A community for people who want to remain as healthy as possible as we age.

Why Quick-Fix Diets Fail

(SouthBeachDiet.com) Approximately 90 percent of Americans make at least one New Year's resolution each year, and it’s no surprise that the majority choose weight-loss as their number one goal. It’s also the time of year when you may notice all the articles and TV segments about quick ways to lose weight. And while those gimmicky promotions may sound appealing, fad diets aren’t the way to go…

Many of the "quick and easy" diets you hear about promise maximum weight loss with minimal effort. As a rule, they tend to be pretty simple to follow, often with one prominent ingredient. Who can forget the Grapefruit Diet, the Cabbage Soup Diet, and the Ice Cream Diet of years past? Admittedly, there’s a reason such diets continue to find willing followers: People do lose weight (at least temporarily) on these calorie-restrictive regimens. But few of the dieters stop to consider the downsides as well.

Not only are such one-food diets unbalanced, short-term, and in the end self-defeating (almost everyone regains the weight they lose — plus more), but they can also be dangerous. Depending on the particular diet, you may develop potassium deficiencies, gallstones, heart palpitations, weakened kidney function, dizziness, extreme fatigue, and other alarming symptoms.

Read more.

Community: I’ve tried almost all of the diets, and even if they worked for months at a time, I always ended up overeating for months at a time, negating the effects of the diet. And more. What I’m trying to learn now is to take it slow and easy, just working on being healthy. And if some weight loss goes with that, great. But it’s not required. Still, it doesn’t hurt to incorporate some of the foods recommended for weight loss (see below). I just have to keep reminding myself not to expect too much.

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5 Foods That Boost Weight Loss

(RealAge.com) Ready to lose a few pounds in the new year? There are five foods that can help.

And the best part is that you won't feel like you're "eating light" with this group of weight-loss-boosting noshes. In fact, it'll still feel like the holidays!

Salmon…
Eggs…
Peanuts…
Apples…
Fava beans

Read more.

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Add Some Woof! to Your Workout

(HealthDay News) Forget about walking around the park with your pooch.

Boot camps designed for people and their pets are fast becoming popular choices for busy owners looking for a one-stop fitness program.

During the 60-minute classes, campers are put through a series of high-intensity moves, focusing on strength, balance and cardiovascular challenges, as well as dog obedience drills.

Read more.

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3 Quit-Smoking Strategies That Work

(RealAge.com) Know someone who wants to start the new year smoke-free? Send them a little inspiration with these kick-butt strategies.

Toss, don't taper… What you should use: nicotine replacement therapy…

Do some prep work. Like starting a new habit to replace your old one. Find out what the YOU Docs recommend you start doing before you go cold turkey.

Use the buddy system.

Read more.

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Adult Learning: How to Train the Aging Brain

(New York Times) The brain, as it traverses middle age, gets better at recognizing the central idea, the big picture. If kept in good shape, the brain can continue to build pathways that help its owner recognize patterns and, as a consequence, see significance and even solutions much faster than a young person can…

Teaching new facts should not be the focus of adult education, [Dr. Kathleen Taylor] says. Instead, continued brain development and a richer form of learning may require that you “bump up against people and ideas” that are different. In a history class, that might mean reading multiple viewpoints, and then prying open brain networks by reflecting on how what was learned has changed your view of the world…

Such stretching is exactly what scientists say best keeps a brain in tune: get out of the comfort zone to push and nourish your brain…

“As adults we have these well-trodden paths in our synapses,” Dr. Taylor says. “We have to crack the cognitive egg and scramble it up. And if you learn something this way, when you think of it again you’ll have an overlay of complexity you didn’t have before — and help your brain keep developing as well.”

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Grow-your-own to replace false teeth

(The Guardian, U.K.) The British institution of dentures sitting in a glass of water beside the bed could be rendered obsolete by scientists who are confident that people will soon be able to replace lost teeth by growing new ones.

Instead of false teeth, a small ball of cells capable of growing into a new tooth will be implanted where the missing one used to be.

The procedure needs only a local anaesthetic and the new tooth should be fully formed within a few months of the cells being implanted…

[T]he ball of cells that grows into a tooth also produces bone that anchors to the jaw.

Read more.

Thanks to Susie at Suburban Guerilla.

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Might Surgical Weight Loss Put Bones at Risk?

(HealthDay News) When diet and exercise attempts haven't worked, increasing numbers of overweight people have turned to bariatric, or weight-loss, surgery to shed pounds.

