News From the World of Medicine

Read up on the latest medical news and studies: an immune system booster, the new gluten-free superfood, and how perfume makes you prettier.

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Soothing Restless Legs

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A new device offers a drug-free treatment for restless legs syndrome (RLS). Recently FDA-approved, the Relaxis foam pad gently vibrates under patients' legs, soothing those annoying throbs. In studies, it improved sleep about as well as commonly prescribed RLS drugs, without side effects like nausea and dizziness. The pad will be ready this fall for about $750 with a prescription.

What Fitness Lovers Have in Common

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How you think about exercise might make a big difference in how much weight you lose. In one study, participants walked the same one-mile course, but half were told it was exercise, while the rest thought it was purely for the pleasure of listening to music. Afterward, the "exercisers" were more tired and grumpy and scarfed down more sugary treats at a lunch buffet. Focus on the fun in your physical activity, and you may feel happier and less like snacking later.

Cynical? You're Raising Your Dementia Risk

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Trusting your fellow humans might keep you sharper longer. A Finnish study of more than 600 older people found that those with the highest levels of cynical distrust — who believed that "most people would lie to get ahead" or that it's "safer to trust no one" — were likely to develop dementia at more than three times the rate of those with low levels of distrust. The link held up even after the researchers controlled for other risk factors like age and poor health.

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Fast to Boost The Immune System

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In a recent University of Southern California pilot study, researchers found that chemotherapy was less toxic yet just as effective when patients fasted for three days before taking the drugs. When the body senses starvation, it tries to clean house and dump what it doesn't need — including old immune system cells. Then, when the body gets food again, it starts producing new immune system cells. Researchers are at work on a bigger clinical trial. They caution patients to fast only under medical supervision.

Coffee Flour: A New Superfood

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Coffee beans are actually seeds from the coffee plant's nutritious berrylike fruit, usually left to rot during the coffee-milling process. Now a Vancouver company wants to turn that discarded berry pulp into flour. The result is gluten-free, with five times more fiber per serving than whole-grain wheat flour and more iron per serving than any grain or cereal in the USDA database. A serving of coffee-flour brownies has only a fraction of the caffeine buzz in a cup of coffee, and the taste is more like that of roasted fruit than java. The flour should be available in the United States next year.

6,000 Steps a Day for Healthy Knees

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A study published in Arthritis Care & Research looked at nearly 1,800 adults who either had knee osteoarthritis or were at risk for it. For every extra 1,000 steps volunteers took each day, their risk of serious mobility problems fell by about 17 percent. Six thousand steps — about an hour of walking — was the minimum number that seemed to protect against any kind of disability.

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Look Prettier with Perfume

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Smelling nice might make us appear more alluring. In a recent small study, men and women viewed photos of women's faces — computer-manipulated to simulate ranges of aging and attractiveness — while various scents wafted through the air. While sniffing an aroma of roses, participants rated faces as significantly more appealing than those they saw while inhaling something fishy. Smells have a powerfully direct path to the emotional parts of the brain that make snap judgments.

The "Pill" That Gets Digestion Going

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A vibrating pill might ease chronic constipation. The Vibrant Capsule houses a tiny motor and starts gently jiggling about seven hours after being swallowed — about the time it enters the large intestine. It triggers contractions that help move stool along. In a small study, patients who took the pill twice a week nearly doubled their bowel movements. Unlike many laxatives, it had no side effects. 


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