Healthy Heart, Sharp Mind

Americans are constantly advised to lead “heart healthy” lives, and for good reason: Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the U.S. But cardiovascular health is also a boon to the brain, new research reveals. The study examined the habits and lifestyles of more than 1,000 people who were an average age of 72. Specifically, they assessed how many of the American Heart Association’s goals the participants achieved—keeping physically active; main tain ing a healthy weight and eating regimen; not smoking; and keeping blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels under control. The participants also completed cognitive tests when the study began and again six years later. As it turned out, people who more closely adhered to a heart-healthy lifestyle showed fewer signs of age-related mental decline, reports TechTimes.com. University of Miami neurologist Hannah Gardener, who led the study, suggests more research is needed to pinpoint the age ranges (Read More)

How to Slow Brain Aging

Rigorous exercise may do more than protect the heart, trim the waistline, and keep bones strong. New research suggests strenuous physical activity can slow brain aging by as much as 10 years, the Los Angeles Times reports. Scientists followed 876 older adults for five years, tracking their physical activity and testing their memory and thinking skills. MRI scans also enabled researchers to assess their brain health. Repeat tests conducted five years later revealed the participants’ brain function was closely tied to how physically active they were. Those who opted for moderate to strenuous exercise, such as running and aerobics, had the highest scores and lowest risk for memory loss and decline in executive function. Less intense activities, including walking and yoga, produced only modest benefits. The brains of those who were sedentary, on the other hand, looked a decade older than the brains of their very active peers. They also had higher (Read More)

Loneliness Hurts the Heart

It’s no secret that loneliness is unhealthy, physically and emotionally. Already linked to a weakened immune system, unwanted isolation also takes a toll on the heart, new research suggests. Studies following 181,000 healthy people for up to 21 years showed that those who lacked strong social ties and had few friends were 29 percent more likely to have a heart attack and 32 percent more likely to suffer a stroke, reports The New York Times. Lonely people are more apt to smoke and less likely to be active, follow a healthy diet, or visit their doctor. The findings don’t prove loneliness causes disease, but lead researcher Nicole Valtorta of the University of York in the U.K. contends it’s as significant a risk factor as anxiety and job strain, and that more efforts should be made to help isolated people make connections. “Our study shows that if this is a risk factor,” (Read More)

Popular Medications Tied to Brain Damage

Your favorite cold medicine could be shrinking your brain. A new study reveals that drugs used to treat colds and a range of other common health issues, including allergies, heartburn, hypertension, insomnia, and depression, may erode gray matter and increase the risk for dementia and other cognitive problems in older adults. Over-the-counter and prescription medications, such as Tylenol PM, Benadryl, Claritin, Dimetapp, Paxil, Xanax, Zyrtec, Lasix, and Coumadin, belong to a class of drugs known as anticholinergics. They work by blocking acetylcholine, a chemical that transmits electrical impulses between nerve cells. Using PET and MRI scans, researchers from Indiana University School of Medicine examined the brain structure and metabolism of 451 people with an average age of 73. The study found those taking anticholinergic drugs had smaller brains and lower levels of glucose metabolism, particularly in the hippocampus—a brain region involved with memory that is vulnerable to earlystage Alzheimer’s disease. (Read More)

Enhancing Antidepressants

Antidepressants are only effective for about one-third of people who take them. But new research has found that combining these drugs with certain supplements, including fish oil, could boost their positive effects and offer new hope for people struggling with depression. Scientists analyzed the results of 40 clinical trials that investigated the effects of pairing certain nutritional supplements with several major classes of antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and tricyclic antidepressants. The naturally occurring compound SAM-e, vitamin D, and methylfolate all enhanced the efficacy of antidepressants, but omega-3 fish oils had the most dramatic effect, significantly reducing symptoms of depression, ScienceDaily.com reports. Researchers speculate that supplements help by easing inflammation associated with depression, or by targeting brain processes similar to those targeted by antidepressants. “This is an exciting finding,” says the study’s lead author, Jerome Sarris. “Here we have a safe, evidence-based approach that could be (Read More)

