News From the World of Medicine | Reader's Digest

News From the World of Medicine

Read up on the latest medical news and studies: how slashing sugar can help you live longer, why worrying with someone can calm you down, and how probiotics can help you lose weight.


Also published in Reader's Digest Magazine July 2014
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    Slash Sugar for a Longer Life

    Not-so-sweet news: People who got at least 25 percent of their calories from added sugar—mainly in sweetened drinks like soda, grain-based desserts like cookies, and fruit juice—were almost three times more likely to die of heart problems than those who consumed less than 10 percent of daily calories from sugar, according to a JAMA Internal Medicine study of more than 11,000 people based on 18 years of data. Those who got more than 15 percent of calories from added sugar—the equivalent of about two cans of soda—were about 20 percent more likely to die of heart-related issues.

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    Worrying Together Creates Calm

    Venting about stress can make you feel better—but only if it’s to someone who feels just as anxious. Researchers from the University of Southern California tasked 52 women with giving a videotaped speech. Before speaking, the participants were paired up and urged to express their feelings. Researchers assessed the women’s emotional states and measured levels of the stress hormone cortisol before, during, and after the speeches. When each woman in the pair had similar emotions, discussing their feelings made both less stressed. But when one felt nervous and the other felt calm, communicating did not minimize the worriers’ anxiety.

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    Walk Briskly for Better Prostate Health

    If diagnosed with prostate cancer, men who walk quickly fare better than those who walk slowly. University of California, San Francisco, scientists examined the blood vessels of prostate tumors in 572 men and analyzed data on their physical activity before their diagnosis. Patients who walked the fastest—between 3.3 and 4.5 miles per hour—had healthier-looking blood vessels, suggestive of less aggressive tumors, compared with the slowest walkers, who clocked in between 1.5 and 2.5 miles per hour.

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    Probiotics May Help Weight Loss

    Women dieters who took a particular probiotic strain twice daily lost an average of nearly ten pounds after three months, while a similar group who instead took placebo pills shed almost six pounds, according to a new study in the British Journal of Nutrition. What’s more, the probiotic takers continued to lose weight over the following three months, averaging a total loss of 11.5 pounds; the control group did not lose any more weight.

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    See Your Lab Reports Sooner

    A new federal rule lets all U.S. patients directly access their lab test results—say, regular blood tests to monitor the effects of some common meds—without going through their physicians. The Department of Health and Human Services believes the change, which took effect this April and requires full compliance by October 6, will empower patients. (On average, one out of 14 potentially worrisome outpatient lab results is not conveyed to patients, according to Cornell research.) Depending on the lab, you may be able to call, write, fax, or visit a lab’s website to learn your results. But you should still follow up with your doctor, who can help interpret results and determine whether additional testing or treatment is needed.

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    Alternative Sleep Apnea Treatment

    It’s crucial to treat sleep apnea—a disorder marked by interrupted breathing and snoring during sleep—which raises the risk of heart disease. But roughly half of patients prescribed the standard therapy (continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, which is administered via a mask that keeps airways open) struggle with it. Now a new implant could help some patients who don’t tolerate CPAP. Implanted surgically, the pacemaker-like device stimulates a nerve below the tongue that prevents obstruction of the airway. In a recent 12-month study in the New England Journal of Medicine, it reduced breathing pauses and raised blood-oxygen levels in over two thirds of 124 patients. The FDA has approved the device.

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    Best and Worst Antibiotics for Swimmer’s Ear

    Nearly one third of doctors prescribe oral antibiotics to treat swimmer’s ear, but new guidelines from the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery instead recommend antibiotic eardrops for most cases. The drops can deliver up to 1,000 times more concentration of antibiotic in the ear canal, making them more effective. Recent studies have shown that most routinely prescribed oral antibiotics don’t kill even the most common culprit of swimmer’s ear, a bacterium named Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

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