But research reported in 2009 pointed to an unintended result: One of every five people who had bariatric surgery had broken a bone within a few years.

Were the breaks a result of the surgery? Or of the weight loss that followed? Might they have been related to something going on in the body, either before or after the surgery? Or might something else altogether have been at work?

The answers remain unclear.

Read more.

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Supplement may offer a statin alternative for some

(Reuters Health) - Red yeast rice supplements may offer a cholesterol-lowering alternative to people who've suffered muscle pain as a side effect of statins, a small study suggests.

Researchers found that among 43 people who'd stopped using statins due to muscle pain, most were able to use either red yeast rice or the cholesterol drug pravastatin (Pravachol) for 12 weeks without suffering the side effect again.

The supplement and the statin were also similarly effective at lowering "bad" LDL cholesterol, the researchers report…

[But the] Food and Drug Administration does not regulate dietary supplements as it does drugs, and consumers cannot be sure of what they are getting when they buy an herbal remedy.

A 2008 study by ConsumerLab, an independent testing company, found that 10 brands of red yeast rice supplements varied widely in their potency, and four were contaminated with citrinin, a potentially kidney-damaging substance that can form as a byproduct of the fermentation process.

Read more.

Community: My doctor put me on a prescription statin, instead of red yeast rice, which was fine with me, as the generic version of the prescription drug is actually cheaper. But it made me feel terribly nauseous. So now we need to find an alternative.

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High Fat Diet Increases Inflammation in the Mouse Colon

(Science Daily) Colorectal cancer, the third most common type of cancer worldwide, has been linked to an increased prevalence of the Western diet: one high in fat and low in fiber, vitamin D and calcium. Now, a team of scientists … [has] shown what happens to colon tissue when mice are fed such a diet: an inflammatory response that could be the trigger for carcinogenic processes…

"There is convincing evidence that increased intake of red meat, processed meat and alcohol can increase risk of colorectal cancer, whereas greater consumption of dietary fiber, milk and calcium might decrease risk," says Peter Holt… "Our findings show that a Western diet induces oxidative stress and alters immune responses in the colon of mice long before tumors occur."

Read more.

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As Problems Accumulate, Frailty May Set In

(HealthDay News) "Frail" and "elderly" don't always have to go together, say experts who have begun to shine a brighter light on the condition of frailty in older adults…

In a study…, [Dr. Linda P.] Fried and her research team found that three or more bodily systems functioning at abnormal levels was a predictor of which people would be frail. They looked at such factors as anemia, inflammation and fine motor speed. By itself, fine motor speed also predicted frailty, the study found.

So is frailty inevitable? Eventually, if people live long enough, it's likely they will become increasingly frail. But "it can be delayed," [Dr. Sharon A. Brangman, president-elect of the American Geriatric Society,] and others said.

Much of it is rooted in unhealthy habits picked up in early and middle age -- "especially a lack of physical exercise, smoking and poor nutrition," said [Dr. Claire] Heppenstall.

"To prevent it, we should emphasize regular physical activity in all adults at all ages, as well as a balanced diet," she said.

Exercise on a regular basis will at least delay frailty, agreed Brangman. "What we are trying to do is avoid that period of time when people are dependent and debilitated and have a lot of disability and need to be institutionalized."

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HAPPY NEW DECADE!

Best wishes to you and yours

For a safe, happy, and healthy

New Year

And

New Decade

Ways to get motivated in 2010

(CNN) [I]n order to actually accomplish your goals, [experts] say, it's important to be realistic, specific, and accountable…

1. Set smaller goals with smaller steps…

2. Frame your goals positively…

3. Look at the pros and cons…

4. Get a resolutions buddy…

5. Be specific…
Figure out exactly what it is that's not working for you, and then formulate a strategy for solving individual problems…

The process of assessing the small actions you can take in the immediate future, and savoring the positive effects, can take a lot of pressure off and help you achieve larger goals…

Take it one incident at a time, one day at a time.

Read more.

Community: And when you fail, as you surely will, get back on that horse instead of giving up. Most people who quit smoking try several times before quitting for good, and so do many alcoholics. Changing behavior takes persistence.

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Exaggerating a Threat to Weight Goals May Help Self-Control

(HealthDay News) You know that holiday cookie that's calling your name? The one that will go straight to your waistline and stay there for life? A new study suggests the key to resisting temptation is to exaggerate the cookie's threat.

