31 May

Medical News Today: Foods to avoid for people with diabetes

Taking control of what foods they eat not only helps people manage their diabetes but also influences how well they feel and how much energy they have every day.

We take a look at what foods people with diabetes should avoid and outline what they should eat instead.

Foods to avoid with diabetes

older couple eating a salad outdoors
Maintaining a healthful diet can help people with diabetes control the symptoms of their condition.

Having diabetes does not have to stop people from eating the foods they enjoy. However, it does mean that they should eat smaller portions, less often.

The Institute of Medicine recommend that carbohydrate intake for most people should be between 45-65 percent of total calories. This higher carbohydrate intake is consistent with plant-based diets, which have shown benefit for diabetes management in well-designed, long-term studies.

However, some research has shown that people can improve their blood sugar levels when their carbohydrate intake is between 5-35 percent of calories. Much of the research comes from short-term studies for higher-fat diets, such as the ketogenic diet and Mediterranean diets.

Experts are just beginning to understand the influence that the gut bacteria have on health. What is known is that high-fiber carbohydrates feed gut bacteria while a high-fat, low-carb diet often results in gut bacteria death. This is far from ideal as people with diabetes already have lower levels of gut bacteria.

Populations around the world that live the longest, known as Blue Zones, all eat a plant-based diet, rich in whole foods and carbohydrates.

This article outlines recommendations for people who plan to follow a plant-based diet.

The key to eating well with diabetes is to eat a variety of healthful foods from each of the food groups.

Foods to avoid within the major food groups and suggested replacements are listed below.


All grains are starches. Avoiding refined grains is a smart choice for people with diabetes, regardless of chosen diet, as they affect blood glucose more quickly than whole grains.

People with diabetes should look at the ingredients list on foods and avoid anything made from white flour, or enriched flour.

Grains and products made from refined flours to avoid or limit:

  • white rice, pasta, and flour
  • white bread, bagels, white-flour tortillas
  • cereals not made from whole grains
  • crackers and pretzels
  • cookies
  • cakes
  • muffins

Two extra servings a day of whole grains may reduce the chances of developing prediabetes and has been shown to decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 21 percent.

Grains to eat:

  • brown and wild rice
  • barley
  • quinoa
  • oatmeal
  • amaranth
  • millet
  • high-fiber cereals (at least 5 grams (g) of fiber per serving)
  • whole-grain sprouted bread (at least 3 g fiber per serving)


Protein helps the body build, maintain, and replace the body’s tissue. The body’s organs, muscles, and immune system are made up of protein. Protein can also be broken down into sugar, although less efficiently than carbohydrates.

Eating red meat, such as beef, pork, and lamb, has been shown to increase the risk of diabetes, even when consumed in small amounts.

One 3-ounce serving of unprocessed red meat, such as beef, per day was found by one review to increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 20 percent. A smaller serving of processed red meat, such as bacon, increased the risk of diabetes by 51 percent.

Swapping red meat or processed red meat for other protein sources that are more healthful, such as poultry, fish, low-fat dairy, whole grains or nuts, may cut the risk of diabetes by up to 35 percent.

dish of grilled tofu
Eating fish or soy-based products, such as tofu, can lower the risk of diabetes significantly.

Protein to avoid or limit:

  • red meat (beef, pork, lamb)
  • breaded, fried, high-sodium meats
  • processed meats (bacon, hot dogs, deli meats)
  • ribs and other fatty cuts of meat
  • poultry with skin
  • deep-fried fish

Protein to eat:

  • beans
  • lentils
  • nuts
  • soy
  • fish
  • seafood
  • poultry without skin
  • eggs


Dairy proteins are a major source of calcium and contain proteins and vitamins, and people with diabetes can still consume products, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese, every day.

People with diabetes are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than other people. So, they should exchange foods that increase the levels of cholesterol in the blood and lead to a greater risk of heart disease for lower-fat options.

Dairy to avoid or limit:

  • whole milk
  • full-fat yogurt
  • full-fat cottage cheese
  • full-fat cheeses
  • full-fat sour cream
  • full-fat ice cream

Dairy to eat:

  • reduced-fat or fat-free dairy products
  • 1 percent or skim milk
  • low-fat plain yogurt
  • low-fat cottage cheese
  • low-fat sour cream

Fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables not only add nutrients to the diet, but they also help manage body weight and reduce the risk of stroke, heart disease, some cancers, and other chronic diseases.

While some fruits may cause blood sugar levels to rise, they do not cause such sharp increases as some carbohydrates, such as bread, do. Whole fruits are considered to be high-quality carbohydrates and contain fiber that may help slow down the absorption of glucose.

Dried fruit contains concentrated natural sugars, which may spike blood glucose levels. People with high blood pressure should also be wary of sodium levels in canned and pickled vegetables.

Fruits and vegetables to avoid or limit:

  • dried fruit
  • canned fruits with sugar syrup
  • regular jam, jelly, and preserves
  • sweetened applesauce
  • fruit drinks, fruit juice drinks
  • canned vegetables with added sodium
  • pickles
  • sauerkraut

Fruits and vegetables to eat:

  • raw, steamed, roasted, or grilled fresh vegetables
  • frozen vegetables
  • canned vegetables unsalted or low sodium
  • fresh fruit
  • frozen fruit – no added sugar
  • canned fruit – no added sugar
  • applesauce – no added sugar

Fats and sugars

salad with avocado nuts chia seeds and grains
Avocado and nuts both contain fats that are an essential part of a healthful diet.

Fat is a source of essential fatty acids, such as omega-3, and is an important part of a healthful, balanced diet. Fat also helps the body to absorb vitamins A, D, and E.

Replacing saturated fats and trans fats with unsaturated fats lowers cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart disease.

Sugary foods, sweets, and desserts are made mostly of sugar and are considered to be low-quality carbohydrates. They lack in nutritional value and can cause a sharp spike in blood sugar.

Sugar can also contribute to weight gain, which can make it harder to control diabetes and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Fats and sugars to avoid or limit:

  • butter
  • lard
  • certain oils, such as palm oil
  • cream-based dressings or dips
  • full-fat mayonnaise
  • french fries
  • breaded and battered foods
  • potato chips
  • doughnuts
  • croissants
  • breakfast pastries
  • cakes and cookies
  • processed baked goods
  • pizza dough
  • sauces and condiments
  • microwave meals
  • table sugar
  • agave nectar
  • maple syrup
  • desserts and candy bars
  • fruit-flavored yogurt
  • soda
  • sweetened ice tea and lemonade
  • flavored coffee drinks
  • chocolate drinks
  • beer
  • alcoholic fruit drinks
  • dessert wines

Healthful fats and sugar substitutes to eat and drink:

  • olive or canola oils
  • reduced-fat dressings or dips
  • salmon and other fatty fish
  • avocado
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • apples
  • oranges
  • pears
  • berries
  • bananas
  • unflavored water or sparkling water
  • no-sugar flavored water
  • small amounts of wine
  • coffee taken black or with low-fat milk
  • fresh, frozen, or dried fruit as a sweetener

Diabetes and carbohydrates

There are three main types of carbohydrates in food, including starches, sugars, and fiber. Carbohydrates affect blood glucose levels more than other nutrients.

