Health in a Heartbeat Health in a Heartbeat is a daily radio series that features two-minute segments providing consumer-health information and the latest news on medical research, patient-care breakthroughs and health-care industry trends. A production of our staff and WUFT-FM in Gainesville, Health in a Heartbeat airs on public radio stations in more than 55 markets nationwide.
Health in a Heartbeat

Health in a Heartbeat

From WUFT 89.1

Health in a Heartbeat is a daily radio series that features two-minute segments providing consumer-health information and the latest news on medical research, patient-care breakthroughs and health-care industry trends. A production of our staff and WUFT-FM in Gainesville, Health in a Heartbeat airs on public radio stations in more than 55 markets nationwide.

Most Recent Episodes

Lower-impact hits in football still cause brain damage

Football season is in full gear across America and everywhere you can hear the cracking sounds of helmets meeting helmets, like bighorn sheep battling for dominance in the Rocky Mountains. Much attention has been paid in recent years to concussions and other neurological damage among football players, especially the cumulative effects of playing the violent game for many years. New research has found that even a single season of helmet hits can reduce white matter in the brain, leading to cognitive and motor problems. Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center outfitted 38 players from the school's football team with helmet-mounted Head Impact Telemetry System accelerometers that measured the impact that each helmet absorbed. They tracked more than 19,000 total hits throughout the season. Most of the hits occurred during practices, but the hits during games were significantly stronger. They mapped out numerous areas of the helmets — and, thus, the brain — that took the greatest number of hits. MRIs were taken of the midbrain of the players at the start and end of the season. Even though only two players were diagnosed with concussions, the results showed an overall reduction in white matter in all of the players. The extent of this reduction corresponded to the number of hits the player sustained. The main takeaways are that even less-violent helmet hits in practice add up, and that MRIs of the midbrain can help physicians diagnose "clinically silent" brain injuries and make better decisions on whether the player should return to the field. Catching these problems early can make a difference in preventing long-term neurological injury.

Hearing aids may protect brain later in life

Now hear this: Wearing a hearing aid later in life may help preserve brain function over time. Recent findings support the theory that having an effective hearing aid can protect the brain and reduce the risk of dementia. Previous studies have shown that hearing loss is an important risk factor for dementia. Researchers at two English universities studied two groups of people who were given annual cognitive tests during a two-year period. Those who wore hearing aids performed better on tests that assessed their working memory and aspects of attention than those who did not wear hearing devices. People who wore hearing aids also showed a stronger ability to concentrate than those who did not have the devices. During the tests, hearing aid users reacted more quickly when they heard a sound or needed to concentrate on someone speaking. According to the National Institutes of Health, an estimated 17 percent of American adults have reported some form of hearing loss. Nearly half of all people over age 75 have a hearing impairment. Among those with hearing loss, 16 percent of people under age 70 and 30 percent of those over age 70 have used hearing aids. While researchers stressed additional research is needed, they noted their findings are ultimately encouraging. That's because they build on existing research that shows dementia risk can be reduced by one-third if interventions begin in mid-life. So, if your doctor suggests that it's time for you to consider getting hearing aids, don't tune her out. Your brain and ears, as well as your partner who is tired of repeating everything to you, will thank you.

Use ginger to soothe an unhappy belly

Are you feeling a little nauseous? Before you reach for an over-the-counter medicine, consider an old-school remedy: fresh or powdered ginger. This culinary spice has been praised for its healing properties in Asian and Middle Eastern cultures for thousands of years. Plenty of modern research backs up the anecdotal health claims. Ginger can help relieve nausea, gas and diarrhea as well as morning sickness during pregnancy and motion sickness. Aside from treating stomach problems, ginger can battle common cold symptoms and ease menstrual pain. What's so special about ginger? The spice contains strong anti-inflammatory properties, acting as a natural pain reliever. It regulates the digestive tract and also works in the nervous system to eliminate nausea. Both powdered and fresh ginger provide health benefits, so use whatever form works best for you. One gram of ginger, about a fifth of a teaspoon, is enough to get its benefits. One easy way to reap ginger's healing properties is to brew a cup of ginger tea. To make your own ginger tea, start with a piece of ginger root, usually available at most supermarkets. Peel the root, then grate or dice it. Place a gram of the diced root in a cup, pour in hot water and let it steep. You can also purchase ginger tea bags, but make sure ginger is listed as the main ingredient. Of course, it is possible that ginger won't work for you. Because ginger is spicy, it can cause gastrointestinal issues for some people. To alleviate any negative side effects, do not drink ginger tea on an empty stomach. If you have any worries about consuming ginger, speak with your doctor.

