News from the World of Medicine

Read up on the latest medical news and studies: how the color red can help you lose weight, the connection between belly fat and dementia, and why you should put the camera down on your next trip.

By Perri O. Blumberg < <
Also published in Reader's Digest Magazine < and April 2014
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    The Color That Curbs Hunger

    Red traffic lights signal us to stop driving, and red dishes may influence us to eat less, according to new research published in the journal Appetite. Participants ate less popcorn and dark chocolate when the foods were served on red plates than when they were served on blue or white ones. (People even used less hand cream when it was presented on red plates.) Researchers theorize that red is an unconscious stop sign that may slow snackers down.

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    Cameras May Mess With Your Memory

    Your mind’s eye might beat your camera’s lens: A new study in the Journal of Psychological Science found that taking pictures decreases your ability to remember what you photographed. In two separate studies, the researchers had participants look at 30 objects in a museum. They remembered fewer objects and fewer details about them when they took pictures of them than when they had only examined the items with their eyes. When people rely on technology to “remember” for them, they may not fully process the moment. Interestingly, when people zoomed in on one part of the object, they had a better memory of the entire object. This close examination increases mindfulness, researchers suspect.

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    A High Note for Happiness

    British researchers recently surveyed 375 people who sang in a choir, sang alone, or played on a sports team. All the activities contributed to greater emotional well-being, but people in choirs reported feeling happier than those who belted out tunes solo. Chorus members also rated their choirs as more meaningful social groups than athletes did their sports teams. The physical synchrony—acting in time with others—of choral singing could promote feelings of unity.

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    Breast Cancer Detection Goes 3-D

    Three-dimensional mammograms, approved by the FDA in 2011 and now available nationwide (ask your doc), found 22 percent more breast cancers and had fewer false positives than traditional 2-D mammograms, according to a new University of Pennsylvania study of more than 25,000 women. Three-dimensional images give radiologists a clearer view of overlapping breast tissue, making it easier to spot masses in dense tissue, which is common in younger women. The technology may allow doctors to identify cancer earlier. 

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    A Home Remedy for Healthier Skin

    A bath in highly diluted bleach may relieve skin conditions such as eczema. Stanford researchers found that bathing mice in bleach blocked skin-damaging inflammatory processes—and made elderly mice look younger. Though practitioners have been recommending the baths as a natural skin remedy for decades, the study is the first to discover how this household chemical heals. Bleach prevents the activation of NF-kB, a protein that regulates inflammation and aging. Check with your doctor before taking a bleach bath.

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    Why Belly Fat Is Bad For Your Memory

    People with excess fat around the middle are more likely to develop dementia later in life than those with a svelte waistline. Now researchers from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago have determined that your hippocampus—the brain’s memory center—and liver use the same “food,” a protein called PPARalpha. The liver uses it to burn belly fat; the hippocampus uses it to process memory. Scientists believe that in people with excess belly fat, the liver has to work harder. This uses up more of the protein and depletes levels from the brain, possibly affecting memory. 

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    The Pill and Your Vision

    Birth control pills may affect the risk of glaucoma, according to an analysis of more than 3,000 women over age 40. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found that those who had previously taken birth control pills for three years or more had twice the risk of developing the disease as women who took them for less time or who had never taken them. Birth control pills suppress your body’s ability to naturally release estrogen, which has a protective effect on the eyes, scientists postulate. But experts caution that the research doesn’t prove that birth control pills cause glaucoma. Long-term oral contraceptive users should ask about testing for glaucoma, particularly if they have other risk factors. 

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    A Link Between Allergies And Migraines

    As if a stuffy, runny nose weren’t bad enough, people who suffer both migraines and allergies were 33 percent more likely to report frequent migraines than those who don’t have allergies, according to an American Migraine Prevalence and Prevention Study survey of nearly 6,000 patients. The lining of the nasal cavity is connected to the trigeminal nerve, which is involved in migraine pain. Researchers theorize that allergies could irritate nerve endings and trigger pain. Treating allergies with allergy shots or steroid nasal spray may help decrease the debilitating headaches. 

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