The body breaks down starches and sugars into glucose. Fiber, however, is not processed by the body in the same way as other carbohydrates and so does not raise blood sugar levels.

Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains are considered to be healthful carbohydrates. Healthful carbohydrates provide energy, nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, and fiber.

While unhealthful carbohydrates, such as food and drinks with added sugars, also provide energy, they contain little nutrients.

People with diabetes need to monitor their intake of carbohydrates to ensure their glucose levels remain within target.

A diabetes educator or dietitian can help with developing a healthful eating plan. They can recommend what foods to eat, how much to eat, and when to eat based on factors like weight, physical activity level, medicines, and blood glucose targets.

Tips for eating with diabetes

The following steps could help with eating healthfully and maintaining blood glucose levels:

  • check blood sugar first thing in the morning and 2 hours after at least one meal a day
  • spread out foods between three meals a day with two or three snacks
  • eat a variety of foods
  • eat a reasonable portion (around one cup or less) of starch at every meal
  • only drink one cup of milk at a time to avoid blood sugar spikes
  • limit fruit portions
  • limit fat and cholesterol if consuming a higher-carb diet
  • always eat breakfast
  • satisfy hunger with low-fat dairy and lean protein
  • avoid fruit juice
  • limit desserts and sweets
  • switch added sugars with whole fruit as a sweetener
  • avoid added sugars
  • keep sodium and salt to a minimum
  • limit alcohol
  • check total carbohydrate amounts on products
  • minimize artificial sweeteners, which can negatively impact gut bacteria and insulin sensitivity
  • watch serving sizes
  • keep a food record to monitor carbohydrate intake and blood sugar levels

Despite what someone’s current diet is, there are plenty of healthful alternatives available for people to try. Once someone has adjusted to a new diet, they may not even miss the foods they used to eat.

By Hannah Nichols

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31 May

Medical News Today: Skin aging could be delayed with a common antioxidant

For many people, declining skin health is one of most loathsome effects of getting older. As we age, our skin loses its elasticity, becomes thinner and drier, and its ability to repair dwindles. A new study, however, has uncovered an antioxidant that could delay skin aging.
a woman looking at herself in the mirror
Researchers say that methylene blue could help to slow skin aging.

Researchers reveal how a compound called methylene blue reduced signs of aging in human skin cells, as well as in a 3-D model of human skin.

Lead study author Zheng-Mei Xiong, an assistant research professor of cell biology and molecular genetics at the University of Maryland (UMD) in College Park, and colleagues say that their findings indicate that methylene blue could be added to cosmetic products to help combat skin aging.

The researchers recently reported their results in the journal Scientific Reports.

Methylene blue is a compound primarily used for the treatment of methemoglobinemia, a disorder in which the blood is unable to effectively carry oxygen.

Recent studies, however, have suggested that methylene blue is effective for reducing cellular senescence – that is, the arrest of cell division, which is considered a key player in aging.

“Based on these observations, we speculate that MB [methylene blue] may effectively protect skin from oxidative stress and delay skin aging,” write the authors.

Methylene blue reduced markers of senescence in skin cells

To test their theory, Xiong and colleagues tested methylene blue and three other antioxidants – N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine, MitoQ, and MitoTEMPO – on skin fibroblasts. These are cells in the dermal skin layer that produce collagen, the skin’s primary structural protein.

The skin fibroblasts were derived from healthy middle-aged and older adults, as well as from individuals with progeria – a condition characterized by accelerated aging.

After treating the fibroblasts with methylene blue for 4 weeks, the researchers identified a decrease in reactive oxygen species, which are known to cause skin cell damage. Treatment with methylene blue also led to a reduction in markers of cellular senescence; the compound increased cell division and reduced cell death.

In fibroblasts derived from older adults, who were aged 80 and older, the researchers found that 4 weeks of treatment with methylene blue led to numerous improvements. These included a reduction in the expression of the genes beta-galactosidase and p16, which are markers of cellular aging.

“I was encouraged and excited to see skin fibroblasts, derived from individuals more than 80 years old, grow much better in methylene blue-containing medium with reduced cellular senescence markers,” says Xiong. “Methylene blue demonstrates a great potential to delay skin aging for all ages.”

The team notes that methylene blue was much better at reducing signs of aging in skin fibroblasts than the other three antioxidants tested.

Increased water retention, skin thickness in 3-D model

Next, the researchers tested methylene blue on a 3-D model of human skin, which was developed by Xiong and senior study author Kan Cao – an associate professor of cell biology and molecular genetics at UMD – using living human skin cells.

“This system allowed us to test a range of aging symptoms that we can’t replicate in cultured cells alone,” notes Cao.

The team found that the skin model not only retained more water when treated with methylene blue, but it also increased in thickness. Cao says that both increased water retention and greater skin thickness are typical features of younger skin.

Furthermore, the researchers found that methylene blue led to little or no skin irritation, which further increases the compound’s feasibility as an effective anti-aging product.

Our work suggests that methylene blue could be a powerful antioxidant for use in skin care products. The effects we are seeing are not temporary. Methylene blue appears to make fundamental, long-term changes to skin cells.

We have already begun formulating cosmetics that contain methylene blue. Now we are looking to translate this into marketable products.”

Prof. Kan Cao

Learn how jogging for 30 minutes daily could slow cellular aging.

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31 May

Medical News Today: Handwashing with cold water just as good as hot water for killing bacteria

Many of us have been taught from an early age that washing our hands with hot water and soap is crucial for keeping germs at bay. The United States government regulations also insist on the importance of hot water temperature for the health and safety of U.S. consumers. But is there any scientific evidence in support of this claim? A new study investigates.
New research suggests that hot water is not any better at washing away germs than cold water.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) state that warm water is more effective for removing germs during handwashing than cold water is, and they require the water temperature in restaurants, cafeterias, and other food service establishments to be 40°C, plus or minus 2 degrees (or between 100 and 108 degrees Fahrenheit).

The rationale for this is that hot water makes soap lather and helps to get rid of the germs. But is this scientifically proven?

