Living Healthy

Health is about much more than medicine. We show you what's new to help you attain and maintain a healthy life


Caffeine: How Our Favorite Drug Affects Us

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

As I’m writing this, I’m hitting my mid-afternoon slump. And it’s Friday, no less. The time seems perfect for a cup of coffee. And now, because caffeine was the topic on KQED’s Forum this morning, I know how and why caffeine is an apparent energy booster.

And who knew it was also a natural pesticide?

“Its primary role is a simple one,” said Forum guest Murray Carpenter. He’s the author of Caffeinated and is full of facts about the “bitter white powder.” Let’s start with the biochemistry: caffeine blocks a neurotransmitter called adenosine. This is the signal that tells you that you are drowsy. When you consume caffeine, it blocks adenosine from sending the “fatigue” message. “Fully 50 percent of the receptors are blocked” after we consume caffeine, Carpenter explained, “and it’s that simple trick that allows caffeine to do its work.”

But caffeine has another role that I had never heard of: it’s a natural pesticide. If insects consume a caffeinated plant, they become paralyzed and die. Odd that it works so differently on humans.

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Could What You Believe About Your Food Affect Your Metabolism?

(via NPR)

In a study, people were given either a “healthy” milkshake or an “indulgent” one. But both milkshakes were the same. (via NPR)

By Alix Spiegel, NPR

Ever spend a lot of time looking at a food label, weighing — is this food good for me? Bad for me?

Here’s the thing you probably haven’t stopped to consider: how the label itself is affecting you.

Sounds crazy, but if participants believed the milkshake was “indulgent,” they thought they’d eaten more, and their digestion was affected. 
“Labels are not just labels; they evoke a set of beliefs,” says Alia Crum, a clinical psychologist who does research at the Columbia Business School in New York.

A couple of years ago, Crum found herself considering what seems like a pretty strange question. She wanted to know whether the information conveyed by a nutritional label could physically change what happens to you — “whether these labels get under the skin literally,” she says, “and actually affect the body’s physiological processing of the nutrients that are consumed.”

As a student, Crum had spent years studying the placebo effect — how a sugar pill can physically alter a body if the person taking the pill believes it will. She figured food labels might work the same way. So she came up with an experiment. Continue reading

In San Francisco, Brain Surgeons Explore Their Practice Through Art

Neurosurgeon Katherine Ko stands next to her painting "Craniotomy in G Sharp," a depiction of her drilling a skull in preparation for brain surgery. "It's kind of a self portrait," she says. (April Dembosky/KQED)

Neurosurgeon Katherine Ko stands next to her painting “Craniotomy in G Sharp,” a depiction of her drilling a skull in preparation for brain surgery. “It’s kind of a self portrait,” she says. (April Dembosky/KQED)

SAN FRANCISCO — Most of the Moscone Center exhibit hall is full of looming medical machines: brain scanners and brain mappers. Men in suits wait for the wandering neurosurgeon to pass by so they can pounce with their pitch for the latest, greatest technology that will change brain surgery forever.

“Patterns repeat themselves over and over in nature. We see that in our work and in anatomy.” 

But back at exhibit booth 630, it’s a different scene. An art show. Paintings and photographs depict abstract interpretations by neurosurgeons of their work, portraits of neurosurgery patients and natural landscapes that offer a striking resemblance to the human brain.

“Music, art, the visual, the senses — matches and melds with medicine,” says Dr. Katherine Ko, a neurosurgeon from New York who curated the show. “We like to see that left brain, right brain cross over. It’s a respite where you don’t have to concentrate. You can just let your eyes roam.” Continue reading

Why Playing Minecraft Might Be More Healthy for Kids Than TV

(screenshot from Minecraft trailer)

(screenshot from Minecraft trailer)

By Maanvi Singh, NPR

Doctors say children shouldn’t log more than two hours a day of screen time, though what with phones, computers and TV most children put in much more.

But it may be that not all screens are equally evil.

One theory? Harder to snack on chips when tapping on keyboard.    

Researchers from the University of Michigan found that sixth-graders who watched a lot of TV were more likely to eat junk food and drink soda than their peers who spent the same amount of time on the computer or playing video games, the researchers say.

Of course, running around outside is still much better for children’s health than playing Temple Run on an iPhone. Kids who watched two to six hours a day of TV and those who played video games or used a computer for the same amount of time were heavier and had higher blood pressure than those who put in less than an hour a day of screen time, the researchers found. Continue reading

Exercise Cuts Breast Cancer Risk for All Women, of All Ages, Everywhere

(Getty Images)

Women who exercised an hour a day saw the greatest risk reduction, but women who weren’t as active also reduced their risk. (Getty Images)

By Nancy Shute, NPR

This could be the simplest bit of health advice ever: Exercise reduces women’s risk of breast cancer, no matter what kind of exercise they do, how old they are, how much they weigh, or when they get started.

The more active a woman is, the better her odds of avoiding breast cancer. 

Researchers in France looked at studies that involved more than 4 million women around the world who participated in prospective studies from 1987 to 2013. They found that the more active a woman is, the better her odds of avoiding breast cancer. Women who were most active, with more than an hour a day of vigorous activity, got the most benefits, lowering their cancer risk by 12 percent.

