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 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.More from Health in a Heartbeat »

Most Recent Episodes

Federal tax on junk food is feasible, study finds

Your potato chips, Cheetos and Mountain Dew might someday come with something extra — a federal junk food tax. Slapping a federal excise tax on foods that meet certain nutritional or category criteria is both legal and feasible, researchers at two universities have found. An excise tax is a targeted levy on certain goods and paid by the manufacturer. Some communities impose local taxes on sweetened soft drinks but a national tax on that and junk foods would be unique. Researchers at Tufts and New York Universities found that targeting junk foods with an excise tax would first require lawmakers to classify foods a certain way — perhaps by product category such as soda or candy, by general nutritional criteria or according to certain ingredients. Another option is a progressive excise tax, which would mean escalating the tax as the nutritional quality of foods decrease. Revenue from the tax could be allocated to a specific purpose, such as funding obesity prevention or Type 2 diabetes care, the researchers said. It also gives junk food manufacturers the flexibility to decide how much of the tax gets passed on to consumers. Having a nutrition-specific excise tax also gives junk-food makers an incentive to reformulate their products: Fewer bad ingredients could mean a lower tax rate. Federal tax laws are amenable to a junk food tax and scientific literature supports defining junk food through product-specific categories, researchers said. That means a favorable environment for a federal junk-food tax. Decades ago, a potato chip maker threw down a challenge: Bet you can't eat just one. Now, if you can't, it could end up costing a little more.

Smartphone app targets obesity prevention based on users' eating habits

A smartphone app that targets eating habits and lifestyle could help you fend off overeating during times of stress and exhaustion. So says a study by a team from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the University of Connecticut, who presented the results at the American Medical Informatics Association's annual symposium. The app, called SlipBuddy, tailors interventions based on users' behavior and reported eating habits during times of stress. It targets situations that could lead to overeating and offers suggestions that can instead trigger healthy behaviors. Users are prompted to check in three times during the day to report stress levels, tiredness and hours slept. It also asks them to log whenever they overindulged. The app gathers information to predict patterns of when a participant is likely to overeat, such as late-night snacking, while watching TV, or after a rough night of sleep. During those times, the app suggests alternative activities to lower stress, such as taking a walk or turning off the TV or the computer. The monthlong pilot study included adults who were overweight, but not trying to drop the extra pounds. The researchers reported more than half of the study participants lost an average of five pounds; the rest either stayed the same weight or gained a pound or two. The researchers plan to conduct more studies of the app this year, with a goal of being ready to release an app for Android- and Apple-based smartphones in 2019. The new technology could come as an easy-to-use tool for better health for the more than one-third of American adults whom the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say are obese.

Smartphone app targets obesity prevention based on users' eating habits

Trendy nose rings can pose health risks

The ring once reserved for bulls' nostrils has made its way onto celebrities Rhianna and Lady Gaga. Septum piercings, the hoop that goes in between a person's nostrils, have become a trend. Like all trends, though, be wary before you take the plunge. Piercing this area takes skill. The best way to minimize pain and support healing is to pierce the area between the cartilage and bottom of the nose. Reputable and experienced piercers, such as the ones at licensed tattoo shops, will be able to find that fleshy area. Like all piercings, there is the risk of blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis and HIV. Make sure your piercer is using sterile, single-use needles. After you get your septum pierced, it requires some care. Alcoholic beverages can cause inflammation and swelling, so hold off on going out for drinks right after your piercing is complete. It's also a good idea to avoid drinking before getting the piercing done. Alcohol thins the blood, making it more likely that you'll bleed during or after the piercing. But alcohol in your cocktails isn't the only kind that can cause a problem. Facial cleansers can contain rubbing alcohol, which can irritate your piercing and cause redness and inflammation. You still need to clean new piercings, though. Wash your hands before using antibacterial soap on the area twice a day. Your septum may take six to eight weeks to heal. If you see that the area is continually red, swollen or oozing pus, contact your piercer immediately. If you're not ready to jump fully into the trend, stick with a temporary septum ring that doesn't pierce the skin. If you do decide to get it pierced, though, make sure you're willing to take care of it.