Previous research has drawn attention to the fact that there is not scientific evidence to back up the claim that hot water is required to kill off germs during handwashing. And now, new research suggests that cold water might do the trick just as well as hot water.

The study was carried out by researchers at the Rutgers University-New Brunswick in New Jersey, and the results were published in the Journal of Food Protection.

Analyzing the effects of cold water versus hot water in handwashing

The new study examined the effect of various factors, such as soap volume, water temperature, lather time, and the handwashing efficacy of the soap as formulated on the product.

At the beginning of the study, the participants used 1 milliliter of non-antibacterial soap for a 5-second lather time at a water temperature of 38°C.

The bacterium examined was ATCC 11229, a nonpathogenic strain of Escherichia coli.

The researchers examined the effects of hot and cold water handwashing on 20 volunteers, consisting of 10 men and 10 women.

Each test was replicated 20 times over a period of 6 months. During this time, the participants washed their hands in water that was 16°C, 26°C, or 38°C.

The volume of soap used also differed, with participants washing their hands with 0.5 milliliters, 1 milliliter, or 2 milliliters of soap.

Results call for FDA policy change

Overall, using an antimicrobial soap did not prove to be that much more effective than using regular soap. Lather time, however, significantly improved efficacy in one scenario.

Importantly, water temperature did not have a significant effect on reducing bacteria. Whether it was 38°C or 16°C, the researchers did not detect any difference in bacteria reduction.

Additionally, the study revealed that even washing hands for as little as 10 seconds is effective enough for removing germs.

The findings are particularly important, given the FDA’s regulations on water temperature for safe food handling and concerns around energy waste.

Donald Schaffner, the study’s corresponding author, is a distinguished professor and extension specialist in food science. He explains, “People need to feel comfortable when they are washing their hands but as far as effectiveness, this study shows us that the temperature of the water used didn’t matter.”

This study may have significant implications towards water energy, since using cold water saves more energy than warm or hot water.

There should be a policy change. Instead of having a temperature requirement, the policy should only say that comfortable or warm water needs to be delivered. We are wasting energy to heat water to a level that is not necessary.”

Donald Schaffner

The authors concede that more studies are required to determine exactly how much soap and what type is most efficient for removing harmful bacteria.

Learn how antibacterial handwash is ‘no better than plain soap’ for fighting germs.

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31 May

Medical News Today: Early menopause: What you need to know

Menstruation is the process by which a woman ovulates or releases an egg ready for fertilized by a sperm. As a woman ages, she ceases menstruation by no longer producing hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, necessary to ovulate. This is known as menopause.

While most women experience menopause in their late 40s and 50s, some women go through it much earlier. If a woman has the menopause before age 40, this is known as early menopause.

Early menopause may be induced by medical treatments or, as a side effect of them. However, some women may experience early menopause due to unexplained factors.

It is important for a woman to talk to her doctor if she is going through early menopause, as this condition can affect her health.


woman looking at watch
Early menopause can occur naturally and may be caused by genetics or surgery.

Both medical treatments and other factors can result in early menopause. Some of the most common causes of early menopause include:

  • Genetics (family history): Women who have a close family relative, such as a mother or grandmother, who went through early menopause, they are more likely to do the same themselves.
  • Autoimmune disorder: A disorder where the body’s immune system attacks the body itself. Sometimes an autoimmune disorder, such as thyroid disease or rheumatoid arthritis, can damage the tissues in the ovaries, affecting their abilities to make hormones. This can result in early menopause.
  • Cancer: Undergoing chemotherapy or radiation to the pelvis for cancer can damage the cells in the ovaries, resulting in early menopause. Not all women who receive radiation and chemotherapy treatments for pelvic cancers will experience early menopause. However, it is a possibility.
  • Surgery to remove the uterus or ovaries: An operation to remove the ovaries is known as an oophorectomy, and it can induce what is called surgical menopause. Because the ovaries are removed, overall hormone levels fall. While surgery to remove the uterus does not always result in immediate menopause, some women may experience menopause early because of this, too.

When a woman experiences early menopause that is not a result of medical intervention, this condition is known as primary ovarian insufficiency.


A woman has early menopause when she has not had a period for 12 months in a row.

Other symptoms associated with changing hormone levels include:

While women skip their periods from time to time without being pregnant or in menopause, early menopause causes continued missed periods over the course of 12 months.

No definitive test exists to reveal if a woman is in early menopause. But there are tests that help a doctor determine if a woman is probably experiencing this condition.

Examples include a blood test for follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). This hormone controls the production of eggs in the menstrual cycle.

However, a woman’s hormone levels change depending on where she is in her menstrual cycle. A woman can have a low FSH level, yet not be going through menopause.


male and female toilet sigh
Urinary incontinence can be a long-term complication of early menopause.

Menopause and the associated changes in hormones cause a number of symptoms in a woman. Hot flashes may be temporary, but there are other long-term effects that can impact on a woman’s life and health.

While the hormones produced in the ovaries play a role in sexual function, they are also important for a woman’s overall health.

Going through early menopause at a young age can affect a woman’s childbearing years. As a result, she will not be able to get pregnant. This can have a far-reaching, psychological impact.

Other long-term complications associated with early menopause include:

Loss of bone density

Dense bones are harder to break and are therefore considered healthier than less dense ones. A lack of estrogen results in more brittle bones. This can make a woman prone to osteoporosis, or thin bones.

Women going through early menopause have a greater risk for broken bones, such as those of the hips, wrists, and spine.

Increased risk for cardiovascular disease

Reduced estrogen is associated with a greater risk for cardiovascular disease, which is a leading cause of death in women.

These effects can be further complicated by pre-existing chronic conditions, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.

Urinary incontinence

The lack of estrogen due to early menopause can result in thinning vaginal tissues. This can result in increased risk for urinary incontinence, especially when coughing, laughing, or lifting heavy objects.

Weight gain

A woman’s metabolism can slow due to menopause. As a result, she may gain weight.

Affected sexual activity

The lack of lubrication due to thinning of the vaginal tissues can affect sexual function. A woman may have a lack of sexual desire, as well as reduced vaginal lubrication.

Impaired ability to think

Research suggests that early menopause can have a negative effect on a woman’s ability to think, including visual memories and verbal fluency.

Other studies suggest there may be an increased risk of dementia in women who undergo early menopause.

If a woman experiences these or other symptoms related to early menopause, she should talk to her doctor.

Treating early menopause symptoms

According to an article published in Climacteric, most medical societies recommend that women who go through early menopause take hormone replacement therapy until they reach expected menopausal age.