"Four experiments show that when consumers encounter temptations that conflict with their long-term goals, one self-control mechanism is to exaggerate the negativity of the temptation as a way to resist, a process we call counteractive construal," according to the study authors.

Read more.

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5 tips for better eating in 2010

(Tribune Newspapers) Sarah Krieger, a personal chef and dietitian in Tampa, Fla., and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, offered five easy resolutions for healthful eating in 2010.

Lower your salt intake…
Eat protein in the morning…
Buy fruits and vegetables…
Use natural flavor boosters…
Cook at home more often.

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Champagne Is Good for Your Heart, Study Suggests But Only in Moderation

(Science Daily) Research from the University of Reading suggests that two glasses of champagne a day may be good for your heart and circulation. The researchers have found that drinking champagne wine daily in moderate amounts causes improvements in the way blood vessels function.

Champagne does this by increasing the availability of nitric oxide, a vascular active molecule which controls blood pressure. It is able to induce these effects because it contains polyphenols, plant chemicals from the red grapes and white grapes used in champagne production.

Read more.

Community: Polyphenols are also available as food supplements.

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Putting Limits on Vitamin E

(Science Daily) A research group from Tel Aviv University has done the most comprehensive and accurate study of clinical data on Vitamin E use and heart disease to date, and it warns that indiscriminate use of high-dose Vitamin E supplementation does more harm than good…

The researchers examined data from more than 300,000 subjects in the US, Europe and Israel. "Our major finding," says [study co-researcher Dr. Ilya] Pinchuk, "was that the average quality-adjusted life years (QALY) of Vitamin E-supplemented individuals was 0.30 less than that of untreated people. This, of course, does not mean that everybody consuming Vitamin E shortens their life by almost 4 months. But on average, the quality-adjusted longevity is lower for vitamin-treated people. This says something significant."

Read more.

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Heel Pain Usually Relieved With Stretching Regimen

(HealthDay News) The term "overuse injuries" may bring to mind tennis elbow and jogger's knee, but the sole of the foot is also at risk of injury due to overuse, doctors warn.

The condition, plantar fasciitis, or inflamed tissue and swelling of the sole of the foot, can become chronic if steps aren't taken to relieve it, according to Dr. Benedict DiGiovanni…

[T]o treat plantar fasciitis, DiGiovanni recommends taking it easy until the initial inflammation subsides, icing the sore area for 20 minutes, three or four times a day, and performing exercises to stretch the Achilles tendon in the back of the lower leg and plantar fascia, or the connective tissue that supports the arch of the foot.

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Nerve Stimulation Device Doesn't Ease Most Back Pain

(HealthDay News) If you're thinking of using the portable device called transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS) to ease your chronic low back pain, the American Academy of Neurology has some advice for you: Don't bother.

There are no controlled studies showing that TENS is effective against back pain of unknown origin persisting for three months or longer, said Dr. Richard M. Dubinsky…

All but one of the studies excluded people whose back pain had known causes, such as a pinched nerve, severe scoliosis (curvature of the spine), displacement of a backbone or vertebra, or obesity. Those studies showed no benefit of TENS for chronic pain. The one study that looked at low back pain associated with known conditions found no benefit, the study authors noted.

An exception was diabetic nerve pain, also known as diabetic neuropathy, which can cause symmetrical numbness, decreased sensation and a feeling of burning, usually involving the legs but sometimes affecting the hands, Dubinsky said. There is good evidence that TENS is effective in this condition, which develops in about 60 percent of people with diabetes, he said.

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Quitting smoking after heart attack extends lives

(Reuters Health) Confirming that it really is never too late to quit smoking, a new study finds that heart attack survivors who kick the habit live longer than those who keep puffing away.

Read more.

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Body's Own Veins Provide Superior Material for Aortic Grafts

(Science Daily) A vascular surgical technique … designed to replace infected aortic grafts with the body's own veins has proved more durable and less prone to new infection than similar procedures using synthetic and cadaver grafts.

Read more.

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Gene Increases Effectiveness of Drugs Used to Fight Cancer and Allows Reduction in Dosage

(Science Daily) Researchers … have found a suicide gene, called 'gene E', which leads to the death of tumour cells derived from breast, lung and colon cancer, and prevents their growth. The importance of this new gene is that its use to fight cancer can reduce the potent drugs that are currently used, so that could mean more effective treatment for cancer.

Read more.