But women who weren’t as active saw reduced risk, too, notes Mathieu Boniol, research director at the Strathclyde Institute for Global Public Health in Lyon, France. More activity was better, but anything was better than nothing. He presented the data Thursday at the European Breast Cancer Conference in Glasgow. Continue reading

Yes, It’s A Headache. No, I Didn’t Need That Brain Scan

Headaches are almost never caused by a tumor, say neurologists. (Getty Images)

Headaches are almost never caused by a tumor, say neurologists. (Getty Images)

Over at NPR, the Shots blog reports that Americans get $1 billion (yes, with a “B”) worth of brain scans every year — because they have a headache. That’s according to research at the University of Michigan.

Headaches are one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor  – up to a quarter of all doctor visits, says Shots.

Sending a billion dollars “down the drain.” Annually.
Presumably people are getting the scans because they’re worried that headache is a sign of something much more scary — say a brain tumor.

There’s just one problem. Most headaches are just that — a headache.

From the Shots post: Continue reading

Measles Cases on Rise Statewide

Vial of Measles Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine. (Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty Images

Vial of Measles Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine. (Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty Images

The California Department of Public Health says that California has 32 confirmed cases of measles so far this year. At this time last year, only three cases had been reported.

The cases are reported in both Northern and Southern California. Measles was declared to be eliminated in 2000 in the United States and CDPH says that many cases are linked to travel to parts of the world where measles is circulating. Of the cases reported so far this year, seven people had traveled to the Philippines where a large outbreak of measles is ongoing, two had been to India and one had traveled to Vietnam.

Health officials recommend that anyone planning travel outside of North or South America and has not been vaccinated to make sure they get the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine before they go. Continue reading

Use of ADHD Drugs Increasing Fastest Among Young Women

Women ages 19 to 25 have higher rates of ADHD medication use than girls ages 12 to 18. (Getty Images)

Women ages 19 to 25 have higher rates of ADHD medication use than girls ages 12 to 18. (Getty Images)

By Nancy Shute, NPR

Use of ADHD drugs continues to rise in the United States, but the group whose use is increasing the most may come as a surprise: young women.

An analysis of prescriptions filled from 2008 to 2012 through Express Scripts, a pharmacy benefit management company, found that use of ADHD medications rose 35.5 percent overall. The company’s database includes 15 million people with private insurance.

Children and young adults on ADHD medications by gender. (Express Scripts)

Children and young adults on ADHD medications by gender. (Express Scripts)

The medications, largely stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall, are still most commonly prescribed to boys ages 12 to 18. In 2012 7.8 percent of boys ages 4 to 18 were taking an ADHD medication — that’s more than twice the rate of girls (3.5 percent). But in young adulthood, ages 19 to 25, men’s use plummets, while young women’s rate increases. From ages 26 to 64, use of ADHD medications by women exceeds that of men.

To find out more about what’s going on, we talked with Dr. David Muzina, a psychiatrist who is the vice president and national practice leader for neuroscience at Express Scripts. This is an edited version of our conversation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others have reported increases in use of ADHD medications in children, but this increase in adults seems huge. What’s happening there? Continue reading

Study: Estrogen Therapy May Help Some Older Women at Risk for Alzheimer’s Disease

Estrogen replacement patches. (Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

Estrogen replacement patches. (Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

Postmenopausal women have heard just about everything when it comes to hormone therapy. In the 1990s, doctors routinely recommended it, believing that it helped women avoid heart attacks, thinning bones and other problems of aging. Then along came the Women’s Health Initiative study, which first found hormone therapy (HT) created more risks than benefits – then found that over time some of those risks subsided, at least somewhat.

“It’s a very provocative finding, without a doubt.” 

But one main criticism of the Women’s Health Initiative study was that women were recruited to start on hormone therapy long after they had gone through menopause. The women were ages 65 or older.

Today, many doctors believe that HT started at the time of menopause — or soon after — can help women with hot flashes, vaginal dryness and other symptoms.

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Parents Love Their Phones, Tablets Even During Meals With Kids

Study shows that plenty of parents can't put the phone down even when eating with their kids. (Getty Images)

Study shows that plenty of parents can’t put the phone down even when eating with their kids. (Getty Images)

By Brittany Patterson

We know Americans’ use of mobile gadgets has reached near ubiquitous status in our daily lives. Research shows our continued use has health effects on our skeletons, is changing they way we communicate, and even making walking less safe.

“My concern is that it’s becoming such an obsessive habit that we’re missing interaction with our kids.” 

But a new study published Monday in Pediatrics quantifies for the first time yet another side effect of our technological obsession: Many of us are engrossed with our devices even when eating with our children.

Researchers anonymously watched 55 caregivers eating with one or more young children in fast food restaurants across different Boston neighborhoods and took copious notes. (They couldn’t call the caregivers “parents” because they were watching surreptitiously.) Researchers watched how often and for how long caregivers used devices during the meal — and if the children tried to get the caregiver’s attention. Their notes were independently analyzed and coded to identify common themes.

Dr. Jenny Radesky led the team of researchers, from Boston Medical Center. Continue reading