This therapy means taking estrogen and other hormones, that are similar to the body’s natural hormones, to reduce menopause symptoms.

spicy thai red curry
Avoiding spicy foods is recommended to reduce the risk of a hot flash.

However, taking hormone replacement therapy is associated with a greater risk for breast cancer. As a result, most doctors will recommend taking the lowest, most effective dose.

Professional counseling for women going through early menopause is also something that is advised.

Other steps a woman can take to combat the symptoms associated with early menopause include:

  • Avoiding spicy and hot-temperature foods. These foods can increase the likelihood of a hot flash. Hot weather and stressful events raise the likelihood of hot flashes, as well.
  • Dressing in layers. Doing so allows for removal of a layer if a woman has a hot flash.
  • Eating a balanced diet. Early menopause can mean a woman needs more calcium and vitamin D to maintain her bone health. She may need more vitamin B12 and vitamin B6, as well. Eating a balanced, healthful diet usually means women get the vitamins and minerals they need.
  • Exercising regularly. Getting regular exercise not only relieves stress, it can also promote better sleep at night. However, a woman should avoid exercising too close to bedtime, as this can affect the ability to go to sleep.
  • Keeping the bedroom cool. Using a fan and keeping the temperature low can ensure a more comfortable sleep.
  • Using a water-based lubricant during sex. This can reduce painful sex due to lack of vaginal lubrication.

If a woman experiences urinary incontinence related to early menopause, she should talk to her doctor. Recommendations include interventions such as drinking less as the day goes on, or performing Kegel exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor.

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31 May

Medical News Today: Aging does not necessarily preclude healthy arteries

Research tells us that living in a Western culture makes it unlikely that people in their 70s can have arteries as healthy as those of people in their 20s and 30s. However, a new study suggests that this is not impossible, especially for people whose diet and lifestyle are in keeping with those recommended by the American Heart Association.
[healthy heart]
The results of a new study suggest that it is possible for seniors to maintain a healthy heart as they age,
by following recommendations from the American Heart Association.

The study – led by researchers collaborating on the Framingham Heart Study, from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and Boston University in Massachusetts – is published in the journal Hypertension.

First author Teemu J. Niiranen, a research fellow at Boston University School of Medicine, says that many people assume that “vascular aging” is a normal result of aging.

“As people get older, their arteries become stiffer and they develop high blood pressure. In fact, that’s what happens to most people beyond age 70. But it doesn’t have to happen,” he explains.

He and his colleagues suggest that a healthful diet and lifestyle can reduce the risk of high blood pressure and stiff arteries, both of which raise the risk for heart disease.

The team studied nearly 3,200 people aged 50 and older who took part in the Framingham Heart Study, and they assessed how many participants met the requirements for healthy vascular aging.

The researchers defined healthy vascular aging as having normal blood pressure and the arterial stiffness of people aged 30 and under, which was assessed using a method called pulse-wave velocity.

One percent of older adults have healthy blood vessels

The results showed that nearly 18 percent of participants (566 individuals) met the definition for healthy vascular aging.

The age group most likely to meet the requirements for healthy vascular aging were aged 50 to 59, in which 30 percent met the definition.

Only 1 percent of those aged 70 were found to have normal blood pressure and arteries similar to those of a 30-year-old, with women more likely to meet the standard than men.

Niiranen says that they also found that the participants with healthy vascular aging had a 55 percent lower risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.

He and his colleagues found that having a low body mass index (BMI) and not developing diabetes were the factors most strongly associated with healthy vascular function.

In fact, they found that participants who were meeting six out of the seven targets of the American Heart Association’s (AHA) Life’s Simple 7 program were 10 times more likely to meet the requirements for healthy vascular aging than participants who met none or only one of them.

Life’s Simple 7

In 2010, the AHA for the first time linked “ideal cardiovascular health” to seven simple diet and lifestyle changes that people can make to reduce their risk of stroke and heart disease.

The AHA called the seven changes “Life’s Simple 7.” The following list summarizes the seven steps and their associated ideal heart health targets as set out in the association’s My Life Check toolkit:

  1. Manage blood pressure: keep it below 120/80 millimeters of mercury
  2. Control cholesterol: keep total cholesterol under 200 milligrams per deciliter
  3. Reduce blood sugar: maintain fasting blood glucose below 100 milligrams per deciliter
  4. Get active: every week, exercise at a moderate level for at least 150 minutes, or at an intense level for 75 minutes
  5. Eat better: adopt a heart-healthy diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy, and skinless poultry and fish, and limits red meats, saturated and trans fats, salt, and sugar
  6. Manage weight: maintain a BMI of under 25 kilograms per square meter
  7. Stop smoking: ideal heart health target is “never smoked or having quit for more than 1 year”

The AHA launched the seven-step plan with two goals in mind: to improve the cardiovascular health of all people in the United States by 20 percent by 2020, and to reduce deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20 percent by 2020.

Not easy in a Western culture

Niiranen says that it is a challenge to keep blood vessels healthy in a Western culture, as it typically has “poor diets and sedentary lifestyles.”

“Age-associated high blood pressure, for example, is not common in indigenous hunter-gatherer populations,” he adds.

However, he suggests that the odds of maintaining healthy blood vessels – “even into old age” – increase by following Life’s Simple 7, and concludes that:

For the most part, it’s not genetic factors that stiffen the body’s network of blood vessels during aging. Modifiable lifestyle factors – like those identified in the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 – are the leading culprit.”

Teemu J. Niiranen

Learn why older adults may not benefit from taking statins to prevent heart disease.

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31 May

Medical News Today: TMJ disorders: Causes, symptoms, and relief

TMJ disorders affect the jaw joint and muscles that control the jaw. They can be challenging to diagnose and treat because of how complex this joint is.

Around 12 percent of people in the United States experience TMJ disorders at any one time. Women are affected more often than men, with 9 women to every 1 man experiencing severe pain and restricted jaw movement.

Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options available for TMJ disorders is essential for patients and doctors alike.

What is the temporomandibular joint?

temporomandibular joint
The temporomandibular joint is a complex joint that moves both horizontally and vertically.

The temporomandibular joint is located at the base of the skull.

Commonly referred to as the TMJ, it allows for the movement required for chewing and talking.

The joint connects the mandible, which is the lower jaw, and the temporal bone, which is on the side of the skull.

Since the TMJ allows for movement both up and down as well as from side to side, it is one of the most complex joints in the body. This can make severe TMJ disorders difficult to treat effectively.

What are TMJ disorders?

TMJ disorders are conditions that affect the TMJ specifically. There is a range of possible symptoms, which can cause varying amounts of discomfort.

