes, of course - it's the perfect excuse for the next time you forget your wife's birthday. But, it also sheds some quite interesting light on Alzheimer's disease (AD).

Researchers at the Buck Institute for Age Research recently discovered a surprising correlation between Alzheimer's patients and young, healthy individuals without AD. Both groups experience a constant process of forgetting. The young actually forget events much more frequently and rapidly than Alzheimer's patients. But, they also form new memories simultaneously. People with Alzheimer's appear to be stuck in the forgetting mode.

The brain is in a constant process of cleaning out old, inconsequential memories to make way for new memories. There's no need for you to remember what you ate for breakfast last Thursday. But, there is that issue about your wife's birthday. The researchers now believe there is a biochemical "switch" that controls the making and breaking of memories. They believe Alzheimer's patients' brains become less malleable, and this switch becomes stuck in the mode of constantly breaking memories.

"Young brains operate like Ferraris - shifting between forward and reverse, making and breaking memories with a facility that surpasses that of older brains, which are less plastic," said Dale Bredesen, MD, Buck Institute faculty member and leader of the research group. "We believe that in aging brains, AD occurs when the 'molecular shifting switch' gets stuck in the reverse position, throwing the balance of making and breaking memories seriously off kilter."

Research continues into ways to disrupt this process of continual forgetting. Previous research, with mice, has been quite promising in overcoming the impact of Alzheimer's.

One last note - did you remember to write down your wife's birthday?

To read more about this study, see this from ScienceDaily. To learn more about Alzheimer's, including resource links, see this from the Alzheimer's Association.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Magnesium May Reduce Risk of Stroke in Smokers

tidbits that tantalizeYeah - They Go Together...

If you smoke you may want to pay special attention to your diet. Yes, of course - we all know there are certain things in life that go perfectly with a cigarette. A hot cup of coffee is the perfect match. Or a cold beer on a summer's day. Or... Well, you get the picture. But...

Researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden say there are actually other foods that smokers should pay attention to. Foods rich in magnesium. Foods such as whole grains, vegetables, black beans, broccoli, peanuts, and spinach. These foods, their study shows, reduce the risk of stroke for smokers.

The group followed over 26,000 males smokers for a little over 13 years. Those who consumed the highest levels of magnesium, an average of 589 milligrams each day, had a 15% lower risk of cerebral infarction. This is the type of stroke that occurs when the flow of blood to the brain is blocked. Though the study looked only at men, women are also seriously impacted by stroke. In 2004, women accounted for over 60% of deaths due to stroke.

The researchers say magnesium helps lower blood pressure, and may also help reduce cholesterol. They also come down, once again, on the side of real food. The study participants derived their magnesium from whole foods, and the scientists are unsure whether supplements hold the same benefit.

The best step to take is to quit smoking. But, if that's simply beyond your grasp at this moment, then take the next best steps. Take a walk, get some fresh air, and be sure to stop by the market while you're out. Carry home a couple bags of magnesium rich foods. The exercise will do you good, and the magnesium just may save your life...

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To learn more about magnesium, see this comprehensive discussion from The World's Healthiest Foods.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Surgeons Refine Skills With Nintendo Wii

news you may not knowLet's Play...

My thanks to Susan Jacobs for today's post.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a small study in which surgeons played the Nintendo Wii in order to hone their fine motor skills. The training they completed with the Wii was actually to prepare the surgeons for a more advanced surgery simulator. Yes, it's essentially a process of training with a video game to play with another video game.

One of the key areas that doctors are trying to focus on is improving their skills with keyhole surgery, also known as laparoscopic surgery. Such a procedure is cutting-edge and requires a very adept attention to detail, as it involves the use of tiny instruments and a camera.

What kind of Nintendo game prepares doctors for such a task? One is the faithful Wii standby, Marble Mania, which is a 3D puzzle game that involves rolling a marble around a maze. A game like Marble Mania is much more useful than, say, tennis or bowling. The point of the Wii practice is to refine very subtle hand movements, after all.

In the study conducted with the Wii, a group of residents were tested on their skills with the laparoscopic surgery simulator. Previous to using the simulator, half of the group trained with the Wii, while the other half did not. As a result, those who had played the Wii showed 48% improvement with the laparoscopic procedure.

