News From the World of Medicine

Read up on the latest medical news and studies: which foods can prevent diabetes, how exercise improves intimacy, and why faking a good night's sleep can actually boost your energy.

By Perri O. Blumberg
Also published in Reader's Digest Magazine May 2014
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    Purple and red foods prevent diabetes.

    Women who ate the most berries, grapes, and red wine had lower levels of inflammation and insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes, than women who didn’t consume as much of these foods, according to new research in The Journal of Nutrition. Researchers credit the foods’ high levels of anthocyanins, a powerful type of antioxidant known to inhibit inflammatory chemicals. The healthiest women consumed the antioxidant equivalent of half a cup of berries a day. 

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    Organic milk is more nutritious.

    Researchers examined nearly 400 samples of whole milk from both conventional and organic U.S. dairies to compare levels of omega-6 fats and healthy omega-3s. In today’s typical Western diets, people consume 15 times as many omega-6s as omega-3s, an imbalance that experts link with disease. Organic whole milk contained 62 percent more omega-3 fatty acids and 25 percent fewer omega-6s than conventional milk. Paying more for organic milk might be a good option, particularly for people who don’t get their omega-3s from fish, research suggests.

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    Exercise helps intimacy.

    Antidepressants often dampen libido, but a new study indicates that exercise may help women get back in the mood. When 52 women exercised for 30 minutes right before they had sex, they experienced a significant boost in sexual desire, University of Texas at Austin researchers found. By activating the “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system, exercise boosts blood flow to the genital region, which can increase arousal. Physical activity also improves mood, lowering the number of days people feel depressed. 

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    Energy boost: Fake a good night's sleep.

    Believing you slept well—even if you didn’t—may improve cognitive function the next day, according to a new study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. Researchers asked 164 participants how they’d slept the previous night, then hooked them up to a sham machine that purportedly revealed to scientists their REM sleep. People who were told they had above-average REM sleep performed better on cognitive and attention tasks than those who were told their REM sleep was below average, regardless of how they’d actually slept. So if you’re tired, try not to dwell on it—that could make you feel even more exhausted.

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    Yearly testing prevents lung cancer deaths.

    An estimated 22,000 of the nearly 160,000 annual deaths from lung cancer in the United States could be avoided if certain people received preventive CT scans, according to a new report from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of doctors and public health experts. For those at high risk, the benefits of detecting lung cancer earlier outweigh the potential risks of the tests, such as radiation exposure or a false-positive result. Current and former smokers ages 55 to 80 with a “pack-year” history of 30 or higher (roughly a pack a day for 30 years) should get yearly screenings. 

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    Friends don't let friends drive buzzed.

    A new review of more than 500,000 deadly collisions in the United States found that any amount of drinking before driving is unsafe. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, found that drivers with a blood alcohol level of 0.01 (which can register after the consumption of just one beer) were 46 percent more likely to be responsible for a crash than completely sober drivers. The legal limit is 0.08, but even a level of 0.01 can slow down reaction times and alter cognition. Researchers are urging legislators to lower the legal limit and reminding designated drivers to abstain.

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    Shingles increases stroke risk.

    Having shingles at a young age may increase your risk of having a stroke or heart attack, according to new research in Neurology. After British researchers analyzed data from more than 300,000 people, they found that those who had the condition before age 40 had a 74 percent greater risk of a stroke and a 50 percent greater risk of a heart attack later in life than those who didn’t develop shingles, even after they adjusted for factors like smoking and obesity. The risk wasn’t as severe in patients who first had shingles at older ages.

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    “Smart contacts” to treat diabetes.

    First came Google Glass, now Google contact lenses. Researchers at the technology giant have developed a prototype that embeds a tiny glucose sensor and a wireless chip within contact lenses to measure levels of glucose in tears. The lenses may help diabetes patients check glucose levels without pricking their finger to draw and test blood. Researchers are now investigating whether the lenses may serve as an early-warning system for abnormal glucose levels. One possible means of alert: integrated LEDs—so tiny, they would appear as flecks of glitter in your field of vision—that would light up if blood sugar levels got too high or too low. 

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