Health Hints

Good for the heart? Good for the brain.
A long-term study suggests that middle-aged Americans who have vascular health risk factors, including diabetes, high blood pressure and smoking, have a greater chance of suffering from dementia later in life. The study, published in JAMA Neurology, was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “This study supports the importance of controlling vascular risk factors like high blood pressure early in life in an effort to prevent dementia as we age,” said Walter J. Koroshetz, M.D., director of NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), which partially funded the study and created the Mind Your Risks® public health campaign to make people more aware of the link between cardiovascular and brain health. “What’s good for the heart is good for the brain.”

Sit up straight!
Posture isn’t just about how you look. How you position yourself can help or hurt your health over your lifetime, according to the National Institutes of Health. How you hold yourself when you’re not moving—such as when you’re sitting, standing, or sleeping—is called static posture. Dynamic posture is how you position your body while you’re moving, like walking or bending over to pick something up. It’s important to consider both static and dynamic components of posture, says NIH. Keep in mind these methods to maintain posture:

  • Be mindful of your posture during everyday activities, like watching television, washing dishes or walking.
  • Take frequent breaks for stretching and moving your body in different ways.
  • Stay active.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Make sure work surfaces are at a comfortable height for you, whether you’re working in an office, doing a hobby, preparing dinner, or eating a meal.
  • Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes.

Diet and eye damage
Near the center of the retina, at the back of the eye, is a small area known as the macula. It is needed for sharp, central vision, such as for seeing straight ahead to drive, read, and recognize faces. More than 2 million Americans have age-related macular degeneration (AMD). It’s a leading cause of vision loss among people aged 50 and older. Previous population studies have found that a high glycemic diet is associated with AMD onset and progress. Carbohydrates with a high glycemic load, such as white bread, can be quickly digested and so cause spikes in blood sugar. Carbohydrates with a low glycemic load, such as whole-grain bread, take longer to digest. With funding in part from the National Eye Institute, a team led by Drs. Allen Taylor and Sheldon Rowan of Tufts University explored the impact of dietary carbohydrates on retinal damage in mice, a sign of AMD. The team hypothesized that switching middle-aged mice from a high glycemic diet to a low glycemic diet would delay or stop retinal damage. In fact, mice fed a high glycemic diet developed signs of retinal damage. Although the retina of a mouse lacks a macula, these signs were similar to those in people with dry AMD. When the mice were switched from a high to low glycemic diet, the build-up of certain harmful metabolic factors in eye tissue was delayed, stopped, or even reversed.

Water bottles vs. kidney stones
Can a high-tech water bottle help reduce the recurrence of kidney stones? What about a financial incentive? Those are questions researchers supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of NIH, will seek to answer as they begin recruiting participants for a two-year clinical trial at four sites across the country. Scientists will test whether using a smart water bottle that encourages people to drink more water, and therefore urinate, will reduce the recurrence of kidney stones. The randomized trial will enroll 1,642 people, half in an intervention group and half in a control group. The study’s primary aim is to determine whether a program of financial incentives, receiving advice from a health coach, and using a smart water bottle will result in reduced risk of kidney stone recurrence over a two-year period. The water bottle, called Hidrate Spark, monitors fluid consumption and connects to an app.

Back to basics
Skeptical of fad diets? The Washington Post lists five bits of practical advice that have stood the test of time, and probably will continue to do so for years ahead: 1) Choose a variety of foods (no one superfood can provide your body with the 40 nutrients it requires; 2) eat your vegetables (need we say more?); 3) get enough fiber (helps avoid constipation, reduces colon cancer risk, and can help prevent heart disease and Type 2 diabetes); 4) cut down on junk food (again, need we say more?); and 5) drink alcohol in moderation (ditto).

Pain management, 21st century style
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced a multi-component, $81 million, six-year research project focusing on nondrug approaches for pain management addressing the needs of service members and veterans. Approaches being studied include mindfulness/meditative interventions, movement interventions (e.g., structured exercise, tai chi, yoga), manual therapies (e.g., spinal manipulation, massage, acupuncture), psychological and behavioral interventions (e.g., cognitive behavioral therapy), integrative approaches that involve more than one intervention, and integrated models of multi-modal care.

A simple answer to ADHD?
Educators, policymakers and scientists have referred to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, as a national crisis and have spent billions of dollars looking into its cause, reports the Washington Post. But what if, as a growing number of researchers are proposing, many kids today simply aren’t getting the sleep they need, leading to challenging behaviors that mimic ADHD? Several studies have linked ADHD with the length, timing and quality of sleep. According to the newspaper, “In an era in which even toddlers know the words Netflix and Hulu, when demands for perfectionism extend to squirmy preschoolers and many elementary-age students juggle multiple extracurricular activities each day, one question is whether some kids are so stimulated or stressed that they are unable to sleep as much or as well as they should.”

Heading off asthma
Got a baby in the house? Let him or her mix it up with some pets or pest allergens. That’s because a study published in September in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology reports that shows that infants exposed to high indoor levels of pet or pest allergens have a lower risk of developing asthma by 7 years of age. Previous studies have established that reducing allergen exposure in the home helps control established asthma, but the new findings suggest that exposure to certain allergens early in life, before asthma develops, may have a preventive effect.

The Velvet Fog

Identify and avoid behaviors that might harm your voice, cautions the National Institutes of Health. For example, instead of speaking loudly when talking to a large group, arrange for a microphone. On days that your voice sounds raspy or hoarse, protect it by not straining or overusing it. Choose a quiet restaurant when meeting someone for a meal. Drinking plenty of water and using your voice less should help relieve hoarseness from misuse or overuse.

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