Authors of the study hope to develop a full-blown surgery simulator for the Nintendo Wii. This would be their ideal answer for residents who must go home due to work-hour caps. While at home, they can be training for surgery on their gaming console.

After the authors went public with their study, they presented it at the Medicine Meets Virtual Reality Conference, which garnered quite a bit of media coverage. From here, a more extensive study will be conducted with Stanford and Harvard universities, the University of Washington and East Virginia Medical School.

Susan Jacobs is a teacher, a freelance writer as well as a regular contributor for NOEDb, a site helping students obtain an online nursing degree. Susan invites your questions, comments and freelancing job inquiries at her email address

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Will a Drink a Day Keep the Doctor Away?

tidbits that tantalizeYeah - It's Good For You...

We all know the adage touting the wisdom of consuming an apple a day. And, it's not just a cute little saying. Apples are terrifically healthy, promoting lower cholesterol, fighting antioxidants, increasing cardiovascular health, and reducing the risk of kidney stones. They're pretty darn tasty, too.

But, what about alcohol?

New research conducted at the Medical University of South Carolina finds daily alcohol consumption also has significant health benefits. The study assessed the impact of alcohol on middle-aged men and women, between the ages of 45 and 64. The subjects were participants in a study of atherosclerosis. Significantly, these were men and women who previously were Tea-Totallers.

The results were impressive. Those who began moderate consumption of alcohol - defined as one drink or fewer per day for women, and two or fewer for men - experienced a significant reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease. At the four-year follow-up, the risk was 38% lower for those who now drank moderately. That's a huge difference.

"Most people are aware that moderate alcohol use can be part of a healthy lifestyle, yet current guidelines caution non-drinkers against starting to drink in middle age," said Dana E. King, MD, MS, lead author of the study. "We wanted to evaluate whether adopting moderate alcohol consumption in middle-age would lower cardiovascular risk. We were excited to find that moderate alcohol consumption, or one to six servings a week, lowered cardiovascular risk for our participants."

The news was even better for red wine drinkers. Those who consume only red wine showed the greatest reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Still a Tea-Totaller? While commendable, you may want to consider that glass of red wine now and then. It tastes great and it's good for you.

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To learn more about leading a heart healthy lifestyle, see this from the American Heart Association.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Smokers May Quit When Told Their Lungs Age Faster

news you may not knowYou Look Younger on the Outside...

How old did you say you are? Really? You're sure? Well, if you're a smoker, the question of age may not be quite so simple. Put that ID away - there are other ways to calculate exactly hold old you really are.

Dr. Gary Parkes, a family physician in Hertfordshire, England, has a special interest in the impact smoking has on our lungs. He's devised a methodology to assess the relative "age" of smokers' lungs in comparison to non-smokers. The age is calculated through the use of a spirometric test to assess lung function. In this case, Dr. Parkes measured the rate at which smokers were able to exhale air from their lungs. Comparing this data to non-smokers allows for a relative age to be calculated.

For example, one 52-year-old participant was found to have a lung age equivalent to that of a 75-year-old who had never smoked. In other words, he had added 23 years of hard use to his precious lungs, rendering them no more powerful than an average 75-year-old. It's a distressing bit of news.

The distress is exactly the idea. Dr. Parkes wanted to know if telling smokers their relative lung age would encourage them to quite smoking. It did. After one year, those told their lung age were twice as likely to have quit as those who were simply encouraged to quit: 13.4% versus 6.4%.

What's the bottom line? 13.4% is better than 6.4%, but there are still way too many smokers. Any intervention, including this simple assessment of lung age, which can help smokers quit is extremely valuable. Why? Because there's a lifetime of good living waiting - if you're healthy enough to grab hold of it.

So, come on. Give those achy lungs a break. Take a walk, get some fresh air. You may be surprised at just how enjoyable life post-cigarettes can be.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To read the entire study, see this from the British Medical Journal. For young smokers, see this previous blog post, which reports damaged arteries quickly return to normal when you quit smoking.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Vitamins No Protection Against Lung Cancer

news you may not knowDon't Be Shy - Try Some...

