News from the World of Medicine

Read up on the latest medical news and studies: foods that make you fat, new cancer treatments, shots for back pain, and more.

By Lauren Gelman
Also in Reader's Digest Magazine February 2014
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    Two Foods That Made Us Fat

    Americans consumed about 500 more calories a day in 2010 than they did in 1970. Much of the increase is due to a growth in the consumption of cheese and flour, says Bonnie Liebman, author of a new Center for Science in the Public Interest report. Cheese is now in many more foods: soups, salads, sandwiches, and even pizza crusts. Oversize portions of grains—such as jumbo wraps—have largely contributed to the rise in flour consumption. Keep intake of these foods in check. A serving of cheese, for example, is equal to about four small die.

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    Boost Broccoli’s Cancer-Fighting Prowess

    Cruciferous veggies like broccoli are a good source of sulforaphane, a compound with anticancer properties. It forms in the presence of a certain enzyme called myrosinase. But many common methods of cooking broccoli, such as boiling and microwaving, destroy myrosinase. University of Illinois researchers have found that eating other foods that contain myrosinase—such as radishes, wasabi, and arugula—with your broccoli increases the cancer-fighting compound. So have an arugula salad with that broc for a healthier meal.

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    A Safer Shot for Back Pain

    Epidural steroids are a common way to relieve back pain, even though the drugs may raise the risk of osteoporosis and raise blood sugar. Now Johns Hopkins researchers have discovered that it may not be just the steroids that are responsible for soothing achy backs but some other component, like saline solution. Saline may help flush inflammatory chemicals, providing pain relief. After researchers reviewed 43 studies involving more than 3,600 patients, they found that steroids in the epidurals were responsible for less than half of the short-term pain-relieving effects. This suggests that patients may reduce pain with lower doses of steroids.

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    Better Cancer Treatment For Obese Patients

    As many as 40 percent of obese cancer patients get suboptimal levels of chemotherapy, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). This may partly explain why they are less likely to survive than those who are not obese. New ASCO guidelines advise doctors to calculate most chemotherapy dosages based on an individual’s weight instead of an average dose. To ensure that you or a family member get sufficient treatment, ask your doctor if he prescribes in accordance with weight-based dosing.

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    Doc, Are Your Hands Clean?

    One third of patients surveyed at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center said they didn’t see doctors wash their hands, even though the practice is a major way to control infections in health-care settings. But nearly two thirds of those patients didn’t challenge the doctor about it. Too shy to speak up? Say something like “I’m embarrassed to ask you this, but would you mind cleaning your hands before you begin?”

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    Why We Love a Baby’s Smell

    Feel like you could “just eat up” a newborn? Scientists recently monitored the brains of 30 women as they sniffed newborns’ undershirts; half had recently given birth, and half never had. As the women smelled the newborn scent, all their brains showed activity in the pleasure center—the area that lights up after you, say, eat chocolate or play slots—but the new moms’ brains lit up more than those of the childless women. This mental hard wiring may strengthen the mother-child bond by rewarding moms for their caregiving.

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    Is Your Glass Making You Drunk?

    The type of wineglass you sip from and how you pour vino may affect how much you imbibe. When researchers observed drinkers during happy hour, they found that people poured about 12 percent more if they used a widemouthed glass rather than a narrower one and if they held the glass instead of setting it down. Such factors affect our perception of volume.

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    Ending “Just in Case” Antibiotics

    A new blood test may help doctors easily determine whether a sick patient has a viral or a bacterial infection, which may reduce the number of antibiotic prescriptions that are improperly ordered for viruses. The test, developed by Duke University researchers, identifies which genes have been activated by a patient’s immune system to fight off an infection; certain genes are specific only to viruses. The test could be available in three years.

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