TMJ disorders are a broad category, and the term includes many possible causes. As such, there are a variety of treatment options available.

Doctors may diagnose TMJ disorders based on a range of symptoms, including persistent pain around the jaw and restricted jaw movement.

Most cases of TMJ disorders will resolve themselves within a short period, usually within a couple of months. Some cases, however, may be ongoing or reoccur.


There are many possible causes of TMJ disorders. Some known causes include:

young girl in bed with a headache
Grinding the teeth while asleep may lead to TMJ disorders.
  • physical injury
  • arthritis
  • grinding or clenching the teeth during sleep
  • autoimmune diseases
  • dental surgery
  • infections

Other causes may be genetic, hormonal, or environmental. For instance, violinists have been noted to experience TMJ disorders at a higher rate than the general population, since their work involves holding an instrument under the jaw. This can cause strain, which leads to TMJ disorders.

It has been observed that women experience TMJ disorders at a higher rate than men, so researchers are currently looking into hormonal causes for TMJ.

While the cause is not precisely understood, researchers hope that investigating the link between the female hormone estrogen and TMJ disorders will prove useful.


There is a range of symptoms linked to TMJ, including:


One of the most obvious symptoms of a TMJ disorder is pain that is felt when moving the jaw. However, other symptoms that may occur with a TMJ disorder include headaches or migraines, neck ache or backache, and earaches or pain around the ear that spreads to the cheeks.

If the pain is not located near to the jaw, a doctor will often look for other symptoms before diagnosing a TMJ disorder.


A common but often painless symptom is an unusual popping, clicking, or even grinding noise that can occur while eating, talking, or simply opening the mouth.

Noises that occur when moving the jaw are not always a symptom of TMJ disorders. In fact, jaw noises are quite common. It is only when the sounds occur alongside pain or limited movement of the jaw that medical advice may be needed.

Buzzing, ringing, or numbness in the ears can occur alongside earaches, and these symptoms can also be associated with TMJ disorders.

Restricted movement

Limited movement that prevents the mouth from being opened fully or the jaw from being moved in certain directions can cause severe discomfort in everyday life.


There are a variety of treatment options available.

Self-care and lifestyle changes</strong>

In many cases, people can successfully treat TMJ disorders at home. Self-care and lifestyle changes may be enough to handle mild-to-moderate symptoms.

Recommended self-care treatments may involve reducing movement of the jaw. When rest is recommended, this could involve:

  • avoiding chewing gum
  • eating only soft foods
  • avoiding clenching or tensing the jaw

On the other hand, gentle exercises may be recommended, such as stretching the jaw slightly. Massaging the affected muscles around the jaw may also help.

A combination of both rest and gentle exercise may be recommended. A healthcare professional can advise on the most appropriate exercises to follow, as well as other lifestyle changes that could ease TMJ disorder symptoms.

Applying ice or moist heat can help reduce symptoms.

Treating existing conditions</strong>

closeup of hands with a vaccine
Treatment may include a steroid injection to reduce pain and swelling.

For TMJ disorders that are caused by pre-existing conditions, more specific treatment options may be available.

For example, if the TMJ disorder is caused by tooth grinding or clenching during sleep, a mouth guard may help to ease the symptoms. A dentist can provide a mouth guard where appropriate.

In cases where TMJ disorders are caused by degenerative conditions, such as osteoarthritis, steroid injections may be a recommended treatment option.

The steroid, which is injected into the joint itself, will help to ease swelling, reducing pain and other symptoms. In many cases, a reduction of pain is experienced within a week.

In some cases, an injection may resolve the symptoms of TMJ disorders permanently, and in others, it may be a temporary fix.

Short-term over-the-counter pain medications can reduce discomfort.


In more extreme cases of TMJ disorder, surgery may be the most efficient treatment for pain and restricted movement.

A TMJ disorder can be caused by damage to the joint itself, to the muscles surrounding the jaw, or by another condition. Surgery is only recommended when the actual joint has something wrong with it.

In very severe cases of TMJ disorders, where movement of the jaw is extremely restricted, and symptoms are long-lasting, the joint may need to be replaced. This treatment is rarely required, however.

People should always seek professional medical advice about any treatment, even if the treatment involves self-care and basic lifestyle changes.


TMJ disorders are often not serious and will pass after a couple of months. Symptoms are frequently mild and tend to cause only minimal inconvenience.

In some cases, however, TMJ disorders will be serious and long-lasting. When the condition lowers quality of life, diagnosis and treatment must be sought as soon as possible to manage or resolve the condition.

Whether the condition is mild or serious, professional advice is always essential for treating TMJ disorders.

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31 May

Medical News Today: Home remedies for bronchitis: What works best?

Bronchitis is an inflammation or swelling of the lining of the bronchial tubes, otherwise known as the bronchi.

The bronchi are the passages that connect the lungs to the mouth and nose. But what home remedies are best to treat bronchitis?

People with bronchitis experience breathing difficulties caused by a reduced capacity to carry air through the bronchi into the lungs. They also tend to have mucus or phlegm in their airways.

Several treatments, including many home remedies, are available to treat bronchitis and its symptoms. This article looks at how effective these treatments may be, so that people with bronchitis can make an informed decision about how to treat it.

Home remedies and how they work

Hot tea with lemon
Warm drinks such as tea may make coughing easier and the use of ginger in tea is recommended as it is an anti-inflammatory.

Despite clear evidence that antibiotics are ineffective for the treatment of acute bronchitis, a 2014 study showed the rate of prescribing them for the condition was still 71 percent.

Luckily, there are home remedies that can help ease acute and chronic bronchitis.

Drinking warm liquids

Warm water, tea, and other hot drinks help to thin mucus, making coughing easier.

A 2008 study suggests that hot beverages can provide “immediate and sustained relief from symptoms of a runny nose, cough, sneezing, sore throat, chilliness, and tiredness“.

Ginger tea may also help bronchitis symptoms, as ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory.

Using a humidifier

Keeping the air in the home or workplace moist helps to loosen mucus in the airways and reduce coughing. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommend a cool-mist humidifier or steam vaporizer to do this.

A 2014 study indicates that long-term humidification therapy is a cost-effective treatment for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or bronchiectasis. However, researchers cautioned that more investigation was necessary.

COPD is an umbrella term for a number of lung conditions including bronchitis and bronchiectasis, which is a condition where the airways become abnormally wide.

If a person with one of these conditions uses a humidifier, it should be regularly cleaned, according to the manufacturer’s guidelines, to kill bacteria and other pathogens that make symptoms worse.