Do you smoke? If so, you may be among those trying to offset the negative effect by taking vitamins. Many smokers, and ex-smokers, take various vitamins to ward off the impact of the dreaded cigarette. But, sadly, it may be too little too late.

Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle found that vitamins offer no protection against lung cancer. They studied over 75,000 people, ages 50 to 76, to assess the impact of vitamins and supplements on lung cancer. They specifically looked at multivitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, and folate. Though they may offer other health benefits, these vitamins did not reduce the risk of lung cancer.

The news was even less encouraging for one of the vitamins. The study found that taking high doses vitamin E actually increased the risk of developing lung cancer. This was especially true for smokers.

The study also found that the majority of those who developed lung cancer were either smokers or ex-smokers. Hmm... No surprise there. The researchers note that eating foods rich in these vitamins have been shown to reduce the risk of cancer.

What's the bottom line? Well, step one is to stop smoking. Use the patch, chew some gum, lock yourself in a padded room - just get it done. Then pick up some food. Real food, like a piece of fruit or some veggies. Your body will thank you.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To learn more about eating whole, healthy foods, see this from The World's Healthiest Foods.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Need Energy? Get Off the Couch!

tidbits that tantalizeCouch Free Zone...

Are you a basketball fan? If so, you already know what time of year it is - March Madness! Woohoo! What better excuse is there to move the refrigerator into the family room, plop down on the couch and settle in for, oh, a good three or four weeks? Not a sports fan? No problem. There are countless couch related activities that will suit your persona. After all, this is the golden age of cable television. You love crocheting? There's a channel for that.

That's exactly the problem.

There is sufficient opportunity for everyone to become a steadfast couch potato. Then the downward spiral begins. Sitting on the couch causes people to become less fit and less energetic. As they lose their physical tone they're less likely to exercise, resulting in a further decrease in fitness and energy. It's a tough cycle to break.

But, researchers at the university of Georgia say it can be broken. Their study finds that sedentary people who get off the couch, and exercise even a modest amount, both reduce fatigue and boost energy. It's really quite terrific news.

These are simple steps everyone can take. The benefits are experienced from only 20 minutes of exercise, completed just three days per week. And, the study actually found that low intensity exercise helped more than intense exercise. The researchers believe people who are sedentary may simply become overly tired if their initial efforts are too strenuous.

20 minutes - 3 times per week.

It's really quite doable. There are also other benefits to be derived.

"Exercise traditionally has been associated with physical health, but we are quickly learning that exercise has a more holistic effect on the human body and includes effects on psychological health," said researcher Tim Puetz. "What this means is that in every workout a single step is not just a step closer to a healthier body, but also to a healthier mind."

A healthier body and mind... Come on - it's worth it. Get off the couch today!

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To read more about the benefits of exercise, see this from the Mayo Clinic.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Google Gets Personal With Medical Records

news you may not knowThis Could Get Tricky...

It's a huge problem. Unless you're incredibly healthy, or simply refuse to see the doctor, you've got records. Medical records, x-rays, lab tests, charts, doctor's notes, annotations, and pages and pages of miscellaneous scribbles. The problem is how to manage them.

How do you get your records from here to there? Well, it usually means a phone call, or a fax to authorize release, or a letter, or a visit in person. Then, it's on to the next provider, and the next, ad infinitum. There's got to be a better way, don't you think?

Google thinks so too. In their quest to set all things digital in order, Google has turned to the complicated arena of personal medical records with the launch of Google Health. While others, including Microsoft and former AOL's Steve Case, have already entered the fray, Google's entry is causing quite a stir.

They've teamed up with some heavy hitters in the health care field, including the prestigious Cleveland Clinic. The goal is to establish a private electronic collection site for medical records. The site will be password protected and access controlled by the patient. If all works according to plan, the process of forwarding medical records in the future will be as simple as a few clicks of the mouse.

Google has also teamed with Quest Diagnostics, health insurance provider Aetna Inc., and the pharmacies of Walgreen's and Wal-Mart. The eventual goal is to make Google Health a one-stop portal, where consumers can refill prescriptions, schedule medical appointments, and manage health records.

Google plans to make the service available for free - they expect to earn income through revenues generated when consumers search for health related topics from the site.