U.S. Suicide Rate Soaring

Suicide rates in the U.S. have hit a 30-year high, surging 24 percent in just 15 years, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. Since 1999, the suicide rate increased about 1 percent each year before accelerating to 2 percent annually from 2006 to 2014. Suicides increased among men and women in virtually all age groups, The New York Times reports, with sociologists speculating that the economic troubles of the working class and increased “social isolation” due to family breakdown and divorce were playing a role. But the sharpest rise in suicide rates was among young girls. The federal report reveals that 150 girls between 10 and 14 years old committed suicide in 2014 alone— a 200 per cent surge in that age group since 1999. “I think it may be a reflection of access to social media, internet, and (Read More)

Obesity Hard to Overcome

On the popular reality TV series The Biggest Loser, obese people quickly shed 100 or more pounds through grueling workouts and drastic diets. New research reveals, however, that the show’s approach does not keep the pounds off long-term, because obese people’s bodies fight to regain the lost weight. A study involving 14 former contestants found that only one managed to stay slim after six years; the rest regained most or all of the lost weight. After conducting a series of tests, researchers from the National Institutes of Health found the contestants faced a losing battle because of a phenomenon called “metabolic adaptation,” Vox.com reports. A person’s basal metabolic rate— the rate at which energy is used when the body is at rest—slows with weight loss or increased physical activity, as the body fights to maintain a stable weight. That problem was particularly acute for the show’s obese contestants, whose bodies burned 500 fewer (Read More)

The Benefits of Calorie Cutting

Even if you’re not seriously overweight, there’s a lot to be gained by cutting back on calories, including sounder sleep, a better sex life, and more overall happiness, new research suggests. Researchers asked a group of 218 people with generally healthy weights to either reduce their caloric intake or continue to eat as they normally would for a period of two years. During that time, the participants completed detailed questionnaires about their quality of life. Those who ate normally experienced virtually no weight change, but the people who curbed calories (by 12 percent, on average) not only lost an average of 17 pounds but also reported brighter moods, better sleep, friskier libidos, and an improved quality of life. Lead author Corby Martin tells CBSNews.com that calorie restriction produces a wide range of “positive biological and physiological changes,” including lower blood sugar and improved cholesterol and blood pressure.

Why Bacteria Are Becoming Drug-Resistant

People suffering from bronchitis, flu, and other ailments often leave their doctor’s office with a prescription for antibiotics— even though in many cases it will do nothing to help them. Nearly one-third of the antibiotics taken in this country are unnecessary, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), despite decades of warnings that overprescribing is helping fuel the alarming surge in drug-resistant superbugs. All told, the study found, some 47 million unwarranted antibiotic prescriptions are being written out each year. Many of them are for viral illnesses the drugs can’t treat, such as colds and sore throats, or for sinus infections, typically caused by fungi that aren’t affected by antibiotics. The researchers say it’s likely they’ve even underestimated the problem, because they didn’t consider antibiotics doled out over the phone and in urgent-care centers, or cases in which doctors prescribed the wrong antibiotic to treat a genuine (Read More)

A Cellphone-Cancer Connection?

A new government study is reigniting the debate over whether cellphones can cause cancer. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health found that male rats exposed to cellphone radiation for nine hours a day were more likely to develop brain cancers known as gliomas, as well as tumors in the heart called schwannomas. The longer the rats were exposed, the higher their incidence of these rare tumors, NBCNews.com reports. Complete results from the $25 million study won’t be available until next year, but with more than 90 percent of American adults using mobile devices, the researchers decided their initial findings warranted an early release. “We felt it was important to get that word out,” says toxicologist John Bucher. “Overall, we feel that the tumors are likely to be related to the exposures.” The study, however, produced some conflicting results. Oddly, female rats showed no effects from the radiation, while male rats exposed (Read More)