Neighborhoods impact heart health

Our neighborhoods, the original social networks, help define us. Among friends, family and strangers, they are a collection of shared experiences. Their markets and hospitals, their traffic and trees, their crime and pollution shape our lives. And our heart health. A new study says neighborhoods significantly impact residents' incidence of heart failure. This is a finding that does not appear to be tied to individual income, education level and traditional risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Think of it this way: Even if you live a comfortable, middle-class life and eat well, the fact that socioeconomic factors in your neighborhood are more stressed than in your own home still impacts your health. In a more deprived neighborhood, you face a higher risk of heart failure, according to the study published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes by scientists at Vanderbilt University. The study looked at about 27,000 predominantly low-income people from 12 states in the southeastern U.S. with an average age of 55. The incidence of heart failure was tracked during a five-year period. The study calculated that 5 percent of overall heart failure risk could be explained by neighborhood deprivation. The things that make neighborhoods unique may explain the trend, researchers say. Stressors like high crime and heavy traffic, a lack of available health care or an absence of fresh food markets, among other things, all play a part in our health. Scientists say improving community resources requires consideration by policymakers when working to better our health. The influences on our health apparently extend beyond our personal choices.

The connection between magnesium and sleep

If you can't sleep, you're not alone. About 30 percent of American adults report having issues with insomnia, according to the American Sleep Association. A quick Google search for the phrase "trouble sleeping" yields nearly 7 million results. With quality sleep evading so many, we're often searching for new ideas that can help. Taking magnesium supplements, which have earned a reputation as a natural sleeping aid, is one suggestion gaining attention. But can magnesium actually help you sleep? To start, magnesium is a mineral crucial to regulating the body's natural processes, including steadying hearth rhythm and keeping blood pressure normal. Magnesium is found in a wide variety of foods, including leafy greens, vegetables, fish and chicken. It's rare for healthy adults to have a magnesium deficiency, but when they do, it's often linked to higher rates of anxiety and stress, which prevents restful sleep. One study tested 50 older adults who reported difficulty sleeping. Half the participants received magnesium supplements and the other half did not. Researchers found that the group who received magnesium supplements fell asleep faster but did not sleep longer. This evidence is not enough to link magnesium supplements to better sleep. Bottom line: Magnesium may help you sleep because it has a relaxing effect. But before you begin using a supplement, talk to your doctor. The mineral can interact poorly with medicine or cause intestinal issues when consumed in large amounts. To start, incorporate more magnesium-rich foods in your diet. It'll be a healthy decision overall.

Secrets to long life revealed, at long last

Want to know what experts say are the two secrets to a long life? We'll get to the answer soon enough. First, some background. It starts with a look at places where people live for a long, long time. Think 90s, 100s and even supercentenarians, or people who have reached the age of 110. A researcher in Madrid, Spain recently wrote about the unique characteristics of four such regions: Okinawa, Japan; Icaria, Greece; Loma Linda, California; and Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica. The oldest woman on Earth lives on Okinawa, for instance. The people of Icaria have the lowest senile dementia levels, while Nicoya has the second-largest group of centenarians in the world. A community of Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda live on average 10 years more than the typical American. The researchers identified nine key factors. These include physical activity every day — a sedentary lifestyle is unknown to them; reducing stress by pausing during the day for naps, prayer or a tea ceremony; eating a healthy diet and only until you are at 80 percent of capacity instead of gobbling until you are full. They boiled this down to two key points: Maintain a healthy lifestyle, including routine breaks from stress. And be part of a group that supports these good habits, such as an extended family, a religious community or a social group that has its own "ikigai,'' [ee-kee-gah-ee], a Japanese term meaning reason to live. There is a personal ikigai but also a collective one that sets goals for the group and overcomes challenges. So, there is it: Take care of your body and soul and surround yourself with people who do the same. Not only will you live longer, you'll enjoy your longer life.

Skipping breakfast may harm your heart

As a kid, did your mom warn you about skipping breakfast as you ran out the door for school? Turns out, mom was on to something. Skipping breakfast and hitting the road with only a coffee or juice may heighten the risk of your arteries getting clogged with plaque, which can lead to heart attack or stroke. That's according to a recent study reported in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Plaque in the arteries of study participants who regularly skipped breakfast was nearly three times more common than in those who ate a morning meal. The study by researchers in the United States and Europe involved more than 4,000 employees of a large Spanish bank, ages 40 to 54, none of whom had a history of cardiovascular disease. Participants were surveyed about their diet and were classified in three categories: breakfast skippers, low-energy breakfast eaters and those who ate a high-energy meal. The researchers also scanned the participants for any evidence of hardening of the arteries, called atherosclerosis. They found the no-breakfast folks were most likely to show signs of the early onset of atherosclerosis. The low-energy group, or those whose breakfast was up to 20 percent of their daily calorie consumption, had plaque buildup that was one-and-a-half times more common. Those in the high-energy group, who consumed more than 20 percent of their calories at breakfast, had the lowest risk of all. Researchers said the heavier morning meal may make for better glucose regulation during the day. And having a full stomach may makes us less prone to overeat later in the day. Without breakfast, candy and chips in the vending machine may look a lot more enticing. Mom would not approve.