Wearing a face mask in cold weather

Being hit by sudden cold air can increase a cough. Covering up the mouth and nose before going outside in cold weather can help to reduce coughing and shortness of breath. Cold-air face masks are available, or the mouth can be covered with a scarf or other item of clothing.


Honey is often used as a natural remedy for a cough, and it is said to have both antiviral and antibacterial properties.

Research into the effectiveness of honey for respiratory tract infections indicates it may be an effective home treatment.

A 2007 study looked at how well dark honey worked for children with bronchitis. While the children who took the honey experienced greater symptom relief than those taking the placebo, the clinical benefit was small. Honey should not be given to children under 1 year.

Pursed-lip breathing techniques

A breathing technique known as pursed-lip breathing may benefit people with bronchitis, as well as those with COPD.

The COPD Foundation advise that this technique helps people breathe easier by:

  • keeping airways open longer
  • slowing down breathing
  • helping the lungs eliminate stale, trapped air
  • improving the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide
  • increasing the time that can be spent on certain activities

Pursed-lip breathing involves inhaling through the nose for 2 seconds, before puckering the lips and exhaling slowly through the mouth for 4 to 6 seconds.

Essential oils

Eucalyptus oil
Essential oils such as eucalyptus may help to reduce airway inflammation.

Many people with bronchitis or COPD use essential oils to ease symptoms, particularly inflammation and breathing difficulties.

Some research suggests airway inflammation can be reduced by using myrtol, eucalyptus oil, or orange oil, with myrtol oil showing additional benefits against inflammation.

An animal study also found that oil from the flower Zataria multiflora reduced inflammation in guinea pigs with COPD.

Other essential oils which may help ease the breathing difficulties associated with bronchitis include:

  • basil
  • eucalyptus
  • peppermint
  • rosemary
  • tea tree
  • thyme
  • oregano

Essential oils can be inhaled directly or used in a diffuser. Never take essential oils internally or apply them directly to the skin. To use on the skin, mix them with a carrier oil, such as mineral oil or sweet almond oil. Usually, it is 3-5 drops per 1 ounce of carrier oil.

Ginseng extract

Ginseng is a popular herbal remedy extracted from the fleshy roots of various slow-growing perennial plants.

In some research, ginseng extract was found to reduce the number of bacteria in the lungs of people with chronic bronchitis, who were having an attack of acute bronchitis.

Ginseng also has anti-inflammatory qualities, which may help it quell inflammation in the bronchial tubes.

N-acetylcysteine (NAC)

This supplement is a modified version of the amino acid cysteine. It may help to reduce both the frequency and severity of coughing. NAC may also thin the mucus in the bronchi, allowing it to be eliminated from the body more easily.

An analysis of 13 studies on NAC for chronic bronchitis or COPD suggests that people with chronic bronchitis and an airway obstruction benefit from 1,200 milligrams (mg) per day. Those with bronchitis without an airway obstruction see benefits from a regular dose of 600 mg daily.

Vitamin D

According to the Vitamin D Council, many studies indicate that people who have low levels of the vitamin are more prone to respiratory infections, including COPD.

Other research suggests that those who have high vitamin D levels experience shorter bouts of respiratory infections or milder symptoms.

However, the evidence is mixed when it comes to taking vitamin D to treat respiratory infections. Nonetheless, vitamin D is important for overall health and supplementation is a low-risk approach to bronchitis treatment.

If you choose to use supplements, essential oils, or herbs, be aware that these are not monitored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for safety, quality, purity, or packaging. Choose to buy from a company you trust.

Types of bronchitis

There are two types of bronchitis known as acute and chronic.

Acute bronchitis, or a chest cold, is a common condition which can develop from a cold or respiratory infection. People tend to recover from acute bronchitis within 10 to 14 days.

Chronic bronchitis is characterized by a constant irritation of the bronchi that lasts 3 months or more, or recurrent episodes of bronchitis for at least 2 years. In 2015, 9 million Americans were diagnosed with chronic bronchitis.

Symptoms of chronic bronchitis may worsen periodically, which indicates acute bronchitis in conjunction with the chronic condition.

Causes of bronchitis

The causes of bronchitis vary depending on the type.

Acute bronchitis is most commonly caused by a virus, particularly those that cause cold and flu. Viruses do not respond to antibiotic treatment, and so antibiotics should not be prescribed to someone who has acute bronchitis caused by a virus.

Smoking is the most common cause of chronic bronchitis, although air pollution or dust can be a factor in some cases.

Risk factors

man lighting up a cigarette
A very large percentage of people who develop bronchitis have a history of smoking.

Several risk factors are linked with the onset of bronchitis, including:

  • Poor immunity: People with lowered immunity are more vulnerable to bronchitis. Factors which reduce immunity include illness, viral infection, and age. Older adults and young children are at greater risk.
  • Smoking: Cigarette smoke can irritate the lining of the bronchial tubes, which can result in bronchitis. More than 90 percent of people diagnosed with chronic bronchitis have a history of smoking. However, even passive smoke can be a risk factor. A 2012 study found that exposure to passive smoking at work almost doubled the risk of chronic bronchitis, while passive smoking at home increased the risk by 2.5 times.
  • Other irritants: Continued exposure to grains, chemicals, dust, and fabric is known to cause irritation to the delicate lining of the bronchi.
  • Heartburn: The acid that rises due to heartburn causes inflammation in the bronchial tubes.

Symptoms of bronchitis

The most common symptoms of bronchitis are:

  • cough
  • difficulty breathing
  • mucus exhaustion
  • generalized discomfort in the chest
  • low-grade fever
  • chills

People with acute bronchitis may also have had other symptoms consistent with cold or flu that contributed to the development of bronchitis. Examples of such symptoms include:


Approximately 1 in 20 cases of bronchitis result in pneumonia. In addition, repeated episodes of bronchitis can indicate COPD.

Preventing bronchitis

There are several steps to take to reduce the risk of developing acute or chronic bronchitis:

  • Avoid irritants: If contact with lung irritants is unavoidable, take steps to reduce exposure. For example, increase ventilation or wear a mask.
  • Quit smoking: Cutting out tobacco and avoiding exposure to secondhand smoke will help.
  • Improve immunity: Addressing underlying health conditions, eating a balanced diet, working out, reducing stress, and getting enough sleep all help.
  • Limit exposure to bacteria and viruses where possible: Do this by washing hands frequently.
  • Discuss vaccinations with a doctor: These may reduce the risk of bronchitis.

When to see a doctor

It is important to consult a doctor if symptoms of bronchitis endure beyond 3 weeks, are accompanied by a fever, or interfere with sleep.