Don't be wedded to your wearable fitness tracker

Are you thinking about getting one of those all-the-rage fitness tracking watches to help you keep focused on getting fit and trim? Think again. New research suggests the wearable fitness trackers may have minimal long-term impact on your health. According to a University of Florida study, the increasingly popular fitness trackers such as Fitbits can play a role in motivating people to get more physically active, which is a great thing for the wearers. In fact, many doctors, insurers and wellness programs are recommending the devices and mobile apps as ways to improve employees' activity levels. But are they leading to any consistent health benefits, such as reducing obesity or chronic diseases? The researchers reviewed more than 500 studies on the use of wearable devices and found the participants reported they did increase their physical activity, mainly by keeping track of the number of steps they took each day. However, the study also found wearing the devices did not lead to reductions in the participants' cholesterol or blood pressure levels, and older adults with Type 2 diabetes had only limited improvement in blood sugar levels. They also were surprised to find people wearing the devices showed little evidence of actual weight loss. For the best results, the researchers suggested you pair your fitness tracker with personalized instructions from your health provider to make sure you're not just focused on a fancy device on your wrist. Changes in your diet, reducing stress and getting plenty of sleep are just a few of the other steps you can take toward better health.

Cutting alcohol boosts mental health

We all know that heavy drinking is a wrecking ball to good health. But what about those who hoist a beer or glass of wine socially or sip a nightcap after a stressful day at work? Is that wrecking ball swinging toward these moderate drinkers? A study out of Hong Kong indicates that light drinking might take a mental health toll. Their findings show that moderate drinkers who quit the habit, especially women, can improve their mental health to the point where it's comparable to those who have never touched the stuff. Writing in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the researchers suggest caution in physicians recommending moderate drinking as part of any diet. How do you define a moderate drinker? For men, it's considered 14 drinks or fewer per week, or 196 grams of alcohol. For women, it's seven drinks, or 98 grams of alcohol. If you're a beer drinker, a regular 12-ounce can of suds at 5% alcohol is considered one drink, as is a 5-ounce, 12% glass of wine. Scientists collected data from more than 10,000 participants who were a mix of lifelong abstainers and moderate drinkers. The mean age of the group was 49 years. The participants were quizzed about their mental well-being in a period extending from 2009 to 2013. They then compared that information to a second, larger group of 31,000 people. Who had the best mental well-being? Those who had never touched alcohol. But people who quit drinking, especially women, experienced a significant boost in mental health. Investigators say the ideal amount of alcohol to keep mental health on an even keel is what you find in an empty wine glass: zero.

Dog ownership has its benefits

Dogs are man's best friend, and they can also be a good health partner for anyone. According to recent findings by researchers in England, older dog owners who walked their dog at least once a day got 20 percent more exercise than those without dogs. Those same dog owners also spent 30 fewer minutes a day being sedentary. For older people, regular exercise has been found to improve overall wellness. The researchers from two British universities analyzed data from more 3,000 people with a median age of about 70. The study's participants wore an activity monitor for seven days, and the data were analyzed along with weather data that could have affected activity. The findings also show that a dog's need for walks can be a powerful motivator: All of the participants were less active on bad-weather days. Still, the regular dog walkers were more active on the worst weather days than those without dogs were on the best weather days. The researchers concede the cause-and-effect relationship between dog ownership and a more active lifestyle could go both ways: People who want to be more active may get dogs, though other studies have shown the dog provides its owner with incentive to get outside. In this study, researchers say the findings highlight the important role of external motivation — meaning that the dog needs to be exercised even in bad weather. Beyond improving older adults' exercise habits, the benefits of dog walking could lead to changes in the way we live, such as pet-friendly retirement communities and off-leash areas or dog-walking trails in parks. So, help your dog help you. Grab the leash and get out there.

