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health and wellness
June 10, 2019

As it turns out, there's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all — at least not when it comes to diets.

New research, presented at the American Society of Nutrition conference on Monday, has found that even twins can't reliably expect the same results from following similar diet plans, Time magazine reported. The study, which hasn't been published in a peer-reviewed journal yet, analyzed 1,100 people from the U.S. and U.K., including 240 sets of twins, to see how different foods and eating habits affected them.

What they found goes against the conventional wisdom that "eating healthy" means more or less the same thing for everyone — even twins, whose bodies are almost identical, could experience vastly different effects from eating the same foods on the same schedules. And even the same person might react very differently to "the same meals when they were eaten at different times of day," Time explained. That led the researchers to conclude that "nutrition facts alone cannot predict how a certain food will affect health and weight."

Of course, that doesn't mean we can ignore all of the conventional wisdom — "there are some guidelines and recommendations around the world that near-everybody agrees on," said Tim Spector, one of the researchers involved in the study. Eating fruits and vegetables and getting your daily dose of fibers can be agreed upon as healthy for almost everyone. But on the questions that don't have clear-cut answers — Should you eat breakfast every day? Is fasting a good way to lose weight? — those answers may change from person to person.

Unfortunately, we're not yet at a point where we can give concrete advice to everyone on what diet plan will suit them best. Until we better understand what affects each person's nutrition and health, the diet you choose will most likely be trial and error. But if nothing else, this study proves you don't have to follow every trendy new diet to be healthy.

Read more at Time. Shivani Ishwar

June 5, 2019

If you want a perfect beach body by the official start of summer, you might want to think twice about heading to the pharmacy to achieve that goal.

New research shows that dietary supplements, while a popular choice for people looking to build up muscle, lose weight, or get an energy boost, can be very dangerous — especially for children, teenagers, and young adults. A study, published on Wednesday in the Journal of Adolescent Health, took a look at reports to the Food and Drug Administration that related to dietary supplements and vitamins.

977 cases involving adolescents and vitamins or supplements were reported to the FDA between 2004 and 2015, NBC News reported, all of which resulted in a medical visit of some kind. About 40 percent of the reported cases involved "trips to an emergency room, hospitalization, disability, or death."

The study's authors suggest that two things might have gone wrong in these cases: Either the supplements contained dangerous ingredients that weren't listed on the package, or they may have been consumed in combination with other types of medications, which could cause a harmful interaction.

The number of cases the study saw are just "a very small fraction of a very big problem in public health," said Flora Or, the study's lead author. Because the study relied on cases reported to the FDA, it's likely that many more cases went unreported because the connection to dietary supplements wasn't made.

The study's authors advise that it's best to take supplements, like any medication, with the advice of a doctor. Read more at NBC News. Shivani Ishwar

May 14, 2019

The World Health Organization announced on Tuesday its recommendations to reduce the risk of dementia. This is the first time the organization made an official recommendation on the condition, which affects 50 million people globally.

Dementia isn't just one disease, but a variety of conditions that produce similar symptoms, including memory loss and decreased cognitive abilities. This makes finding effective treatments difficult, and for many people, the damage is irreversible. The WHO's statement offers a strategy for people who may be at risk of developing dementia to significantly increase their chances of maintaining their neurological health for longer.

The WHO recommends practices that are already associated with a healthy lifestyle: exercising regularly, eating healthy, and laying off tobacco and alcohol. "Many people have the opportunity to substantially reduce their risk" by using these methods, said Tara Spires-Jones, a professor at the U.K. Dementia Research Institute. They have the greatest chance of working "before any cognitive symptoms are present," she explained.

Implementing these strategies on a global scale may help to stem the tide of dementia, which is growing at alarming rates. 10 million people are diagnosed with a form of dementia each year, which may triple the total number of patients by 2050, CNN reports. The costs of caring for dementia patients are growing, too: It costs somewhere around $818 billion each year, most of the burden on patients' family members, and that figure might rise to $2 trillion by 2030.

"We need to do everything we can to reduce our risk of dementia," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO's director general. Read more at CNN. Shivani Ishwar

April 23, 2019

New research has found that transgender Americans are more likely to have health risks and a poor quality of life. The study, published on Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, examined data from 3,075 transgender adults and compared it to data from 719,657 cisgender adults.

Analysis of this data revealed that transgender people are less likely to have health insurance than cisgender people, those who are not transgender. In addition, they are 66 percent more likely to have experienced "severe mental distress," NBC News explained. Trans survey participants were also more inclined to unhealthy habits such as a sedentary lifestyle or smoking.

