News from the World of Medicine: How to Battle News Addiction, How Fermented Foods can Best Stress, Why Fit Friends Make You Fitter and More
The latest in medical research and health news you need to know
Fermented Foods May Reduce Stress
The trillions of bacteria that live in your gut influence how your digestive system communicates with your brain—a fact that prompted Irish scientists to investigate whether our eating habits could influence our mental health. In their recent study of people with poor dietary habits, half the participants received healthy-eating advice and used the food pyramid as guide. The other half adopted a diet high in fibre, grains and legumes, and ate two to three daily servings of fermented foods such as sauerkraut or kefir. After four weeks, the latter group felt less stressed. They also showed lower levels of chemicals that are produced by gut microbes and have been linked to mental health.
A Potentially Dangerous Drug Combo
Ibuprofen and codeine are commonplace painkillers, so people might assume there’s no harm in taking both at the same time. Even doctors may recommend that patients combine them for chronic-pain management or post-surgical recovery. However, the European Medicines Agency now requires a warning on any packages that contain both of these medicines: it turns out that combining them at high doses or for a prolonged period of time could lead to kidney or gastrointestinal damage. For example, there have been several cases of renal, gastrointestinal and metabolic toxicities across Europe, some of which were fatal. Most were from countries in which this combination is available without a prescription, suggesting that medical supervision can lower its risks.
Fit Friends Make You Fitter
True fitness buffs—the marathon-runner types—spend their spare time very differently than sedentary people, and these two groups don’t tend to influence each other. The same can’t be said about the sedentary folks and people who exercise moderately (150 to 300 minutes a week). According to a mathematical model incorporating data from the U.S. Military Academy, interactions between those two friend groups could make the sedentary person more active or turn the moderate exerciser into a couch potato. To make sure your social interactions do lead to health benefits, include moderate exercise in your shared activities, perhaps by enjoying a casual game of badminton or taking a walk while you chat.
Preventing Post-Surgery Delirium
Before you undergo surgery, your medical team will evaluate your risk of complications. Brain health isn’t often part of this assessment, but it should be if the patient is older than 65, states an article published in September 2022 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Why? Because pre-existing cognitive issues greatly increase the likelihood of post-operative delirium. This sudden state of confusion is brought on by factors such as anesthesia, the unfamiliar hospital environment, dehydration and painkillers, and can not only cause distress but also lead to lasting cognitive decline. If you’re at high risk, your doctor could advise that you opt out of elective surgery or avoid taking certain medications around the time of the procedure.
Take Control of Blood-Pressure Monitoring
Fewer than half of people between 50 and 80 years old with hypertension or other conditions that require keeping blood pressure under control are monitoring it between medical appointments. To be fair, only 62 percent have been asked to do so by their doctors, reports the National Poll on Healthy Aging from the University of Michigan. Past research shows that regularly monitoring blood pressure at home makes it easier to control, which, in turn, reduces the likelihood of a heart attack, a stroke or dementia.
Kidney Dialysis Improves Quality of Life
In Europe, close to 100 million people are living with chronic kidney disease, many of them requiring dialysis. In North America alone, more than half a million people are getting dialysis for kidney failure. It’s a treatment that can add years to your life, but it’s not always easy. For example, a patient may need to hook their arm up to a blood-filtering machine for four hours, three times a week. If they’ve opted for the other common kind of dialysis, they may have to attach a bag of fluid to a catheter in their stomach four times a day. Given the challenges associated with the treatment, some people may simply opt out. That’s why researchers from Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands decided to examine the quality of life—in terms of mental and physical health—of older adults pre- and post-dialysis. They asked 457 seniors from six European countries to rate how they felt during the year before starting dialysis and for another year afterward. On average, the subjects reported that their well-being stabilized or improved, despite the downsides of dialysis. The explanation: kidney failure itself can cause ailments ranging from pain to low vitality to physical disability. Starting dialysis often stopped the participants’ rapid decline in these areas.
Smartwatches Can Detect Atrial Fibrillation
Devices like the Fitbit and Apple Watch have an electrocardiogram (ECG) app that looks for signs of atrial fibrillation (AFib), the most common heart-rhythm irregularity. Catching AFib is valuable, since the condition can lead to a stroke if untreated. But are smartwatches reliable compared to a standard ECG? A recent Chinese study involving 2.8 million participants suggests they can be reasonably accurate if you have AFib. However, the devices can get thrown off when someone has a different heart issue, or more than one. In short, you can use a smartwatch for an initial screening, but you’ll want to follow up with a doctor for a medical test.
Air Pollution: Let’s Go for Low
Even when the air seems clean, there’s a good chance it contains some fine particulate matter (PM2.5), a term that refers to tiny particles from sources like car exhaust, forest fires, fuel burning and power plants. PM2.5 is a health hazard because it’s microscopic enough to travel deep into the respiratory tract, contributing to respiratory and cardiovascular problems. In 2021, the WHO halved its recommended level of annual PM2.5 emissions in outdoor air that had been set in 2005. Now, scientists from Montreal’s McGill University have concluded that concentrations of PM2.5 even lower than the WHO recommendations are responsible for more than a million deaths each year. The finding means that meeting the WHO’s new guideline is even more critical than previously realized.
Help Your Pills Work Faster
If you want a pill to start bringing you relief as quickly as possible, try lying down on your right side. Using a computer simulation of a stomach, investigators at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland saw medications dissolve more than twice as quickly in this position, compared to standing up or lying on the back. By contrast, lying on the left side was slower than standing. This makes sense if you think about gravity and the asymmetrical shape of your stomach: the opening that leads to the small intestine, where pills are typically absorbed, is on the right side.
How to Combat ‘News Addiction’
Just as some people develop a problematic relationship with alcohol or gambling, others consume the news in an unhealthy way, argues a report in the journal Health Communication. Although ‘news addiction’ is not an official diagnosis, researchers at Texas Tech University found that people who agreed more strongly with statements such as ‘I find it difficult to stop reading or watching the news’ or ‘My mind is frequently occupied with thoughts about the news tended to have worse mental and physical well-being because of ailments like fatigue, pain and gastrointestinal issues. Not only has there been a lot of bad news in recent years, but economic pressures have encouraged many media organizations to focus on using alarming headlines to grab attention, rather than empowering consumers to understand and navigate the world. Of the 1,100 adults surveyed, 16.5 per cent showed signs of severely problematic news consumption. It affected their lives by making it hard to focus on work, for example, or by contributing to sleep issues. If this sounds like you, don’t tune out completely, the co-authors advised. Staying informed can promote your health, safety and ability to be a properly informed citizen. Instead, aim for a healthier relationship with news, by cutting back your consumption and getting choosy about which kinds of stories and media are worth your time.