The truth about cats, baby's breath and other health-related myths

It's hard these days to know if what you read or hear is true, especially when you're surfing the internet. When it comes to health-related information, the stakes are high and it's important to discern fact from fiction. With that in mind, the website Everyday Health has exploded 10 common health myths. Here are a few gems they tackled, from the somewhat serious — Will swallowing chewing gum harm my digestive tract? — to the just plain goofy — Can a cat steal a baby's breath? Myth: You can catch a cold from being outside too long. In fact, going outside can help you keep from catching a cold. Colds are caused by viruses or bacteria, which are spread in the winter by being in close contact with everyone indoors. Myth: Antiperspirant deodorants cause breast cancer. Some antiperspirants contain aluminum, which can show up as a false-positive finding on a mammogram. The solution is to not apply any before having a breast cancer screening. Myth: It's OK to follow the five-second rule for dropped food. Wrong. If there are bacteria on the floor, they will attach to food immediately. Just toss the tainted food away. And, yes, chewing gum that's been swallowed eventually will pass through your system, just like any other undigested food. No, cats can't steal your baby's breath. Plucking a gray hair won't cause two more to grow back, and cracking your knuckles won't give you arthritis. As for those who say we only use 10 percent of our brains, if this were true, you could injure various parts of your brain without any consequences. You're using 100 percent of your brain. What you do with it, however, is up to you.

The truth about cats, baby's breath and other health-related myths

For first time, researchers grow hairy skin

It seems that for researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine, no day is a bad hair day. In a study published in the journal Cell Reports, researchers at the university reported being able to grow hair follicles in cultures of mice stem cells. Because stem cells can develop into different kinds of cells, they can be used to make tissue similar to organs, called organoids. After finding the correct environment for the culture dish where the cells were grown, researchers saw roots of hair follicles sprout in all directions from the skin organoids. The researchers said the findings could serve as a blueprint for using stem cells to make the entire skin organ from scratch. The results of the study also could lead to new techniques for skin restructuring or therapies for diseases like alopecia, acne or skin cancer. And if skin organoids can be developed from human stem cells rather than animal stem cells, the number of animals used for research could be reduced, which could lower costs and help address concerns about animal welfare. To reach its full potential as a tool for discovery, however, the skin organoid model needs to continue to be fine-tuned. The organoids are missing elements of normal skin, like blood vessels and nerve endings. Also, the structure itself needs to be flipped, as the organoids, compared with normal skin, are inside-out. Without these changes, the organoids remain effective for about a month, which one researcher said is just the right amount of time to study the development of the skin and hair. But for these scientists, at least, a little hair will go a long way.

Apples, tomatoes can help ex-smokers' lungs

If you're a former smoker, consider eating more fresh tomatoes and other fruits. People who kicked their tobacco habit and ate those foods, especially apples, had a slower natural decline in lung function, new research shows. Certain compounds in the fruits may also help restore smoking-related lung damage, according to a study by European researchers who reviewed eating habits and lung function in more than 650 adults in Germany, the United Kingdom and Norway in 2002. They repeated the lung-function tests on the same people more than a decade later. The tests measured the amount of air someone can exhale in one second and inhale in six seconds. For former smokers, there were striking results: Those who ate a diet high in tomatoes and other fruits had a lung-function decline that was about 5 cubic inches slower over 10 years. Researchers said this suggests that edible nutrients are helping to reverse damage done by smoking. The findings appeared in the European Respiratory Journal. There's also some potential good news for nonsmokers: The study suggests that a fruit-rich diet can also slow down the lung's natural aging process. Although a variety of diets and foods were studied, the researchers noted that the protective effect was only found with fresh fruits and vegetables. More broadly, the scientists hope the findings will become a way to fight chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a lung disorder that causes poor air flow and long-term breathing problems. The findings also support the need for dietary recommendations for people at risk of COPD, researchers said. An apple a day — or perhaps a fresh tomato — might just help keep lung problems at bay.

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