News from the World of Medicine | Reader's Digest

News from the World of Medicine

Read up on the latest medical news and studies: eat nuts to live longer, why chores can save your life, how sunlight can heal, and more.

By Perri O. Blumberg N
Also published in Reader's Digest Magazine March 2014
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    The Nutty Secret to Longevity

    People who ate one ounce of nuts a day (that’s about 25 almonds or 50 pistachios) were less likely to die over a 30-year period than people who didn’t eat them at all, found a study of 119,000 people published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Study authors believe that the high levels of healthy unsaturated fats in nuts may lower cholesterol and inflammation, reducing the risk of heart disease, cancer, and more.

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    Who's Sick? Your Nose Knows

    There’s a subtle difference in the way sick and healthy people smell (and we’re not talking about sweating out a fever). In a recent experiment, researchers injected volunteers with a type of bacterial toxin known to activate the immune system. Another time, the participants were injected with just a saline solution. Both times they wore T-shirts. When another group sniffed scents extracted from the shirts, they rated those from the toxin batch as much more unpleasant. Researchers believe this finding may one day help contain disease outbreaks: Sensors at airports could screen out sick people, for example.

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    The Healing Power of Light

    Letting more sunlight into hospital rooms may help patients feel better, revealed recent Cleveland Clinic research. Authors found that low light exposure led to more reports of fatigue and pain. The lack of fluctuation between bright light during the day and low light at night may interfere with sleep-wake patterns. Ask if you can keep the shades open during the day. In a room with no windows? Spend some time in a solarium or other sun-filled area if possible. 

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    Chores Protect Your Ticker

    Need motivation to break out the vacuum cleaner? People who did the most yard work, housecleaning, and DIY projects had a nearly 30 percent lower risk of a first-time cardiovascular event like a heart attack or stroke compared with those who were the most sedentary, according to a new Swedish study of 3,800 older adults. 

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    When Brain Blips Aren't Dementia

    The challenge: Name the place where you can view celestial bodies on the inner surface of a dome. If you struggled to come up with planetarium, don’t worry: It’s not a sign of cognitive decline. Seniors have more “it’s on the tip of my tongue” moments than younger adults, but they don’t correlate with memory problems associated with dementia, shows a recent University of Virginia study of 700 people ages 18 to 99. 

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    The Sleep-Heart Connection

    Although sleep apnea is associated with heart disease in both men and women, the sleep disorder may negatively affect the heart rates of women more than those of men, according to recent research. During various physical challenges, the heart rates of sleep apnea patients didn’t change as much or as quickly as the rates of healthy adults (a sign of greater cardiovascular disease risk). The effect was even more pronounced in the women. Researchers plan to study whether treating sleep apnea with CPAP therapy improves patients’ heart rate function. 

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    The Truth About Spider Bites

    Many people are quick to assume that a sudden red splotch on their skin is from a spider bite, but experts want to dispel the myth that bites are common. They’re rare, in fact, and venomous spiders are regularly misidentified. (The brown recluse, an often misidentified venomous spider, is blamed for skin lesions even in areas where it’s not native.) A paper in the New England Journal of Medicine listed about 40 other conditions that can be mistaken for spider bites, such as bacterial, viral, and fungal infections, including MRSA; poison ivy; and even melanoma. One clue that you should stop blaming Charlotte: the presence of multiple lesions (spiders rarely bite more than once).

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    Hear This: Ear Blockage Breakthrough

    An innovative device may relieve discomfort for adults who suffer from Eustachian tube dysfunction: a balloon. Doctors thread the balloon, about the size of a grain of rice, through the nose and into the ear, where the balloon is inflated to widen the tube. Eighty percent of patients in a recent study reported relief for symptoms such as muffled hearing, congestion, and dizziness for up to three and a half years.

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