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Stem Cells Might Reverse Heart Damage From Chemo

(HealthDay News) Certain types of chemotherapy can damage the heart while thwarting cancer, a dilemma that has vexed scientists for years. But a new study in rats finds that injecting the heart with stem cells can reverse the damage caused by a potent anti-cancer drug.

The findings could one day mean that cancer patients could safely take higher doses of a powerful class of chemotherapy drugs and have any resulting damage to their hearts repaired later on using their own cardiac stem cells, the researchers said.

Read more.

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New RNA Interference Technique Can Silence Up to Five Genes

(Science Daily) Researchers … report this week that they have successfully used RNA interference to turn off multiple genes in the livers of mice, an advance that could lead to new treatments for diseases of the liver and other organs…

[Daniel] Anderson and his colleagues believe the best way to do that is to wrap short interfering RNA (siRNA) in a layer of fat-like molecules called lipidoids, which can cross cells' fatty outer membrane. Using one such lipidoid, the researchers were able to successfully deliver five snippets of RNA at once, and Anderson believes the lipidoids have the potential to deliver as many as 20.

Read more.

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Transcription Factors Guide Differences in Human and Chimp Brain Function

(Science Daily) Humans share at least 97 percent of their genes with chimpanzees, but, as a new study of transcription factors makes clear, what you have in your genome may be less important than how you use it.

The study … found that broad differences in the gene activity of humans and of chimpanzees, affecting nearly 1,000 genes, appear to be linked to the action of about 90 transcription factors.

Transcription factors are proteins that bind to specific regions of the DNA to promote or repress the activity of many genes.

Read more.

Community: Just this week, PBS aired a Nova episode that discussed these triggers in detail, “What Darwin Never Knew.”

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Losing brain plasticity = losing memory

(UPI) U.S. researchers are finding brain plasticity -- the ability to change and grow -- may be key to memory.

Read more.

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Top Empowered Patient tips for 2010

(CNN) -- Being an empowered patient means doing more than the bare minimum. It means taking an active part in your own health care…

Here are the top lessons … that can help you to become a more empowered patient in 2010.

1. Don't believe everything you hear (get a second opinion)…

2. Ask a ton of questions…

3. If you are going to use the Web, search smart…

4. Free and discounted care is out there…

5. Paying attention can save your life
You know your body better than anyone else. If your gut tells you something just isn't right, then listen to it.

Read more.

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Apple wins appeal over alleged iPod hearing loss

(Reuters) A federal appeals court on Wednesday rejected a class-action lawsuit seeking to hold Apple Inc responsible for possible hearing loss caused by using its popular iPod music player.

Read more.

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U.S. issues standards to spur e-health records

(Reuters) U.S. health officials released standards for electronic medical records on Wednesday, seeking to spur the technology in hopes of cutting health costs and reducing medical errors.

Read more.

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Retiree group pans Senate healthcare bill

(UPI) The Senate healthcare reform bill does not protect the earned post-retirement healthcare benefits of millions of workers, a U.S. retiree advocacy group says.

Paul Miller, executive director of ProtectSeniors.Org, says the Senate bill actually penalizes companies that provide retiree prescription drug benefits. The House version would prohibit employers from making post-retirement cuts or doing away with people's earned health benefits after they retire.

Read more.

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Take a personal inventory Jan. 1

(UPI) Instead of making individual New Year's resolutions, take personal inventory of your life, a U.S. psychologist suggests…

[Temple University psychologist Frank Farley says,] "Planning and knowledge are important antidotes to uncertainty and the fear that uncertainty can bring. Setting goals and personal strategies for your entry into the New Year can help reduce the uncertainty and thus the fear."

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Winter Exercise Can Lift Your Spirits

(HealthDay News) Winter can put a chill on even the most enthusiastic exerciser's plans. It's hard to get motivated to go jogging when you have to sidestep icy patches. And who wants to go to the gym when you have to scrape the ice off the windshield first?

But sticking to your exercise program throughout the colder months is beneficial for multiple reasons, experts say. Not only can physical activity lift your spirits during days of limited sunlight, it can help make sure you're in good shape when it's time to pull out those shorts and bathing suits again…

If the winter blues have extended to your feelings about exercise, get creative. Find an indoor pool or go to that Pilates class you've been wanting to try. Ice skating and cross-country skiing burn lots of calories. And there's nothing like a snowball fight with your kids to get your heart pumping.

