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

Can I take you out ... for an ice bath?

The hottest thing on the blind dating scene in Los Angeles isn't all that hot. In fact, it's freezing. Literally. Ice baths, it seems, are having a moment. They've long been used by athletes to help heal muscles after heavy workouts or to bring down core body temperatures after exercising in the heat. Oh, and those Polar Bear challenge crazies who run into freezing bodies of water in the most inhospitable of temperatures? They were early adopters, too. But today, the baths — also known as cold shock therapy — are catching on with the masses. Ice tubs are hot sellers. Hollywood actors and those ubiquitous social media influencers are touting the benefits, carrying on about how ready they feel to take on the world. But is this something we all need to be doing? Hardly, researchers say. If you have an injured arm or leg, a short plunge — no more than 10 minutes — can help with healing. Beyond that, little research exists to support any lasting benefits. The fight-or-flight response our bodies go through upon plunging into frigid water may be what's causing the euphoria so many experience. And danger lurks for anyone whose doctor can't assure that your heart is ready for such a jolt. Any of us who take a plunge into an icy bath will experience a cold shock response. It's that initial moment that makes you gasp. We might hyperventilate a little and our blood pressure rises. A healthy body can manage it, but someone with a weak heart? Maybe not. It brings to mind advice we all heard as children: Just because all your friends are jumping into an ice bath, doesn't mean you have to do it, too.

Jet lag might have a cure — breakfast

Scientists say there might be a simple way to avoid jet lag, that bane of all long-distance travelers. Here's a hint: Two eggs, over easy. Breakfast, it seems, is the most important meal of the day if you've just spent hours on a plane, toppling time zones like dominoes. Circadian rhythm researchers at Northwestern University and the Santa Fe Institute say our internal cellular clocks get knocked akilter when we eat late-night snacks or irregular meals. And that causes the fatigue and insomnia that are hallmarks of jet lag. The scientists, however, say having a big breakfast in the morning at your destination time zone might put your circadian clock back on track. Our circadian rhythm tunes our bodies to the rotation of the Earth and the cycle of day and night. It has concrete physiological impacts on humans every day, helping us sleep at night and wake in the morning. The cellular timepiece regulates metabolism and can adjust our blood pressure, body temperature and hormone levels. Disrupting this finely tuned cycle over time invites health problems, including, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. The jet lag study used a mathematical model to show how the interplay of circadian clocks of different systems can be manipulated. The morning meal, the model shows, might just cure that sick feeling following a long airplane journey. The worst thing to do, by contrast, is to have a nighttime meal or to constantly shift meal times. So, upon your arrival in Timbuktu or wherever else you land, wait until morning and then enjoy a heaping pile of pancakes or any other delightful breakfast. It might just keep time on your side.

Brainless jellyfish can learn from mistakes

Nobody's ever accused jellfish of being the brightest creatures in the ocean. These transcluscent, undulating gobs can at first appear to lack any kind of agency, coming into contact with their prey seemingly by accident and floating about at the whim of ocean currents. But a new study published in Current Biology suggests that jellyfish, despite having no central brain system, can learn from their mistakes. Researchers trained a tiny Caribbean box jellyfish, less than one-half inch in diameter, to identify and avoid obstacles. Notably, the study counters previously held notions that advanced learning behaviors require a centralized brain. To better understand how jellyfish engage in associative learning, scientists added white and gray stripes across a tank, mimicking the jelly's natural habitat of mangrove tree roots slicing through murky water. At first, the jellyfish swam too close to the stripes and bumped into them repeatedly. However, by the experiment's conclusion, scientists said the jellyfish increased its buffer from the wall by about 50%, quadrupled its number of successful pivots to avoid hitting the wall and cut its contact with the wall by half. Although jellyfish have far less nuanced nervous systems than humans, this line of research may help scientists understand how even the most spartan nervous system can perform advanced behaviors to ensure an organism's survival. A jellyfish is never going to be man's best friend. Truth being told, most of us try to avoid them. But the next time you cross paths with one at an aquarium, remember: You have more in common than you might think.