Seek immediate medical attention if breathing difficulties become severe, or coughing produces blood.

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31 May

Medical News Today: Ketamine may not reduce post-surgery pain, delirium

Ketamine is commonly prescribed to help alleviate post-surgery delirium and pain, but a new, multicenter trial suggests that the drug may be useless in treating these symptoms.
[chemical formula of ketamine]
New research indicates that, contrary to popular opinion, ketamine is not effective in treating surgery-induced pain or delirium.

A team of anesthesiologists from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO, and the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor set out to investigate the benefits of ketamine for patients who have recently undergone surgery.

It is currently believed that ketamine is useful for the prevention of post-surgery pain and delirium. For this reason, medical professionals – especially those who wish to avoid using opioid drugs such as morphine -
routinely prescribe the drug.

Opioids are known to reduce severe pain, but many patients who use them go on to develop an addiction disorder, particularly if they use them over a longer period of time.

The team was co-led by researcher Dr. George A. Mashour, Ph.D., an professor of anesthesiology at the University of Michigan Medical School, and Michael S. Avidan, first author of the study, and a professor of surgery and of anesthesiology at Washington University.

Explaining the context of their new research, Avidan says, “In recent years, there’s been a big increase in the amount of ketamine given in the operating room because clinicians are trying to prevent pain after surgery without relying on opioid drugs.”

The new study was published in the journal The Lancet.

Studying the effects of ketamine on post-surgery patients

Avidan and colleagues followed 672 patients aged 60 and older who had had surgery across four countries: the Canada, India, South Korea, and the United States.

During surgery, the patients either received no ketamine at all, a very low dose, or a slightly higher dose. All of the doses used in the study are the same as those routinely administered by healthcare professionals wishing to reduce postoperative pain in their patients.

Avidan and team then followed these patients for several days after the operation, during which time they enquired about and monitored their pain, assessed whether or not they had delirium, and measured the amount of opioids they needed to control their pain.

Delirium is a mental state characterized by confusion, disorientation, and difficulty remembering things or recognizing family and friends. Sometimes, patients with delirium can also experience agitation and hallucinations.

Some studies have estimated that delirium affects up to 50 percent of hospitalized elders, while Avidan’s own previous research has set that percentage at 20.

“When patients become delirious after surgery, they tend to spend more time in the intensive care unit, have longer hospital stays, and have a greater chance of dying,” explains Avidan. “Overall, patients who develop delirium have worse outcomes and are at higher risk for long-term cognitive decline. So it’s really important to try to prevent it if we can.”

Ketamine ‘not effective’ for reducing delirium or pain

Although some previous small-sample studies on humans, and a few studies in rodents, have suggested that ketamine might help recovery from anesthesia and reduce the odds of developing postoperative delirium, this new study offers a less optimistic view.

“Our study didn’t indicate that [ketamine] was effective,” Avidan says.

Mashour further explains the results, adding that the researchers were “particularly surprised by the lack of an effect on postoperative pain.”

“Giving single doses of ketamine during surgery to prevent postoperative pain is increasingly common,” Mashour says, “but our data challenge that practice and suggest that even after decades of use, more research is required if we hope to understand ketamine.”

We found that the current practice of giving low doses of ketamine to patients during surgery is not having the desired effect. So we need to determine whether higher doses might be more effective, or we need to find other alternatives to opioids.

There were various reasons to think this drug was providing protection to the brain around the time of surgery, and we hypothesized that ketamine would, in fact, reduce postoperative delirium and pain. Unfortunately, it didn’t do either.”

Prof. Michael S. Avidan

The researcher also adds that not only did ketamine not alleviate delirium and pain, but for some patients, it even caused hallucinations and nightmares.

Learn how hospital-induced delirium may speed up dementia.

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31 May

Medical News Today: Herpetic whitlow: Symptoms, causes, and treatment

Herpetic whitlow or whitlow finger is a painful infection that may cause other symptoms to show up. The infection may appear in adults or children, and there are several ways to treat it.

Herpetic whitlow is an infection created by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). The infection produces a painful wound called a whitlow on the fingers.

Caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), herpetic whitlow occurs mostly on the fleshy part of the index finger or thumb. Sometimes herpetic whitlow can develop on the toes.

This article explores the symptoms, causes, and various treatment methods for this painful infection.


[herpetic whitlow wikicommons james heilman md 16 february 2010]
Herpetic whitlow lesions are generally small and very painful.

When the herpes simplex virus infection appears on the finger in the form of a whitlow, the symptoms are similar to herpes on other parts of the body:

  • Timing: The first symptoms usually appear 2-20 days after the person is exposed to the herpes simplex virus.
  • Sensation: The infected area will burn or tingle, and the person may begin to experience pain before any noticeable lesion shows up.
  • Infection: The finger will then begin to swell and redden as the infection develops. Blisters will appear and begin to fill with liquid or pus. There may be just one blister, or a group of them may develop. They are typically small and very painful to the touch.
  • Rupture: These blisters will then burst and scab over in the weeks to come. Once the scabs heal, the infection returns to its dormant state.

Other symptoms may appear at any time during the infection, including:

  • swollen lymph nodes in the armpits or elbow area
  • a fever
  • red marks surrounding or leading away from the whitlow

The sores that the infection creates may recur in some people over time. Whitlows will usually reappear in the same area as the primary infection.

There may be certain factors which trigger recurrent HSV infections, such as herpetic whitlow, including:

  • fever or recurring illness
  • excessive stress
  • hormonal imbalance
  • excessive sun exposure
  • surgery
  • physical, mental, or emotional trauma

Recurrent infections will also typically follow a pattern similar to the primary infection. People will feel sensations of tingling, burning, or itching about 24 hours before the sores show up.

A recurrent infection usually lasts little more than a week and is not as strong as the primary infection. There may be fewer blisters during a recurrent infection, and those blisters may also be smaller and less painful.

Causes and risk factors

[dentists looking into a patients mouth]
Medical and dental professionals have a higher risk of coming in contact with HSV-1.

HSV is the virus that commonly causes cold sores and genital herpes. It is also the cause of herpetic whitlow.

There are two types of HSV; HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 infections usually occur around the face, in the mouth, nose or lips. HSV-2 infections typically involve the area around the genitals.

The infection can occur in men and women of all ages, though symptoms caused by HSV-1 appear to be more common in children and young adults.

Certain professionals may be more at risk for HSV-1 and complications, such as herpetic whitlow. These people may include medical or dental professionals and anyone who works in close collaboration with people who have the infection.

The rest of the population is commonly infected by HSV-2, often through sexual contact. People with weakened immune systems are more at risk for becoming infected with HSV.