Read more, including tips on dressing for the weather and making sure you remain hydrated.

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Caution Can Help Keep Elderly Safe During Winter

(HealthDay News) Winter's icy sidewalks and frigid temperatures can be challenging for anyone, but they pose extra hazards for elderly people, experts say.

Falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths for adults over age 65 in the United States. Some 1.8 million people aged 65 and older were treated in emergency departments for falls in 2005, and 15,800 died from their injuries, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Something as simple as a fall can be devastating for older men and women," said Dr. Evelyn Granieri… She pointed out that it is important to prepare for the season and take steps to reduce the risks of falling.

Read more, including tips on preventing falls.

Community: I feel much better about walking on icy streets and sidewalks, now that I have grippers to put on my shoes.

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Aerobic Exercise No Big Stretch For Older Adults But Helps Elasticity Of Arteries

(Science Daily) Just three months of physical activity reaps heart health benefits for older adults with type 2 diabetes by improving the elasticity in their arteries -- reducing risk of heart disease and stroke, Dr. Kenneth Madden [said]…

An improvement was seen in the elasticity of the arteries of the group that performed the activity compared to those who didn't exercise. "There was an impressive drop in arterial stiffness after just three months of exercise. In that time we saw a 15 to 20 per cent reduction."

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Energy Gap Useful Tool For Successful Weight Loss Maintenance Strategy

(Science Daily) According to James O. Hill, PhD, "This analysis indicates that to create and maintain substantial weight loss (ie, obesity treatment), large behavioral changes are needed. This is in stark contrast to primary obesity prevention in which small behavioral changes can eliminate the small energy imbalance that occurs before the body has gained substantial weight. Because the body has not previously stored this 'new' excess energy, it does not defend against the behavioral strategies as happens when the body loses weight."

The energy gap concept is useful for individualizing behavioral strategies for weight loss maintenance. For example, if the energy gap for a given weight-loss maintenance is estimated to be 300 kcal/day, this can lead to a specific individually tailored goal for changing diet and physical activity rather than generic advice to eat less and exercise more. This could be 300 kcal/day of additional physical activity, a reduction of 300 kcal/day from usual energy intake, or a combination of tactics such as adding 150 kcal/day of physical activity and reducing 150 kcal/day from usual energy intake.

Read more.

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Obesity May Hinder Optimal Control Of Blood Pressure And Cholesterol

(Science Daily) Obese patients taking medications to lower their blood pressure and cholesterol levels are less likely to reach recommended targets for these cardiovascular disease risk factors than their normal weight counterparts, according to new research…

"Although a direct cause-and-effect relationship cannot be proven, our data would suggest that pharmacologic treatment alone without achieving optimal weight may not be adequate," says senior author, Dr. Andrew Yan. "This is a potentially important message to get across to clinicians, especially primary care physicians who are on the front line managing these high risk patients in the long term."

Read more.

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A burger or fried chicken with a side of diabetes?

(Reuters Health) Avoiding "fast food" burgers and fried chicken may cut your risk of developing type 2 diabetes -- the kind closely linked to obesity, new research hints.

Read more.

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Nanoscale Changes in Collagen Are a Tipoff to Bone Health

(Science Daily) Using a technique that provides detailed images of nanoscale structures, researchers at the University of Michigan and Detroit's Henry Ford Hospital have discovered changes in the collagen component of bone that directly relate to bone health.

Their findings, published online Dec. 16 in the journal Bone, could lead to new methods of diagnosing osteoporosis and other diseases affecting collagen-containing tissues.

Read more.

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Acupuncture Reduces Hot Flashes, Improves Sex Drive for Breast Cancer Patients

(Science Daily) Not only is acupuncture as effective as drug therapy at reducing hot flashes in breast cancer patients, it has the added benefit of potentially increasing a woman's sex drive and improving her sense of well-being, according to a Henry Ford Hospital study.

Study results show that acupuncture, when compared to drug therapy, has a longer-lasting effect on the reduction of hot flashes and night sweats for women receiving hormone therapy for breast cancer treatment. Women also report that acupuncture improves their energy and clarity of thought…

Funding was provided by the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Read more.

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Ginkgo Won't Slow Decline of Aging Brain

(HealthDay News) Many older adults consume ginkgo biloba, hoping to keep their minds sharp, but a new study finds that the herbal product doesn't stave off cognitive decline.

