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News From the World of Medicine

Dogs that can sniff cancer, the risks of a chilly home, and more from the latest health news and studies.

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Silverware for Shaky Hands

A new spoon can counteract hand tremors, allowing Parkinson’s disease patients to feed themselves with relative ease. Called Liftware, the cordless, rechargeable tool uses a motion sensor to figure out which way the user’s hand is shaking; two small motors immediately move the spoon head in the opposite direction, which means that food stays put as it travels from bowl to mouth. A clinical trial showed that the technology significantly improved the volunteers’ ability to eat. Liftware is available for $295 on the company’s website, at liftlabsdesign.com.

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Dogs to Sniff Out Cancer

Italian researchers spent five months training two German shepherds—Zoe and Liu, who had worked detecting explosives—to sniff out prostate cancer in urine. Exactly which compounds they smell is a mystery, but when researchers tested the pups’ prowess on urine samples from 677 men, Zoe and Liu reached a combined accuracy of 98 percent. They detected prostate cancer nearly all the time and returned a false alarm about 3 percent of the time—results comparable with current prostate cancer screening. Humans have five million olfactory cells in our noses; canines boast about 200 million. 

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For Better Decision Making: Be Grateful

An attitude of gratitude may help you avoid impulsive choices. People did a short psychological exercise designed to elicit various emotions, then participated in a test of monetary self-restraint. Those who were grateful showed more financial patience. For example, non-grateful people needed only $18 now to give up receiving $100 in a year; grateful people required nearly twice as much money ($30). 

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Fight Stroke with Fish

People who eat more protein—especially from seafood—may be less likely to have a stroke, according to a new meta-analysis of more than a quarter million people. Eating just 20 additional grams of protein every day lowered the risk of stroke by 26 percent. The link was strongest for people getting their protein from seafood rather than from grains or red meat. Protein and the fatty acids in fish lower blood pressure, which may help protect against stroke.

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Chilly-Home Health Risk

Keeping the thermostat low could increase the odds of falls. Muscles function best above a certain temperature, and this becomes more important with age. A study of women ages 70 and older found that just 45 minutes of sitting in a chilly room shortened stride length and caused leg strength to drop by 6 percent, both of which can hamper the body’s ability to catch itself when falling. The study tested a 59-degree room; researchers think that 68 degrees is closer to ideal for most people. 

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Tomatoes for Heart Health

When heart disease patients took 7 mg of lycopene daily, their blood vessels’ response to nitric oxide, which helps them dilate and maintain healthy blood flow, improved by 50 percent compared with those on a placebo. Over time, the function of the tissue lining the heart’s blood vessels was just as good in the lycopene-consuming patients as in healthy people. A 7 mg dose of lycopene is the equivalent of about two raw tomatoes or a third of a cup of tomato juice a day.

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Sleep Off Alzheimer’s

Cutting out shut-eye may buy you time during the day, but it may speed along your brain’s aging. That’s the implication of a small study that followed Chinese adults ages 55 and older for a couple of years, studying changes in brain size. As we age, brain tissue shrinks in volume, but the less sleep the study participants got, the faster their brains shrank—and the more steeply their cognition declined. Sleep might help remove toxic waste from the brain.

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Snack on Exercise Before You Eat

The best pre-meal appetizer: ultrashort bursts of activity. A New Zealand study found that overweight people who did just six 60-second bursts of intense activity before a meal (such as walking quickly up a steep hill) saw a 13 percent greater drop in blood sugar after they ate than those who did a moderate-intensity workout for a half hour. The effect, which can protect against diabetes, lasted for up to 24 hours afterward.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest