30 Jun

Medical News Today: Chocolate may improve cognitive function within hours, says review

dark chocolate and cocoa powder on a spoon
Researchers say that cocoa flavanols can improve cognitive function.
Need an excuse to raid that chocolate stash? A new review may provide just that. Researchers have found that cocoa flavanols could boost cognitive function within just a few hours of consumption.

Additionally, researchers found that regular, long-term intake of cocoa flavanols may protect against cognitive decline.

Flavanols are naturally occurring compounds found in various types of plants, with some of the highest levels found in the beans of the cocoa tree.

Flavanols have antioxidant properties, meaning that they have the ability to reduce the effects of cell damage caused by oxidative stress.

What is more, studies have shown that flavanols can improve blood vessel function and lower blood pressure.

But the benefits of flavanols do not end there. A new review – recently published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition – suggests that cocoa flavanols could benefit cognitive functioning.

The research was conducted by Valentina Socci, of the University of L’Aquila in Italy, and colleagues.

Rapid improvements in cognition

Previous studies have suggested a link between the intake of cocoa flavanols and better cognitive function, with dark chocolate often cited as the best source.

For the new research, Socci and team wanted to delve deeper into the brain benefits of cocoa flavanols: what specific cognitive functions are affected by cocoa flavanols? And are the effects immediate?

The researchers sought to answer these questions and more by conducting an in-depth review of existing studies looking at the cognitive effects of cocoa flavanols.

In particular, the team looked at how cocoa flavanols affect cognitive functioning over time and within hours of consumption.

The researchers found that, while only a small number of randomized controlled trials have looked at the short-term effects of cocoa flavanols on cognitive function, they do point to some significant benefits.

The team uncovered evidence of a link between consumption of cocoa flavanols and almost immediate improvements in working memory. One study, for example, identified working memory improvements in young adults just 2 hours after consuming 773 milligrams of cocoa flavanols.

In another study, researchers found that consumption of cocoa flavanols appeared to offset cognitive impairment caused by a night of sleep deprivation.

However, the authors note that the reported acute effects of cocoa flavanols were dependent on the type of cognitive assessments that the studies used, as well as the length of these assessments. They found that it required highly demanding cognitive tests to detect the most subtle benefits of cocoa flavanol consumption.

Elderly adults reap greatest benefits

On looking at the long-term effects of cocoa flavanol consumption, the researchers found that the majority of studies looking at this association had been conducted in elderly adults.

The review suggests that a daily intake of cocoa flavanols – for at least 5 days and up to 3 months – posed the greatest benefits for cognitive function, leading to improvements in attention, processing speed, verbal fluency, and working memory.

Socci and team note that these benefits were strongest for elderly adults who already had mild cognitive decline or other memory impairments when the studies began – a finding that surprised the researchers.

“This result suggests the potential of cocoa flavanols to protect cognition in vulnerable populations over time by improving cognitive performance,” say Socci and co-author Michele Ferrara, also of the University of L’Aquila.

“If you look at the underlying mechanism, the cocoa flavanols have beneficial effects for cardiovascular health and can increase cerebral blood volume in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus,” they continue. “This structure is particularly affected by aging and therefore the potential source of age-related memory decline in humans.” The researchers add:

Regular intake of cocoa and chocolate could indeed provide beneficial effects on cognitive functioning over time.”

The team cautions, however, that we should avoid eating too much chocolate, since it is high in calories and sugar. Still, the results suggest that when it comes to cognitive function, a little bit of chocolate could do wonders.

Learn how chocolate could lower the risk of irregular heartbeat.

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30 Jun

Medical News Today: L-arginine: Potential benefits, side effects, and risks

L-arginine is one of many amino acids the body needs to function properly.

Like other amino acids, L-arginine plays a role in building protein. The body can use the protein to help build muscle and rebuild tissue.

As a result, researchers have investigated the effectiveness of L-arginine in the treatment of severe wounds and tissue waste in serious illnesses.

What is L-arginine?

red meat, fish and eggs
L-arginine is found in eggs, fish, and red meat.

In addition to building protein, L-arginine releases nitric oxide in the blood.

Nitric oxide acts to widen blood vessels in the blood stream, which may help aid certain circulatory conditions.

A person’s body naturally produces L-arginine under normal circumstances. People also get additional L-arginine as part of their regular diet.

Red meats, fish, dairy, and eggs all contain low amounts of L-arginine that help the body to replenish its necessary resources.

Occasionally, a person’s need for L-arginine may exceed the body’s ability to produce or consume it naturally. This is often true for older adults or people with certain medical conditions.

In these cases, people may be prescribed artificial L-arginine in the form of oral medication, injections, or creams. Several potential health conditions may benefit from an increased intake of L-arginine.

Some people take L-arginine as a supplement. As with any supplement, a person should use it with caution.

Although L-arginine is considered safe in moderate doses, too much L-arginine can have severe side effects, including death. It is important to understand how the supplement may interact with the body and with additional medications before taking it.

Benefits of L-arginine

L-arginine has two effects: it turns into nitric oxide and helps the body build protein.

These effects give L-arginine an array of potential benefits that range from heart health and chest pain to helping to build muscles, repair wounds, and improve male fertility.

Although there are many claims about the benefits of L-Arginine, not all of them are supported by scientific research studies.

The following are some examples of researched benefits and uses of L-arginine:

Additionally, L-arginine may have the potential to help with many other issues. However, more research needs to be done to evaluate further L-arginine’s potential to do the following:

  • improve blood flow
  • heal wounds faster
  • alleviate anxiety
  • treat burns
  • improve kidney function for people with congestive heart failure
  • enhance exercise performance

There are several additional areas that researchers are interested in exploring regarding L-arginine and its effects on the human body.

It is essential for anyone interested in taking L-arginine as a supplement to talk to their doctor about the potential benefits and risks before starting to use it.

Also, people should fully understand and examine the claims a manufacturer is making about their product before using it.

Side effects of L-arginine

lady taking a supplement with a glass of water
For certain groups of people there may be some risks involved in taking L-arginine as a supplement.

L-arginine has some potential side effects to be aware of when taking it as a supplement. Some of the more common and benign side effects include:

However, L-arginine may result in some serious complications that must be considered.

Risks and complications

L-arginine has some potentially serious risks for certain groups of people.

These include:

  • serious illness or death in children and infants
  • difficulty controlling blood pressure during surgery
  • worsening of herpes flares
  • increased risk of death after a heart attack
  • negative interaction with certain medications, including Viagra and blood pressure medications

Although there are risks associated with L-arginine, most research indicates it is safe for people to take in small doses. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not monitor the safety or effectiveness of supplements, so it is important to choose a reputable brand.

As with any supplement or medication, a person should consult a doctor or dietician before taking L-arginine, as the risks may outweigh the potential benefits.

Natural ways to get enough L-arginine

A major benefit of obtaining L-arginine through diet is that it is difficult to get too much. Therefore, some of the side effects of consuming too much L-arginine can be avoided.

On the other hand, food consumption alone may not provide enough L-arginine to meet a person’s needs. A person should discuss their options with their doctor prior to changing their diet.

chickpeas houmous falafel
Plant based proteins such as chickpeas are a good source of L-arginine.

The best natural source for L-arginine is food high in protein. For some people, animal proteins, such as red meat (beef), chicken and turkey breast, pork loin, and dairy products, may be the primary source of L-arginine.

For people who do not eat meat, plant-based proteins that contain L-arginine include lentils, chickpeas, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, and soybeans.

People who find they have a deficient amount of L-arginine to meet their needs may want to modify their diet to include foods rich in protein.

A dietician or doctor may be able to make meal plan suggestions to boost natural intake of L-arginine prior to taking supplements.

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30 Jun

Medical News Today: How an autism gene mutation alters brain development

an illustration of DNA strands
Researchers have shed light on how CHD8 gene mutations alter brain development and impair cognitive functioning.
By analyzing the brains of mice, researchers have discovered how mutations in a gene called CHD8 may alter brain development and cognitive functioning to cause autism.

Researchers from the United States and Canada found that CHD8 gene mutations altered gene expression in mice, impairing their cognitive functioning and increasing brain volume.

Both of these characteristics are present in humans with autism who have CHD8 gene mutations.

What is more, the researchers found that the changes in gene expression as a result of CHD8 gene mutations arise in early brain development, and they continue throughout the course of a lifetime.

The study – led by Alex Nord, of the University of California-Davis – was recently published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 1 in 68 children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with autism, with the condition being around 4.5 times more common among boys than girls.

While the precise causes of autism are unclear, studies have indicated that environmental and genetic factors play a role. Mutations in the CHD8 gene are considered to be one such factor.

Studying CHD8 gene mutations in mice

Located on chromosome 14, CHD8 is known to encode a protein responsible for DNA packaging, which regulates gene expression in cells during development.

Normally, humans have two functioning copies of the CHD8 gene. In some rare cases of autism, however, one copy of this gene is mutated and its function is therefore lost.

Nord and colleagues used mouse models for their study, in order to gain a better understanding of how CHD8 gene mutations influence brain development.

The team notes that around 85 percent of mouse genes are coded in a similar way to human genes. This means that changes in the DNA of mice will simulate changes in human DNA, making the rodents a good model for studying genetic mutations.

What is more, the researchers point out that mice display behaviors that are similar to those of humans.

“Behavioral tests with mice give us information about sociability, anxiety, and cognition,” explains Nord. “From there, we can examine changes at the anatomical and cellular level to find links across dimensions. This is critical to understanding the biology of disorders like autism.”

How CHD8 mutations affect the brain

Using CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing, the researchers bred mice that only possessed one copy of the CHD8 gene, and they looked at how this affected their brain development.

In mice with two functioning CHD8 genes, the researchers found that CHD8 gene expression peaked early on in brain development.

But in mice with only one functioning copy of CHD8, cell proliferation increased significantly in early brain development, and the rodents exhibited a larger brain size, which is often the case in humans with autism.

Additionally, the team found that mice with a CHD8 gene mutation experienced gene expression changes for the rest of their lives.

Importantly, the researchers found that such changes interfered with the function of synapses, which are structures that enable brain cell communication.

These brain changes led to cognitive impairment in the rodents, including poor learning and memory.

The findings suggest that CHD8 gene mutations do not only affect brain development, but they also continue to affect brain functioning throughout adulthood.

The researchers believe that their results offer insight into one of the underlying causes of autism, which could pave the way for much needed new treatments for the condition.

“For years, the targets of drug discovery and treatment have been based on an unknown black box of what’s happening in the brain,” says Nord.

Now, using genetic approaches to study the impact of specific mutations found in cases, we’re trying to build a cohesive model that links genetic control of brain development with behavior and brain function.”

Alex Nord

Learn how fever in pregnancy may be linked to a higher risk of autism.

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30 Jun

Medical News Today: Childhood IQ linked to longevity

child reading a book
The results of a life-long study suggest that children who score higher on IQ tests may live longer.
Higher childhood intelligence is linked to a lower chance of dying before the age of 80. So concludes a study of nearly all children born in 1936 in Scotland, United Kingdom, which compared results of IQ tests taken at age 11 with records of death in the group over the following 68 years.

The researchers, from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, U.K., report their findings in a paper published in the BMJ.

The report describes how higher scores on childhood IQ tests were linked to a lower lifetime risk of dying from known major causes, including heart disease, stroke, smoking-related cancer, digestive disease, external causes of death, respiratory diseases, and dementia.

For these diseases, the reductions in risk were largely similar for men and women. But the researchers also found that, in men only, a higher childhood IQ was linked to a lower risk of suicide.

The researchers say that the findings suggest that lifestyle – and smoking in particular – is an important factor in the link between childhood IQ and risk of death.

The study participants were 33,536 men and 32,229 women born in Scotland in 1936, all of whom completed a validated childhood intelligence test at 11 years old as part of the Scottish Mental Survey of 1947, and who could be linked to cause of death records up to the end of 2015.

Largest study to follow life course

The intelligence test, which was administered at school by the children’s teachers, included 71 items that measured verbal and nonverbal reasoning. Studies carried out since 1947 have validated the test and found it to be on a par with other standardized measures of intelligence.

The Scottish study is thought to be the largest so far to have followed a group of men and women over the life course and related causes of death to childhood intelligence.

Previous studies have already suggested that people who score higher on intelligence tests tend to live longer, on average, than people with lower scores. However, most of these do not span the life course, or they only focus on particular groups.

For example, the largest study of this kind to date included a million participants, was confined to Swedish male conscripts, and only followed them until middle age.

Size of risk varied by cause of death

As well as finding a link between higher childhood IQ and lower risk of dying before the age of 80, the researchers found that the amount of reduced risk varies by cause of death.

For instance, their analysis reveals that a higher score on childhood IQ tests is linked to a 24 percent lower risk of dying from stroke, a 25 percent lower risk of dying from coronary heart disease, and a 28 percent lower risk of dying from respiratory disease.

The team also found links between higher childhood IQ and lower risk of death from injury, dementia, digestive diseases, and smoking-related cancers such as lung and stomach cancer.

However, they found no evidence of a link between childhood IQ and death from cancers that are not related to smoking.

