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

Eating less doesn't prevent weight gain

For years, we've heard the mantra: Eat less, exercise more! With this tried-and-true formula, anyone can lose weight — or so we're told. This message has been pushed for decades, but it hasn't made a dent in obesity cases, which affect nearly half of all Americans. In a new study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers suggest that weight loss is more dependent on what you eat than how much you eat. They encouraged people to rethink calorie counting and instead focus on restricting intake of processed foods. This thinking differs from the previous model, which framed energy imbalance — too much food and not enough movement — as the cause of obesity. New research says the problem goes deeper. Foods with high levels of simple carbohydrates, like fries and pizza, are a major risk factor for weight gain. They tend to lack fiber and nutrients, which trick our bodies into thinking we are being deprived. Researchers dubbed this new rationale the Carbohydrate-Insulin Model. Eating too many processed foods can increase insulin resistance, which signals to our bodies that we need to store fat while keeping us ravenous for more nutrients. To combat this, researchers say a shift to eating more natural foods is in order. Fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains are all nutrient-rich alternatives that can reinvigorate our systems. So, if you've been frustrated by attempts to diet, don't worry so much about budgeting your calories at the grocery store or drive-thru. Instead, focus on eating foods as close to nature as possible, and see if you have more success.

Warmer temperatures make for better donor lung storage, study finds

Most of the time, organs for donation and eventual transplant are served on the rocks. Ice and cool temperatures are essential to preserving the lifegiving body parts until they can be implanted. Or so we thought. A new study from researchers in Toronto is shifting temperatures for donor lungs — and increasing the length of their viability, or how long they can last outside of the body. Typically, the length of viability to keep donor lungs in tip-top shape is between six and eight hours. It may seem like a good chunk of time — until you factor in how long it takes to locate a transplant center, match a recipient, and take it there. But by raising the temperature just a few degrees to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, surgeons were able to extend the organs' viability six times as long. The warmer temperature also permitted lung cells to continue performing certain basic functions, like gas exchange, potentially smoothing the transition between unfamiliar organ and recipient. Although this idea has been attempted before, researchers were unable to closely examine the organs as well as they can now, leading to doubt about whether warmer storage was a true means of optimization. Today, however, lung function can be studied down to an intracellular level — leaving little to the imagination. Knowing this works for lungs begs the question: What about other organs, like the liver and kidneys? Although it'll likely be some time before we know the answer, researchers are keenly interested — and intend to pose the question soon.

Researchers offer a 7,000-step plan for longer life

It goes without saying that exercise offers outstanding health benefits. But we're going to say it anyway. Physical activity keeps you trim, lowers blood pressure, increases cardiovascular and pulmonary fitness, and even improves mental health. And we're not talking about running a marathon. Walking will do fine. Walking is obviously exercise. But a brief stroll around the block just won't cut it. How many daily steps does it take to earn a longer life? The experts say many of us need to aim for 7,000. A study led by a University of Massachusetts epidemiologist found that walking at least 7,000 steps a day reduced the risk of premature death in those who are in middle age by a whopping 50 to 70%. Middle age was defined as starting at age 38 and ending at 50. Scientists analyzed data from 2,100 individuals and noted a gradual reduction in the risk of death as the number of steps walked increased. But walking beyond 10,000 per day didn't seem to make any difference. In fact, the common 10,000-step-a-day regimen followed by many people apparently isn't based on any real science. Researchers say that goal emerged years ago from a marketing campaign for a Japanese pedometer. But if you want to walk more than 10,000 steps, go right ahead. No harm done. While the study looked at the impact of walking during middle age, physicians say taking a daily stroll offers many benefits at any stage of life. Did you know, for instance, that research has shown walking can curb your craving for chocolate and other sugary snacks? Well, maybe we shouldn't mention that. To those of us who love chocolate, losing that sweet tooth might be a step too far.

