News from the World of Medicine: Beating Insomnia, A Cure for 'Mean World Syndrome', a Type-2 Diabetes breakthrough and more

The latest in medical research and health news you need to know  

Samantha Rideout Published Apr 12, 2024 14:48:23 IST
News from the World of Medicine: Beating Insomnia, A Cure for 'Mean World Syndrome', a Type-2 Diabetes breakthrough and more freepik

Could Dentures Cause Pneumonia?

When scientists in the United Kingdom swabbed dentures from seniors with and without bacterial pneumonia, they expected to find differences. But they were surprised by how much pneumonia-associated bacteria they found on the dentures of the people with infections: 20 times more than the control group. It’s possible that dentures provide a susceptible surface for these microbes to colonize; from there, it would be easy to inhale them into the lungs. The results are a reminder to clean dentures regularly and thoroughly.

Drugs for Preventing Breast Cancer’s Return

Nearly 70 per cent of breast cancers are HR+/HER2-, a type that often responds well to standard treatments such as surgery and radiation followed by hormonal therapy. However, in about one third of patients whose tumours were found at stage II, the cancer will eventually come back; the same goes for around half of those whose tumours were at stage III. Two medications that treat stage-IV breast cancer have recently been shown to reduce the recurrence rate for earlier-stage tumours when they’re taken with hormonal therapy. The first drug, Verzenio, lowered recurrence by 35 per cent in patients who were considered at high risk for reasons such as the tumour’s size. The second, Kisqali, lowered recurrence by 25 percent, but in a broader group of patients and with fewer side effects. Neither option is appropriate for every case, but you could ask your medical team if they’re suitable for you. 

Social Connection Tempers Pain

Living with chronic pain is extremely difficult, and certain psychological variables can either amplify it or take the edge off it. One of these factors is feeling connected to others, concludes a California study published last spring in the journal Emotion. Social connectedness—not the number of people you know but rather how close you feel to them—makes the pain seem less intense, probably because it reduces anxiety. The researchers also found that when there’s not much social support available, a weighted blanket could help to compensate, perhaps because it provides a sensation like being held and protected.

What One Hour Away from Your Phone Can Do

More than 3.5 billion people worldwide spend an average of three hours a day glued to their smartphones—on social media, text­ing, checking emails. According to a German study, there’s good reason to cut down. Researchers found that people who lowered their usage by one hour every day were happier, spent more time being physically active, were less depressed and reduced anxiety symptoms by more than 30 per cent. Cutting back was more ­effective than total digital detox: People who had spent one hour less per day on smartphones during the one-week intervention were more likely to successfully change their habits over the long term than abstainers who had put their smartphones away entirely for a week. —By Mark Witten

The Seasonality of Sleep

If you feel like you need more sleep at this time of the year, you could be right. A recent German study of people with sleep disorders suggests that even in urban settings with lots of artificial light, winter’s shorter days make a difference to circadian rhythms. On average, the 188 participants slept for an hour longer in January than in June, and had 30 minutes more REM sleep in winter months compared to spring. (REM is an essential stage of sleep during which dreams occur.) Unfortunately, most people aren’t given the option to adjust the start of the workday or school day to match seasonal patterns. However, they could try going to bed earlier in the darker months.

A cure for ‘Mean World Syndrome’ 

Although news stories about disturbing events can be worth your attention, good news benefits your mental health, concludes a British experiment. More than 300 participants read stories about cruelty or violence, which, not surprisingly dampened their moods. Those who went on to read lighthearted anecdotes (e.g., a mouthy parrot) felt better, but those who read stories about acts of kindness reported a greater belief in the overall goodness of humanity. These results suggest that even if you’re exposed to a daily barrage of bad news, hearing about the kindness of others makes you happier and protects you against what some researchers call mean world syndrome, an anxious outlook caused by an overestimation of the world’s dangers.

Common Vaccines Bring Extra Bonus

Staying up to date with your immunizations reduces your chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease, suggests a study of people over 65 led by the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Specifically, the vaccines for tetanus and diphtheria (adults should get a booster every 10 years), shingles (recommended for ­people over age 50) and pneumococcal disease (recommended for seniors over 65) lowered the relative risk of Alzh-eimer’s by as much as 30 per cent. A couple of years ago, the same team found a similar risk reduction with the flu shot. Exercising the immune system with vaccines can help it respond appropriately to the toxic proteins that contribute to Alzheimer’s as they build up in the brain. In addition, some preventable infections, such as shingles, can cause harmful brain inflammation.

Type 2 Diabetes Breakthrough

People with type 2 diabetes will likely soon have the option of taking their insulin injections only once a week. That’s because a new, longer-lasting treatment called insulin icodec has performed well in late-stage trials, and its developer has applied for approval from regulators around the world. The trials showed that this form of insulin lowers blood-sugar levels at least as effectively as daily options do. That said, the participants taking insulin icodec had a slightly higher rate of episodes of excessively low blood sugar, a risk that each patient, along with their doctor, will need to weigh against the convenience of fewer shots.

Prevent RSV In Winter

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is an infection that surges each winter—or, in tropical climates, each wet season. Most peo­ple have had it before, but they might not realize it because RSV usually causes only mild symptoms similar to the common cold. But it sometimes leads to serious breathing difficulties, particularly for elderly people and babies. Fortunately, scientists are now developing treatments to help prevent RSV in those most vulnerable groups. Two that are approved for use in the United States are an injectable drug called Beyfortus (nirsevimab-alip) for infants, and a new vaccine, Arexvy, that is suitable for some people over 60. Both treatments should protect people through at least one RSV season.

Losing Sleep over Insomnia

Sleeping medications aren’t always effective long term, and they come with serious risks, such as memory problems and addiction. But we know that changes to thoughts and behaviours can help with insomnia just as much as meds can—if not more. One of these tweaks is to stop watching the clock when you’re hoping to nod off. Recent research led by a team at Indiana University found evidence that monitoring the time makes people feel more frustrated, which exacerbates their insomnia and ­ultimately makes them more likely to turn to pills.



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