When they adjusted the results to take into account smoking and socioeconomic status, the researchers found that some of the links remained strong, suggesting that these factors do not fully explain the differences.

They suggest that future studies should now investigate the “cumulative load of such risk factors over the life course.”

‘Dose-response effect’

In a linked editorial, Swedish researchers specializing in public health and population studies note that the Scottish study is “uniquely comprehensive” because it examines major causes of death and follows the participants to an age by which nearly half of them have died.

They draw attention to a section of the study report that looks at how increments in childhood intelligence relate to specific causes of death. They liken it to a drug trial that looks at the effect of different doses.

“The most obvious dose-response relations are those for cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, stroke, smoking-related cancer, and respiratory disease,” they note.

Although “injuries could also be added to this list,” they remark that, nevertheless, the study “tells us that lifestyle, and especially tobacco smoking, must be an important component in the effect of intelligence on differences in mortality.” They conclude:

It remains to be seen if this is the full story or if IQ signals something deeper, and possibly genetic, in its relation to longevity.”

Learn how genes may influence intelligence through social class.

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30 Jun

Medical News Today: Ten benefits of vitamin E oil

Vitamin E is not a single vitamin, but rather a group of fat-soluble vitamins with antioxidant effects.

Antioxidants fight free radicals, which are electrons that have broken off from an atom. Free radicals have been linked to a wide range of health conditions, from cancer to premature aging.

Vitamin E oil is derived from vitamin E and can be applied directly to the skin, or added to lotions, creams, and gels. Many supporters of vitamin E oil argue that it is a potent antioxidant, but research on its benefits is mixed.

Vitamin E oil: The basics

Vitamin E oil
Vitamin E oil is applied topically to the skin.

Vitamin E oil is distinct from vitamin E supplements because it is applied directly to the skin. Concentrations vary between manufacturers, and some users simply pop open vitamin E capsules and put the contents on their skin.

Vitamin E oil is an ingredient in many skincare products; especially those that claim to have anti-aging benefits.

Vitamin E supplements may prevent coronary heart disease, support immune function, prevent inflammation, promote eye health, and lower the risk of cancer. However, the research on these benefits is varied, and vitamin E supplementation is not right for everyone.

Vitamin E oil’s benefits are primarily cosmetic and have limited scientific support. Before using vitamin E oil, consult a doctor or skin care expert.

Ten potential benefits

Vitamin E oil’s potential benefits derive from two key features: its antioxidant properties, which could fight inflammation and slow the effects of free radicals, and its moisturizing properties.

Some purported benefits of vitamin E oil include:

Moisturizing skin

Vitamin E is found in many moisturizers, and the oil may be used as a moisturizer to prevent or treat dry, flaking skin.

Wound healing

Some research suggests that vitamin E supplements may promote wound healing. It is possible that topical vitamin E oil might offer similar benefits, but there is little research on the subject.

Skin cancer prevention

A 2013 study found that mice given supplements containing vitamin E were less likely to develop skin cancer, even when exposed to large quantities of ultraviolet light. These results prompted some supporters of vitamin E oil and supplements to claim that it can prevent skin cancer.

However, studies on humans have not found any skin cancer prevention benefits associated with vitamin E.

Reducing skin itching

Woman itches her arm
Vitamin E may help to reduce itchy skin and ease eczema.

Vitamin E cannot treat allergic reactions, infections, and other issues that cause skin itching. Because it moisturizes the skin, however, it may offer temporary relief from itching caused by dry skin.


Vitamin E may alleviate the dryness, itching, and flaking associated with eczema, or atopic dermatitis.

One study found that oral vitamin E supplements could produce significant improvements in eczema symptoms. Though vitamin E oil has not been well-studied in the treatment of eczema, it may increase the effectiveness of topical moisturizers.


At least one study has linked topical vitamin E to a reduction in psoriasis symptoms. Even better, the study showed that there were no serious side effects.

However, the effects of vitamin E on psoriasis were not as good as most readily available treatments. Vitamin E oil might be a good option for people who want to avoid prescription remedies and who have mild psoriasis.

Preventing or minimizing the appearance of scars

Folk wisdom has long suggested that vitamin E, applied to the skin, taken as a supplement, or both, might treat scars, or prevent them from forming in the first place. But research does not support this claim and has found no association between vitamin E use and scar prevention.

In one older study from 1999, almost one-third of participants had an allergic reaction to topical vitamin E, suggesting the oil is more likely to make scarring worse rather than prevent it.