Keep your fingers limber and go out and buy that new mouse. You'll want to be ready.

To read more about Google Health, see this from Reuters. To read more about the competitive offerings, see this from HealthVault, and this from Revolution Health.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Five Heart Attack Signs to Know

news you may not knowFive You've Gotta Know...

What are the major signs of a heart attack?

It's an important question but, unfortunately, fewer than one in three Americans know the five most common warning signs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) surveyed over 70,000 adults to assess their knowledge of heart attack symptoms. They found only 31% knew all five:

-Shortness of breath

-Chest pain

-Pain in the jaw, neck, or back

-Pain in the arm or shoulder

-Weakness or lightheadedness

The survey also found that women, whites, and those with more education were more likely to know these symptoms than men, minorities, and those with less education. It's critical to know the warning signs so that immediate action can be taken. Interventions, such as clot-busting drugs, may save lives - but, they are most effective when given within the first hour of the onset of symptoms.

The CDC recommends aggressive education efforts to increase the awareness of the major warning signs. In the meantime, study the above symptoms and commit them to memory. If you recognize these symptoms in yourself, or others, call 911 immediately. That simple call may save a life.

To learn more about the survey, see this from Reuters. To read more about heart attack and stroke warning signs, see this from the American Heart Associations.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A Smell Test for Depression?

tidbits that tantalizeNah - I Don't Smell a Thing...

Will you one day, in the foreseeable future, be diagnosed by the sensitivity of your nostrils? Will the ability to detect certain aromas indicate whether you have Alzheimer's? Will psychologists administer a Doake's Aroma Assessment of Depression?


Researchers at Tel Aviv University suggest this may be the case. Prof. Yehuda Shoenfeld, a physician who specializes in autoimmune diseases, believes there may be an underlying biological root to depression. His recent research indicates the olfactory system, our sense of smell, may be a reasonable marker for depression.

"Our scientific findings suggest that women who are depressed are also losing their sense of smell," explains Prof. Shoenfeld. He says one result of this process is women using too much perfume.

Prof. Shoenfeld discovered that patients with autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, have a weakened sense of smell. He attributes this to the body's reaction to particles known as "autoantibodies," which cause the body to attack itself. He says this physical process also induces a sense of depression and, as a result, Prof. Shoenfeld believes a reevaluation of the root causes of many psychotic disorders is necessary.

"People who are depressed seem to respond well to aromatherapy. There may be an organic cause to these disorders, and if this is the case, clinicians might have to change their attitude about current therapies they use," Prof. Shoenfeld says.

So, pay attention to your sense of smell. It may have some quite interesting things to say to you.

To read more about the research, see this from ScienceDaily. To learn more about aromatherapy, see this from The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy.

Monday, March 03, 2008

3 + 3 = Sick

news you may not knowReally - The Europeans?

American women are twice as likely to suffer a stroke than European women. The news is even worse for the guys. Men are 61% more likely to have a stroke than their European counterparts. Why?

Because 3 + 3 = sick. Really sick.

Americans have been becoming less healthy with each economic uptick. The same pattern has been observed in emerging economies like India. It appears sickness quickly follows on the heels of prosperity. As people become more affluent, they use their wealth to buy their ways into increasingly unhealthy lifestyles.

For Americans, five of the six stroke risk factors fall under the lifestyle choice banner.

A study by researchers at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands, points to six critical factors in the discrepancy in stroke rates between Americans and Europeans. The first three are barriers to health care, bad habits, and poor diets. The next trio of health hazards consists of the preventable risk factors of diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.

Combine the six risk factors and you have a surefire recipe for more strokes.

The researchers note that Europeans have a more proactive prevention orientation than Americans. Whereas Americans tend to seek relief from medications, the European medical community is more likely to advise an increase in fruits and vegetables, and other healthy lifestyle changes.

The current study results show it's good advice.

Brace yourself - "Americans have a few things they can learn from Europeans." Gasp! Yes, it certainly goes against the we-know-everything-there-is-to-know mentality of many Americans. But, consider: over 6 million people die each year from strokes, and most are from developed countries. Hmm... Maybe we do have a thing or two - or even six - to learn.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To learn more about strokes, including risk factors and prevention, see this from the National Stroke Association.