Happy Heart Syndrome

It’s already been proven that intense emotional distress—say, after losing a loved one—can trigger a cardiac abnormality called “broken heart syndrome.” But now new research suggests sudden bursts of joy can have the same effect. The condition, known as Takotsubo syndrome (TTS), occurs when the base of the heart’s left ventricle balloons and becomes partially paralyzed. TTS is rarely fatal but causes a rapid and severe weakening of the heart that brings on chest pain and breathlessness— symptoms akin to those of a heart attack. After analyzing 485 cases of the syndrome linked to emotional events, researchers in Switzerland found that 96 percent were caused by sadness and stress, but 4 percent were provoked by ostensibly happy occasions, such as weddings and birthdays, The Washington Post reports. It’s unclear exactly how extreme emotions damage the heart, but cardiologists suspect a surge of adrenaline may be to blame. “We believe TTS is a (Read More)

Size Really Does Matter

Short men and overweight women are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to education, career opportunities, and earning potential, a new study shows. After examining the DNA of about 120,000 adults, researchers at Exeter University in England found that men who are genetically predisposed to be short generally have less schooling and lower wages than those with tall genes. For every additional 2½ inches in height resulting purely from genetics (rather than diet or economic status), a man’s annual income increases by nearly $2,300. A similar analysis of body mass index (BMI)—a measure of body fat based on height and weight—reveals that heavier women face even greater obstacles than short men. When a woman has a genetically predicted weight 28 pounds more than another woman of the same height, she is on average paid $4,300 a year less. “This is the strongest evidence by far that there is a (Read More)

Americans’ Unhealthy Habits

To remain healthy, doctors say, you have to eat well, exercise regularly, avoid smoking, and keep body fat in check. But new research shows that only 2.7 percent of Americans are actually adhering to all four healthy habits. Researchers came to that surprisingly glum conclusion after examining national survey data on more than 5,000 people, compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only 47 percent got 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous exercise, only 38 percent had healthy diets, and only 10 percent had proper body-fat levels. Only 16 percent met three of the four criteria. “This is sort of mind boggling, to have so few people maintaining what we would consider a healthy lifestyle,” study author Ellen Smit of Oregon State University tells ScienceDaily.com. “There’s clearly a lot of room for improvement.”

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)

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)

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)

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)