Children's' diets loaded with ultraprocessed foods

Fast-food burgers. Sugary breakfast cereals. Bologna sandwiches. Those meals might be tasty for kids and appealing to parents for their convenience. Now, those and other so-called ultraprocessed foods make up an ever-increasing share of the calories consumed by young children and teenagers. That's the upshot of a long-term study by Tufts University researchers who tracked the eating habits of more than 33,000 children and adolescents for nearly 20 years. Ultraprocessed foods are typically laden with sugar and salt and contain less fiber than minimally processed foods. The researchers found that, as a percentage of all food consumed by children, ultraprocessed foods account for 67% those calories — up from 61% when the study began. Among the ultraprocessed foods that were trending with the study's participants: Pre-made burgers, frozen pizza, ready-to-eat meals and takeout food. The researchers also identified racial and ethnic disparities in the ultraprocessed food trends. The consumption of those foods increased nearly twice as much for non-Hispanic Blacks as it did among non-Hispanic whites. For Mexican-Americans, consumption increased about 50% more than non-Hispanic whites. What the scientists did not find were disparities in ultraprocessed food consumption based on family income and parental education. That, they said, shows the pervasiveness of those foods in children's diets. Still, the news isn't all troubling: Kids are drinking far fewer sweetened beverages. Sugary drinks accounted for 5.3% of all calories consumed — less than half of what it was at the start of the study. So, parents beware: Meals that are easy for you might not be so good for your kids.

Study: Traffic and transportation noise heightens risk of dementia

Here's another reason to despise traffic: Noisy city streets might increase the risk of developing dementia. A massive study out of Denmark involving two million adults age 60 and older found that long-term exposure to excessive traffic and transportation noise was associated with a higher risk of dementia, especially Alzheimer's disease. Remarkably, researchers estimated noise levels for every residential building in Denmark for the investigation. Better understanding the risk of this neurological disorder is critically important as more than 55 million people globally have been diagnosed with dementia. And that figure is expected to climb to 150 million by 2050. Long-term exposure to noise isn't just a risk for our mental health. Previous studies also have associated it with health problems like obesity, diabetes and coronary disease. Scientists have a few ideas about why noise causes problems for the brain. It's thought, for example, that fragmented sleep can lead to alterations to the immune system, oxidative stress and higher levels of systemic inflammation. The encouraging news is that noise pollution is a risk factor that, to some extent, can be controlled, unlike a genetic predisposition to a disease. Ear plugs or government regulation to reduce traffic noise — even better sound insulation in the home — might alleviate the issue to a significant degree. We can also reduce our odds of developing dementia by living healthy lives. Investigators have found eating well, exercising, and staying mentally active, among other things, can keep our minds sharp as we sail into our golden years. And if you find yourself in traffic, do everyone a favor: Lay off the horn.

Elevated level of stress may increase risk of high blood pressure, heart disease

Sometimes, a little bit of stress can be a good thing. When it comes to things like deadlines or being on time for a flight, stress is almost beneficial. In today's world, however, our fast-paced lives make us all too familiar with stress, despite knowing about its negative effects on our mind — and our body. Now, a new study is emphasizing the downside of prolonged stress on your health. New research from scientists in California looked at the link between high levels of stress hormones and increased risk of hypertension, or high blood pressure. When you're stressed, your body releases several hormones, like cortisol, that prepare the body for a fight-or-flight response to perceived danger. Once these hormones flood your body, blood vessels are constricted, heart rate increases, and so does the force with which your heart pumps blood throughout your body. But this sustained release of hormones and subsequent elevated blood pressure has consequences — like increasing the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke. And, as anyone who's been invested in the outcome of a close Sunday night game and blown through a bag of potato chips, the more stressed you are, the less likely you are to make healthy choices when it comes to coping mechanisms. Stress affects health at all ages, so if you think this is more pertinent for older folks, think again — the study's researchers noted that the association between higher levels of stress-related hormones and high blood pressure was more present in younger participants than older ones. Like death and taxes, stressors are unavoidable. But if you can remember to use them, breathing exercises and practicing gratitude may stave off some of the worst effects.

Elevated level of stress may increase risk of high blood pressure, heart disease

Getting recommended shut-eye wards off 'snack attacks'

Anyone who's survived for any length of time on too little sleep knows all too well the compulsion to make a vending machine run for a mid-morning snack. It turns out that missing the recommended seven or more hours of sleep every night is linked to chowing down on more carbohydrates, extra sugar, fats and caffeine. Ohio State University researchers analyzed data from nearly 20,000 American adults ranging in age from 20 to 60. From 2007 through 2018, the survey tracked participants' sleep, what they ate and when they ate it. The researchers divided survey respondents into groups who reported getting seven hours of sleep and those who didn't. Among their findings: We're all too snack-happy. Regardless of how much sleep we get, we favor salty, crunchy foods, sweets and non-alcoholic drinks. But those who skip sleep also tend to consume more calories in a day from snacks. Staying up late isn't only bad for us from a nutrition standpoint. When we stay up, we tend to behave in ways that contribute to weight gain: specifically, not moving much and often staring at a screen. Their analysis showed that nearly everyone — more than 95 percent — ate at least one snack a day, including soda or energy drinks and chips, pretzels and cookies. Those who reported getting the least amount of sleep were more likely to eat a morning snack and to consume more high-calorie snacks with less nutritional value. The bottom line: Pushing yourself to hit the sack earlier might just improve your diet, too. After all, you can't sleep and snack at the same time.