The survey that collected the study's data was administered from 2014 to 2017, a period when "attitudes shifted" and transgender people may have gotten worse, said Kellan Baker, the study's author and a researcher at Johns Hopkins University.

"This study shows that being a transgender person in the U.S. today — being transgender in a society that you know doesn't fully accept you — is hard," Baker told NBC News in an email.

Xiang Cai, a researcher at Columbia University who wasn't involved in the study, said that the study's conclusions reflect "multiple levels of transgender-specific stigmas." But trans people are still "capable and resilient," Cai added, saying that gender-affirming surgeries for trans people can lead to higher quality of life. Read more at NBC News. Shivani Ishwar

December 17, 2018

Nearly 21 percent of high school seniors say they vaped within the past 30 days, up from 11 percent one year ago, a new survey out Monday says.

The Monitoring the Future survey has been in existence for 44 years, asking teenagers whether they use drugs, drink alcohol, or smoke, and this was the most dramatic spike in its history. The survey is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and its director, Nora Volkow, said the report is "very worrisome. We are very concerned about the increase in vaping."

Vapors from e-cigarettes contain high levels of nicotine, and doctors fret about how this affects brains that are still developing. The survey also found that more teens now believe that they are simply breathing in flavors when they vape, not understanding that they are indeed inhaling nicotine. Catherine Garcia

May 7, 2016

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) signed a bill Friday authorizing the state to participate in a federal health insurance program designed to provide subsidized health care to children from low-income families, Reuters reports. The 2010 program, already offered in the other 49 states, is geared toward kids whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to purchase private insurance.

The bill was controversial in the state legislature, with many conservative lawmakers opposing the program.

"Some of us here on the floor have obviously forgotten that we were not elected to expand government programs," said state Sen. Nancy Barto (R-Phoenix). "We were elected to get rid of them."

The program, known as KidsCare, is expected to serve about 30,000 kids in Arizona. It may go into effect as early as August. Julie Kliegman

May 2, 2016

Scientists are using reality TV to crack the mysteries of the human body — specifically, why people tend to gain so much weight back after major weight losses. Following contestants from NBC's The Biggest Loser, researchers concluded that it is because bodies biologically fight tooth-and-nail to climb back to their original weight.

The problem mainly lies with metabolisms, which slow radically as the body loses weight so that they eventually don't burn enough calories to maintain the thinner body size. Former contestant Danny Cahill, 46, for example, weighed 430 pounds before The Biggest Loser, 191 at the finale of the show, and six years later now weighs 295 pounds. His body burns 800 fewer calories a day than would be expected for a man of his size.

"All my friends were drinking beer and not gaining massive amounts of weight. The moment I started drinking beer, there goes another 20 pounds. I said, 'This is not right. Something is wrong with my body,''' Cahill said.

It turns out, he's right. "This is a subset of the most successful [dieters]," Dr. David Ludwig, who was not involved in the study, said of the Biggest Loser findings. "If they don't show a return to normal in metabolism, what hope is there for the rest of us?"

But with the problem identified, Ludwig adds researchers and people concerned about their weight shouldn't lose hope. "[It] shouldn't be interpreted to mean we are doomed to battle our biology or remain fat," Ludwig said. "It means we need to explore other approaches."

Learn more about what those approaches might be, and the science behind weight gain and loss, at The New York Times. Jeva Lange

March 3, 2016

Retired soccer player Brandi Chastain has agreed to donate her brain to researchers studying concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, The New York Times reports. Chastain — perhaps best known for scoring the winning goal during shootouts in the 1999 World Cup final against China — is the second United States' women's national soccer team member to donate her brain to the research, following Cindy Parlow Cone.

CTE has been found in athletes ranging from football players to boxers, as well as in male soccer players. Heading the ball is thought to cause the destructive subconcessive blows. To date, no female athletes have been found to have CTE, but of the 307 brains studied by Boston University, a mere seven have been from women.

"If there's any information to be gleaned off the study of someone like myself, who has played soccer for 40 years, it feels like my responsibility — but not in a burdensome way," Chastain told The New York Times.

Chastain has said there are "probably a half-dozen times" she has likely had concussions throughout her career.

"There are definitely days when I turn a corner and I'm like, 'Why did I come into this room?'" she said. "I have definitely, from time to time, thought, 'Hmmm, I wonder if this is connected to the past 40 years of playing sports.'" Jeva Lange

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