"Measuring the effect of ginkgo in a big trial in older people, we didn't see any effect of the drug on slowing down or delaying normal age-related changes of cognition," said lead researcher Dr. Steven T. DeKosky.

Read more.

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Brain Scans Show Distinctive Patterns in People With Generalized Anxiety Disorder

(Science Daily) Scrambled connections between the part of the brain that processes fear and emotion and other brain regions could be the hallmark of a common anxiety disorder, according to a new study…

People with the disorder feel overwhelmed by emotion and don't believe they can feel sad or upset without coming completely undone. So, in an attempt to avoid facing their unpleasant feelings, they distract themselves by fretting. Such overthinking may work in the short term but becomes problematic over time.

Researchers can't say for sure whether the connectivity abnormalities came first or whether excessive worrying shaped the brain by reinforcing particular neural pathways. Still, the patterns uncovered by neurological scans could one day help psychiatrists diagnose and treat the disease.

Read more.

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No Added Risk Seen for ICU Patients Monitored Remotely

(HealthDay News) Allowing doctors to monitor intensive care unit patients from remote locations, as a way to save money, doesn't appear to boost the risk of death in patients or make it more likely that they'll spend longer in the ICU, new findings suggest.

Read more.

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Study Questions FDA Approvals of Cardiac Devices

(HealthDay News) The U.S. Food and Drug Administration may not be as stringent in evaluating devices as it is in approving drugs.

According to a report in the Dec. 23/30 issue of theJournal of the American Medical Association, approval of cardiovascular devices often sails through based on studies that are not randomized or blinded, and sometimes even on the basis of one study alone…

According to the study authors, device safety has largely slipped through the cracks, even as attention on drug safety mounts.

Read more.

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'Spaghetti' Scaffolding Could Help Grow Skin In Labs

(Science Daily) Scientists are developing new scaffolding technology which could be used to grow tissues such as skin, nerves and cartilage using 3D spaghetti-like structures…

The new structures are being developed by scientists from the University of Bristol, using proteins from alpha helices – one of the fundamental ways that strings of amino acids fold - to create long fibres called hydrogelating self assembling fibres (hSAFs), or hydrogels. By learning how to build hSAFs from scratch, the researchers are starting to understand how they might use these 3D scaffolds to support the growth of nerves, blood vessels and cartilage tailored to the needs of individual patients.

Read more.

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In U.S., Prescription Drug Abuse Is Growing

(HealthDay News) The overdose death of pop star Michael Jackson in 2009 drew new attention to the abuse of prescription drugs in the United States.

And with that attention has come acknowledgment that it's become a widespread phenomenon.

Read more.

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Senior-citizen volunteers fight Medicare fraud

(AP) The Senior Medicare Patrol is one of the least-known forces in the government's effort to eliminate such fraud, which drains billions of dollars a year. But it is seen as a valuable part of the Obama administration's bid to overhaul health care and bring down costs.

The 4,700 senior citizen volunteers who serve as the government's eyes and ears have been credited with saving taxpayers more than $100 million since 1997. The program relies on elderly people to apply a lifetime's worth of common sense and skepticism…

The patrol, which evolved from another program founded in 1995, now has at least one unit in every state…

"It really is detective work," said Barbara McGinity, director of the SMP in Houston.

Read more.

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New Year’s Dishes for Prosperity and Longevity

(Martha Rose Shulman, New York Times) I’ve always been curious about how people in other countries usher in the New Year.

Lentils and raisins are present on Italian tables because they resemble coins and swell when cooked. They’re usually accompanied by pork, a symbol of prosperity and abundance. In other parts of the world, different beans stand in for lentils — chickpeas in Provence, black-eyed peas in the American South — also because they’re small and round like coins, and expand when they cook.

Greens — spinach, collards, kale and cabbage — symbolize money (think greenbacks) and growth. Other foods that represent good fortune in the coming year include rice, golden foods like cornbread and saffron, and baked goods shaped like rings (often a coin is hidden inside).

Often sweets are eaten so that the year will be, yes, sweet. In Spain, Portugal and parts of Latin America, revelers dine on 12 sweet grapes, symbolizing the 12 months of the year, at midnight on December 31st. The Japanese believe in soba noodles, whose long, lean shape symbolizes health and longevity.

Fish symbolizes good luck in many cultures. Indeed, it strikes me that with the exception of some rich pastries, most of the good luck foods are also very good for you. Good luck does begin, after all, with good health.

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The mystery of Taco Bell's Drive-Thru Diet

(Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times) Taco Bell … has a new infomercial starring a woman named Christine Dougherty, who says she lost 54 pounds on what the company calls the Drive-Thru Diet – a nickname for the seven items, including tacos and burritos, that the chain is offering, each with less than 9 grams of fat.

Christine’s story is a little skimpy on the details – she says in her statement and video that she reduced her total daily calorie intake by 500 calories to 1,250 calories by choosing Fresco items and “making other sensible choices.”…

I’m guessing “other sensible choices,” such as eating carrots as a snack or holding the whipped cream on that caramel macchiato, had much more to do with Christine’s weight loss than the type of tacos that she ate…

[H]ealthful eating should not be all about the calorie counting — consumers could theoretically cut their calories in half while on a steady diet of milkshakes and pizza. Maintaining a healthy diet also requires keeping track of those pesky vitamins and minerals, which come from a balanced intake of vegetables, fruits, nuts and other protein. Take a look at the USDA’s revised food pyramid for a better idea of what ingredients a good meal should include, whether it’s home cooked or passed through a drive-through window.

Read more.

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Why You Should Avoid Refined Foods

(SouthBeachDiet.com) Refined foods are highly processed foods that have been stripped of their original nutrient content and fiber. Refined white flour, white pasta, and white sugar are just some examples…

Consider a loaf of sliced white bread. First, the wheat is stripped of bran and fiber, and then it's pulverized into the finest white flour. The baking process puffs it up into light, airy slices of bread. No wonder your stomach makes such quick work of it. A slice of white bread hits your bloodstream with the same jolt you'd get by eating a tablespoon of sugar right from the bowl!

Genuine 100-percent whole-wheat or whole-grain bread, on the other hand — the coarse, chewy kind with a thick crust and visible pieces of grain — puts your stomach to work… [T]he sugars are released gradually into the bloodstream. If there's no sudden surge in blood sugar, your pancreas won't produce as much insulin, and you won't get the exaggerated hunger and cravings for more sugary and starchy carbs.

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Why Some Continue to Eat When Full

(Science Daily) The premise that hunger makes food look more appealing is a widely held belief -- just ask those who cruise grocery store aisles on an empty stomach, only to go home with a full basket and an empty wallet.

Prior research studies have suggested that the so-called hunger hormone ghrelin, which the body produces when it's hungry, might act on the brain to trigger this behavior. New research in mice by UT Southwestern Medical Center scientists suggest that ghrelin might also work in the brain to make some people keep eating "pleasurable" foods when they're already full.

"What we show is that there may be situations where we are driven to seek out and eat very rewarding foods, even if we're full, for no other reason than our brain tells us to," said Dr. Jeffrey Zigman.

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Study Debunks Notion of 'Healthy Obese' Man

(HealthDay News) No man who is fat is truly healthy over the long term, a new study finds.

"There appears to be no such thing as metabolically healthy obesity," said a statement by Dr. Johan Arnlov…

Previous studies have found no increased cardiovascular risk in obese men who did not have the metabolic syndrome, giving rise to the notion that there was a "healthy obesity."

But the new report indicates that those studies didn't follow the participants long enough. Problems only become more evident after 15 years or so, the researchers found.

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Obesity may be linked to DDT exposure

(UPI) Researchers … looked at daughters ages 20-50 of 259 mothers who had eaten fish caught in Lake Michigan during pregnancy.

The expectant mothers were exposed to polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, and DDE as a result of eating the lake fish from 1973-1991…

The study … finds a statistically significant association with prenatal DDE levels and increased body fat. PCBs did not seem to affect weight, the study says.

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Placebo beats black cohosh for hot flashes

(Reuters Health) Black cohosh and red clover are widely promoted as helping to ease menopausal and aging-related symptoms, but a rigorously performed study has found they are no better than placebo for treating hot flashes and night sweats.

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Study says tailored music therapy can ease tinnitus

(Reuters) Individually designed music therapy may help reduce noise levels in people suffering from tinnitus, or ear ringing, German scientists said on Monday.

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Brain training for fun, not mental fitness

(UPI) Brain training -- crossword puzzles, for example -- is recommended for those who enjoy it, researchers in Germany say.

The researchers … say brain training can lead to improvement in the specific ability it is aimed at but there is no scientific proof brain training improves overall mental fitness.

The study … concludes there is no need for people to push themselves to do brain training if it is not enjoyed.

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