Herpetic whitlow is very contagious. Infections are easily spread by coming into direct contact with the infected sores or blisters of someone with herpetic whitlow. A person can also infect themselves if they touch one of their own cold sores or genital herpes sores with their fingers.

It is vital that the whitlow is treated properly. Unchecked whitlows put a person at risk for superinfections or conditions, such as herpetic encephalitis, which is a herpes infection in the brain.


Antiviral medications are often used to treat herpetic whitlow. These antivirals are effective in reducing the duration of symptoms in the primary infection as well as in recurrent infections.

It is crucial to begin antiviral treatment within the first 48 hours of any symptoms occurring. Using an antiviral to treat herpetic whitlow after the initial 48 hours will likely have little effect.

Antiviral treatment is used to help reduce the healing time and time spent in pain. Antiviral treatment may also reduce the risk for the virus to spread to other parts of the body.

However, if the person does not take antiviral medications, the whitlow will heal itself over a few weeks without any drugs.

[topical cream for dermatological conditions]
Treatment for herpetic whitlow can involve oral medications and topical creams.

Antiviral agents that are commonly used to treat herpetic whitlow include:

  • oral valacyclovir
  • oral acyclovir
  • oral famciclovir
  • topical acyclovir ointment
  • analgesics to numb pain

Antiviral medications are typically used for 1-2 weeks or until the infection clears up. In cases where the whitlow develops a secondary bacterial infection, antibiotics may also be necessary.

On rare occasions, where people have severe recurrent outbreaks, a doctor may prescribe suppressive medications. People should take these suppressive antiviral medications daily to try to decrease outbreaks.

It is important to note that antiviral medications can help treat an HSV outbreak, such as a herpetic whitlow, but they do not prevent future outbreaks. Antiviral drugs are not a treatment for HSV itself, only the symptoms.

Caring for and avoiding herpetic whitlow

People can support the recovery of herpetic whitlow in the home through a few different methods:

  • Covering the infection: Lightly covering the infected area can help keep the virus from spreading. It is also important for people to refrain from popping or draining the blisters. This can cause the virus to spread even further or cause a secondary infection.
  • Being hygienic: People should follow proper hygiene at all times, especially after coming into contact with the whitlow. People working in the medical or dental field should always follow basic hygiene rules and work with gloves whenever possible to protect themselves and other people.
  • Switching to glasses: People who wear contacts may want to switch to glasses until the infection heals to avoid it spreading to the eyes. Many people take over the counter drugs or use ice packs to lessen the pain of the whitlow as well.
  • Preventing spread: Avoiding contact with lesions is an important step in keeping the virus from spreading.
  • Telling key people: People with HSV should also tell any medical or dental professional who works close to them about the virus so they can take measures to avoid it.

Outlook for herpetic whitlow

Herpes simplex virus can remain inactive in the nerve cells for a time, and may or may not cause symptoms.

In some cases, people never have a recurring whitlow. In others, whitlows often return and require regular treatment.

It is best for people to discuss their symptoms and treatment options with a qualified health care professional. Together they can work out a plan that fits the person’s individual needs and makes treatment as comfortable as possible.

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31 May

Medical News Today: Vasopressin: Water management and the biological clock

Water is the molecule of life; without it, none of us would be here. However, despite its importance, how the body manages water still holds some secrets. Innovative research in Canada generates new insight.
[Water science vasopressin test tube]
Vasopressin helps us to manage our body’s water, but it is more complicated than we thought.

Water is present in every single cell of the human body. In fact, by weight, we are 50 to 75 percent water, depending on a range of factors including age, sex, weight, and health.

If we went for just a few days without a drop, we would die. Such is the vital importance of water.

It keeps tissues such as the eyes and inside of the mouth moist, regulates body temperature, lubricates joints, and acts as a shock absorber. Water also dissolves minerals and nutrients, which makes them available for biological processes, and transports them around the body.

With this in mind, it may come as quite a surprise that controlling the level of water in the body is predominantly reliant upon just one molecule: vasopressin.

Vasopressin and water management

Vasopressin is found in most mammals, and its role as the water-regulating molecule has been known for 70 years. Until recently, it was thought to only work in a classic, negative feedback loop: when we are dehydrated, levels of vasopressin rise, which causes urine to become concentrated in the kidneys, freeing up more water to be used in the body. Conversely, when we have too much water in our body, vasopressin levels decrease, and urine is diluted.

However, new research demonstrates that this molecule has much more to offer than the feedback loop described. Dr. Charles Bourque of McGill University in Montreal, Canada, uncovered an unexpected pathway that vasopressin uses to keep us properly hydrated.

He presented his findings at the 2017 Canadian Neuroscience Meeting, an annual meeting of the Canadian Association for Neuroscience, held in Montreal.

Dr. Bourque demonstrated that not only is there a vasopressin feedback loop, but “it’s also involved in feed-forward mechanisms. [They] determined that this molecule is produced in the brain right before [people] go to bed, and during sleep, in anticipation of the dehydrating effect of sleep.”

Their research showed that mice increased water intake just before sleep. Rather than being motivated by a physiological need for water, the drinking response was solely based on the animal’s circadian rhythms.

Circadian rhythms, which drive the sleep-wake cycle, are controlled by a tiny brain region within the hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). This pre-sleep drinking behavior was shown to be under the control of vasopressin neurons that run from the SCN to thirst neurons in the organum vasculosum lamina terminalis, which is an area important for fluid regulation.

Vasopressin is known to work as a hormone, but this discovery demonstrates that the molecule also works as a neurological signal. Its role is clearly more complex than originally believed.

The importance of studying dehydration

Dehydration is an important topic of study. A range of conditions are linked with changes in vasopressin. As Dr. Bourque explains, “We’ve known for some time that [vasopressin] is involved in critical conditions like congestive heart failure and some types of lung cancer and other ailments like bed-wetting or increased urination at night. Our recent work has shown it also plays a key role in salt-dependent hypertension.”

In fact, body fluid disorders are some of the top reasons for patient admission to emergency departments in the United States. Dr. Bourque hopes that his work will spur more studies into the importance of vasopressin in sickness and health.

We know [vasopressin] is one of the most important molecules for regulating body hydration, but we still can’t use it to improve primary care.”

Dr. Charles Bourque

One of his key goals is to design a sensitive vasopressin test for healthcare workers. If levels can be assessed rapidly, it could help doctors to understand how the body is managing water, giving clues as to how to deal with various illnesses. Dr. Bourque plans to work with an interdisciplinary team of scientists to make this test a reality.

Learn why we should only drink water when we are thirsty.

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