Study: In life, age affects happiness

At what age are people happiest? It seems a simple question, but it's been studied for decades with no pat answers. In a new study, German and Swiss researchers say they've come up with some insight. The team's meta-analysis of existing research involved data from more than 460,000 people ages 9 to 94 from studies based on three components of happiness ¾ or "subjective well-being," as scientists call it. The components were life satisfaction, positive affect and negative affect. Positive affect measures emotions such as feeling engaged, attentive and joyful. Negative affect gauges emotions like being frightened, angry or sad. The researchers say life satisfaction decreases from age 9 to 16, increases slightly until we reach 70, then decreases again until age 94. Charted, the drop from age 9 to 16 is steep, then the line tracks ever-so-slightly higher until age 70, before it slowly drops. Positive and negative affects offered sharper trend lines than life satisfaction. Positive emotional states showed a general decline from age 9 to 94. Negative states fluctuate slightly between ages 9 and 22, they decline until age 60 and then rise again. On a chart, it looks like a subdued letter "U." The bottom line: Puberty and old age are not for the weak. In puberty, your body changes, you feel awkward, your heart breaks. When you're older, friends and spouses die. We sometimes become lonely. Our health often gets worse with age and that can mean having to contend with physical pain. Researchers say documenting the trends is a way to ensure help gets to those who need it most, at the time of life they most need it.

Hit the stairs for better heart health

Stepping into an elevator and pushing a button to get to the fifth floor apparently isn't the best recipe for good heart health. Instead, hit the stairs. Tulane University researchers used data from more than 450,000 adults tracked over a dozen years and calculated their susceptibility to heart disease, from their genetics to whether they ever smoked. Scientists also quizzed them on how frequently they walked up stairs. The study found that those who walked more than five flights of stairs every day, or the equivalent of 50 stair steps, reduced their risk of cardiovascular disease by about 20%. The threat of coronary artery disease and stroke also fell. That doesn't mean you have to walk all the stairs all at once. It's OK to take the elevator to the fourth floor and then walk up to the fifth — as long as you hit your quota before the day is over. So, get out of the habit of taking an elevator for short trips. Of course, if the mood strikes, and you're feeling your oats, feel free to take all 50 stair steps at once. Once you start this daily regimen, however, it's a good idea from your heart's perspective to keep at it. Researchers note people who stopped climbing 50 stairs or more a day had a 32% higher risk of heart disease compared with those who didn't report climbing stairs at all. The thing about stairs is that they're everywhere. And they're free, without the need to buy expensive stair-climbing equipment. That makes this type of exercise an accessible way to stay fit and healthy. Here's a hint for those who find themselves exhausted after climbing up a couple of floors at the office. It's OK to take the elevator down.

For garlic breath, yogurt may help

When it comes to beating garlic breath, put away the mouthwash and forget the mints. So, now what? Yogurt, of all things. In the battle against the pungent aftereffect of the stinking rose, scientists at Ohio State University have a new weapon. And while it might not pair well with a garlic-heavy meal, yogurt does well at knocking down garlic breath. To prove that, the researchers deployed plain, whole-milk yogurt that was reduced to its essential components. In this case, that was fat, water and protein. So how did it stand up to the stink? And which one of those components was the magic bullet? Using raw garlic in glass bottles, the scientists first made sure there were enough offending, sulfur-based chemicals to be detected by the human nose. Yogurt alone reduced 99% of the odor-producing chemicals. But that wasn't enough for the scientists. They needed to know what part of the yogurt was stopping the smell. After diving deeper, they found it was mostly the fat and protein doing the heavy lifting. In the case of fat, more was better when it came to trapping the volatile molecules that drive garlic's aroma. Changing the yogurt's acidity also affected its smell-trapping ability. As the yogurt became less acidic, its ability to neutralize garlic odor also diminished. That led them to a logical conclusion: Focus on the proteins as the savior of socially acceptable breath. It also raises the possibility that with its even higher protein content, Greek yogurt could be even more effective than its plain, whole-milk cousin. So, after a robust, garlicky meal, there's only one thing to do: Leave the cannoli, take the yogurt.

Fruit flies offer insight into reward-based decisions

In addition to being a sustainable solution to fast fashion, your favorite thrift store has been the site of some quality vintage pieces. Of course, there are also weekends where you spend hours sorting through musty shoes, but it usually pays off. Or so your brain tells you. In the animal kingdom, this type of behavior is referred to as matching, and we see it everywhere — in mice, pigeons and yes, even thrifty fashionista. But what is your brain doing when this happens? Enter the humble fruit fly. A favored subject for scientists' studies, research shows fruit flies are capable of decision-making based on their expectations about the likelihood of a reward. In this case, the research team identified the part of the fly's brain where these value adjustments are made, allowing them to confirm the theory on a smaller, neural-circuit level. During the experiment, researchers pumped two distinct odors into the arms of a Y-shaped arena. The fly entered and learned to anticipate rewards and base its decision accordingly. Eighty percent of the time, the fly selected the odor that gave 80% of the rewards. Only 20% of the time did it choose the odor that yielded 20% of the rewards. Why worry about how a fly makes choices? Understanding how even a tiny fly brain processes input into behavior may help researchers better understand how decision-making happens in the brains of larger animals, like people. This could help advance treatment in diseases like addiction, where the brain's decision-making system can wreak havoc — perhaps leading to a long-awaited solution. And wouldn't you like to be a fly on the wall for that?