Teens get sneak peek at what too much sun can do to their looks

When health officials in Brazil wanted to show teens the effects of too much exposure to the sun, they used technology the teens could relate to: selfie photos. Specifically, they used a face-aging app that showed the teens what prolonged exposure to ultraviolet, or UV, radiation could do to their skin. The damage ranged from wrinkles and dry skin to uneven pigmentation and skin cancer. Brazil has one of the highest UV indexes in the world and tanning is very common. UV radiation exposure is a serious risk factor for melanoma, and health experts sought interventions that would get the attention of the younger generation. Researchers enrolled more than 1,500 high schoolers, roughly half of whom were assigned to a control group. The rest attended a classroom seminar conducted by medical students where the teens' selfies were altered by the app Sunface to show how UV would impact their future faces. The withering effects, as you might imagine, were jarring, especially when they were viewed alongside everyone else in their class. The teens also were given information on how to protect themselves from UV radiation. When the researchers checked back at three- and six-month intervals with the students who had been shown their future faces, the results were encouraging. A significant number of the teens reported using sunscreen daily, while more than twice as many students said they were doing self-examinations than those in the control group. They also reported a drastic reduction in the use of tanning beds. The findings suggest that interventions like the face-aging app may motivate teens to better protect their skin. After all, seeing is believing.

Hitting the slopes and other types of exercise might reduce anxiety

Suffering from anxiety? Hit the gym. Walk the dog. Jog around the neighborhood. Exercise, researchers say, might be key in avoiding the disorder. They tested their hunch by looking at the mental health of skiers hitting the slopes. Skiers, after all, appear to be a happy bunch. Scientists in a huge epidemiology study that involved 400,000 people compared skiers and a group of people who never hit the powdered hills. The skiers participated in the world's largest long-distance cross-country race in Sweden between 1989 and 2010. Researchers found a remarkable 60% lower risk of developing anxiety in people who skied compared with those who didn't. That was during the study's 21-year follow-up period. The correlation was observed in men and women. The study suggests that physical activity in general appears to help stave off anxiety. Investigators don't suggest that skiing alone will help. Any physical activity might do. But they are open to the possibility that being among like-minded people slaloming has an especially positive effect on the psyche. The stakes can be high for the estimated 10% of people around the globe who experience anxiety. The ailment can be debilitating, causing an increased heart rate, hyperventilation, sweating and trembling. Some people can even faint. An oddity was noticed in the data. The highest-performing female skiers had nearly double the risk of anxiety compared with other women who skied with less vigor. Even so, these uber-skiers still experience less anxiety than those people who weren't on the slopes at all. This work once again reinforces that exercise can be the best medicine. The lack of anxious skiers on the slopes might prove the point.

Gut-friendly foods called prebiotics may thwart body-clock fatigue

College students burning the midnight oil, graveyard shift workers and those whose jobs make them frequent fliers know that such lifestyles can take a toll on one's health. But a study of dietary compounds known as prebiotics may someday help those folks recover faster. Disruptions in our circadian rhythm, or our biological clocks, can wreck our sleep, moods, metabolism and increase our risk for some diseases. A new University of Colorado Boulder study, paid for by the U.S. Navy, suggests that simple dietary compounds called prebiotics — foods like onions, leeks and artichokes — help stabilize good gut bacteria, making our bodies more resilient to circadian disruption. The researchers raised two groups of lab rats: One fed a diet heavy in prebiotics, the other, regular rat food. They manipulated the rodents' sleep cycles for eight weeks, equivalent to traveling to a time zone 12 hours ahead every week for two months. The rats fed prebiotics more quickly realigned their sleep cycles and core body temperature and their bodies resisted gut-flora changes that often accompany stress. Prebiotics should not be confused with probiotics, found in fermented foods like yogurt, kombucha and sauerkraut. The Navy funded the study because its ranks are full of those whose jobs require them to endure odd schedules, often for long stretches. Clinical trials are underway to determine if prebiotics could have similar effects on humans. Someday, there might be customizable prebiotic mixes available to help anyone forced to work an odd shift better ward off its wearying side effects.