The ABCs of CBD

CBD is one of the trendiest wellness products, available in everything from oils to gummies. Health and wellness bloggers say it can ease pain and anxiety, among other ailments. Is this true? Let's break down the ABCs of CBD to understand what's safe and what's legal. CBD stands for cannabidiol, a chemical compound found in the marijuana and hemp plant. Unlike recreational marijuana, CBD has no psychoactive properties, so it cannot make you high. In 2018, Congress passed legislation that removed hemp-derived CBD from the list of controlled substances, allowing retailers to sell it with no legal risk. As a result, CBD products have become readily available at many health stores and grocery stores. CBD products derived from marijuana are legal in states that have approved the use of medical and/or recreational marijuana. CBD is said to help alleviate various ailments, including anxiety, chronic pain and insomnia, in some people. Sufficient scientific evidence to support these claims does not yet exist, however, and the only FDA-approved use of CBD is in a drug used to treat epilepsy in children. Scientists say more research needs to be completed to determine if CBD does help other conditions. CBD can be found in topical ointments and creams as well as edible items and liquids. However, with CBD's growing popularity, it's important to make sure you're purchasing a legitimate product. Look for products that have been tested by a third-party for accuracy or sold at trusted stores. Lastly, be sure to talk to your health provider before you use CBD to make sure it won't interfere with any other medications you may be taking.

Warm bath or shower can improve sleep quality

A new bedtime ritual might deliver a better night's sleep: Take a bath 90 minutes before you hit the sack. Not only is the timing of the bath important, so is the temperature — new research shows 104 to 109 degrees is ideal. To establish their findings, University of Texas researchers reviewed more than 5,300 relevant studies. They extracted data about bathing before bedtime, also known as water-based passive body heating. Bathing at the optimal time and temperature, they found, can hasten the onset of sleep by an average of 10 minutes. It can also help optimize the body's circadian clock, a mechanism within the brain that drives 24-hour patterns of sleep and wakefulness. The findings were published in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews. While much of the science of body heating and its effect on improved sleep has been established, less is known about the optimal timing of core body temperatures. Warm showers or baths stimulate the body's internal thermometer, circulating more blood from the body's core to the hands and feet. That helps to optimize the body's natural circadian process, which drives many biological processes, including sleep. Optimal body temperature increases the chances of falling asleep quickly and getting high-quality sleep. Next, the researchers want to use the findings to develop a bed with thermal stimulation technology. Beds with separate temperature zones and adjustable heat would allow each person to customize their sleep experience throughout the night. So, before you head off to bed, step into a warm bath or shower. It could be your shortcut to dreamland.

Work stress and the fluttering heart

A cranial-busting headache may be the smallest of health worries for anyone with an obnoxiously stressful job. But a bad job might be the cause of that unhealthy fluttering in your chest. A Swedish study says job stress may significantly elevate the risk of a worker developing atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart rhythm more widely known as a heart flutter. Flutter seems a harmless enough word. After all, it's what butterfly wings do. But when the heart flutters, the consequences can be devastating. Atrial fibrillation can cause blood clots and is responsible for up to 30 percent of all strokes. The condition makes it more likely someone will die prematurely. Symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness, confusion and chest pain. Researchers tracked 13,200 study participants who were quizzed about job stress and then, after an average of nearly six years, were assessed to see if they had developed atrial fibrillation. The study found that work stress was tied to a 48 percent higher risk of heart flutter. The study defined work stress as jobs that had high psychological demands with little control by employees. Sound familiar? Researchers then did what is called a meta-analysis, which combined their study's findings with the results from two similar projects by others. That analysis found work-stressed employees had a 37 percent higher risk of heart flutter. Researchers say that people suffering heart palpitations or other heart symptoms should first consult a doctor and then talk to their boss about improving life at work. Of course, the boss' reaction might cause a worker's heart to flutter anew, but the reward could be worth the risk.

Water filters, what's the difference?

Think that water filter on your pitcher is removing all of the contaminants in your glass of water? You might want to think again. Scientists from The Ohio State University compared how efficiently some of the most popular brands of water pitcher filters removed microscopic contaminants. Their initial discovery wasn't all that surprising. Among the three most popular water filter brands, the cheapest was the least efficient. What did stand out, however, was just how big a difference there was in the effectiveness of the brands. Cheaper filters, which cost around $15 and are usually made out of coconut-based active carbon, only removed half as many contaminants as the more-expensive models. Filters with prices around $50, which are made with different blends of activated carbons, worked better. The researchers noted these filters took longer than other brands to clean the same amount of water. The time and money seem to be worth it. The study recreated the conditions of a 2014 water crisis in Toledo, Ohio that left more than 400,000 residents without drinkable tap water. When scientists used the cheaper brands, over half of the toxins were removed. But when they used the more expensive carbon blends, no toxins could be detected in the water at all. Most major retail outlets sell pitchers that filter water, and when comparing which brands to buy, don't just look at the cost. The composition of the filter is the most important part. Look for brands that use carbon blends from multiple sources instead of just one source, like coconut. That way you can be sure each glass of water you drink is really as clear as it looks.

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