Fatty-food cravings linked to gut-brain connection

Few among us can resist a cup of ice cream, buttery bread or a thick piece of prime rib. For those watching their weight, it's typical to blame their taste buds for those cravings. Scientists have a new culprit in sight: It may be the gut-brain connection that drives our desire for fat-laden "comfort" food. At Columbia University, scientists studying mice found that fat triggers a biochemical signal as it enters the intestine. That signal then makes its way through nerves to the brain, prompting a desire for fatty foods. The researchers' study builds on earlier work, which found a gut-brain connection involving sugar that can lead to cravings. Now, the same pathway seems to be involved in fatty food cravings. Their research notes distinct roles for various parts of the body. The tongue tells us what we like, such as the salty taste of French fries or the rich umami [oo·maa·mee] flavor of cheese or cooked meat. But the gut tells the brain what we want and need. To establish that, the researchers gave the mice one source of water that contained dissolved fats. Another water source had dissolved sweeteners. In just a few days, the mice developed a strong preference for the fat-enhanced water — even after they were genetically modified to take away their ability to taste fat. That led the scientists to a conclusion: Specific, fat-sensitive cells in the gut activate brain circuits that drive a specific response — in this case, cravings. The researchers noted that understanding the source of cravings is an important step toward controlling them. But until there's a pill to curb cravings for fatty foods, willpower will have to do.

Exercising in the morning is best for weight loss, study says

You may have heard the old saw that the early bird gets the worm. But have you heard the one about the early bird winning the battle of the bulge? A recent study published in the research journal Obesity shows that exercising between 7 and 9 in the morning is associated with a smaller waist circumference and lower body mass index compared with those who work out at midday or in the evening. The study analyzed health and activity data from more than 5,000 people who participated in a national survey on health and nutrition run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Participants wore activity trackers on their right hip to track calories and physical exertion. The study found that those who exercised in the morning had an average BMI of 27.5, compared with later exercisers' average BMI of 28.3. Midday exercise was defined as between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., while evening exercise fell between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. The early exercisers' average waist circumference, adjusted for diet quality and caloric intake, was 38 inches, or roughly six-tenths of an inch smaller than the waistlines of their later-exercising peers. Past research has shown that exercising during a fasted state causes the body to rely more on stored fat for energy than stored glucose from food. That means early birds are better equipped to burn fat during workouts and the next day, too. Even if they're not active. Consider adding a morning jog to your routine. Or hit that sunrise yoga class you wrote off as unreasonably early. A change in your internal clock might take getting used to, but success on the scale might make it worth your while.

Ancient spice could help with intestinal distress

For thousands of years, turmeric [tərmərik] has been prized for its food and medicinal uses. Most recently, it has found a home on store shelves as a natural reliever of inflammation and joint pain. Now, add another use to the list: gastrointestinal distress. A recent study by researchers in Thailand showed the supplement can help with functional dyspepsia [dis-ˈpep-shə]. That's the formal name for the nausea, stomach pain and bloating that comes after meals. Often sold as curcumin [kər-kyə-mən] — which is the chemical compound in dried turmeric — or turmeric curcumin, the supplement has been widely studied for a host of ailments. In Thailand, the researchers separated about 200 people into three groups. For eight weeks, one group was given omeprazole [oh-mep-ruh-zohl], an over-the-counter, daily medicine that reduces stomach acid. Another group got two curcumin capsules four times a day. The third group was given both omeprazole and curcumin each day. Later, the participants in all three groups reported similar reductions in heartburn, pain, bloating and other gastrointestinal symptoms. That, the researchers said, suggests that curcumin is just as effective as its medicinal counterpart at reducing the symptoms of functional dyspepsia. The researchers say more study is needed to fully establish curcumin's effectiveness against functional dyspepsia. Still, it represents a potential breakthrough: There are no medications approved solely for dyspepsia. Ask your doctor about interactions with medications before starting a curcumin regimen. And know this: Curcumin may be able to do more than just spice up your evening meals.