A more recent literature review found that evidence about whether vitamin E improved or worsened scarring was inconclusive.

Research does suggest that well-moisturized skin is less likely to scar. So for people who do not have an allergic reaction to vitamin E, using it as a moisturizer while the wound heals may offer some benefits.

Preventing or treating fine lines and wrinkles

Dry skin tends to look more wrinkled than well-moisturized skin. The moisturizing benefits of vitamin E oil may help the skin look more youthful and less wrinkled.

Claims that vitamin E prevents or treats wrinkles, however, are unsupported by scientific evidence. The best strategy for preventing wrinkles is to avoid direct sunlight and to wear a quality sunscreen.

Sunburn prevention

Sunburn on a mans arm.
Vitamin E may help to reduce the risk of sunburn.

Limited research suggests that vitamin E can prevent or reduce the formation of sunburns, although wearing sunscreen and avoiding direct sun exposure remain the best strategies for protecting the skin.

Because vitamin E oil can moisturize and soothe dry, flaky skin, it may help to relieve the burning and itching that result from a sunburn.

Promoting nail health

Research suggests that vitamin E supplementation can prevent yellow nail syndrome, which causes peeling, cracked, and yellowing nails.

Vitamin E oil’s moisturizing benefits may also support nail health by preventing cracked cuticles and dry skin around the nail bed.

Risks and considerations

The biggest risk associated with vitamin E use is an allergic reaction. Vitamin E can irritate the skin, making skin problems worse. People with a history of allergic reactions should avoid vitamin E, or should do a patch test on a small area of skin first.

Because vitamin E oil is a supplement and a beauty product, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not regulate it. This may mean that two vitamin E oils might have radically different concentrations and produce different effects in the same person.

Many vitamin E products contain additional ingredients. It is important to read the label and consult a doctor if uncertain about the product’s safety.

How to use vitamin E

Before using vitamin E oil, do a patch test. Apply a small dab of the oil to an area that is not highly visible, such as the back of the knee or behind the ear. Wait 24-48 hours. If no reaction develops, it is probably safe to use.

Do a patch test if using vitamin E on a wound. Apply to a small portion of the wound first and wait 24-48 hours.

Begin with a low concentration of vitamin E oil, and apply a thin layer over the affected area. Over several days, gradually increase the amount until reaching the levels recommended on the package. Read the label carefully and avoid exceeding the recommended dosage.

For even greater benefits, try adding a few drops of vitamin E oil to a thick moisturizing cream. This enhances the cream’s moisturizing benefits and helps buffer any potential irritation.

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30 Jun

Medical News Today: Allergy shots: Uses, effectiveness, and side effects

Experiencing allergies can be miserable, with watery eyes, a runny nose, rashes, and breathing problems. Some allergy sufferers try many treatments to keep their allergy symptoms at bay.

For some, medications and avoidance of the allergen (the substance that causes the allergic reaction) fail, so allergy shots may be the only option left. Fortunately, allergy shots can alleviate allergic reactions after repeated exposure.

What are allergy shots?

Allergy shot
An allergy shot may be used if previous medication and avoidance of the allergen hasn’t alleviated the symptoms.

Allergy shots are a kind of treatment known as “subcutaneous immunotherapy.”

An allergy shot is a treatment where a person with allergies is given a series of shots that contain allergens. The shots are given over a set period of time so that the individual gets used to the allergens, reducing their body’s allergic reaction to them.

Allergies occur when a person’s immune system overreacts to a foreign substance and triggers symptoms, such as:

  • sneezing
  • itching
  • rashes
  • breathing difficulties
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • swelling
  • anaphylaxis in extreme cases

Allergy shots treat the immune system’s response to an allergen, which is why this type of therapy is known as “immunotherapy.”

Uses of allergy shots

People can be allergic to many different things from food to pollen to pet dander.

Unfortunately, allergy shots are not the most effective form of treatment for all allergies. They are, however, recommended for the following allergens:

  • pollen
  • grasses
  • weeds
  • trees
  • dust
  • pet dander
  • mold
  • mites and cockroaches
  • dust
  • insect stings

Who may benefit

doctor prescribing medication
Depending on the allergy, a doctor may prescribe allergy tablets if a person has an aversion to needles.

Usually, people do not try allergy shots as the first line of allergy treatment.

Instead, allergy shots are often the last approach to allergy treatment if other treatment options fail.

Additionally, doctors may recommend allergy shots for a person if they meet any of the following criteria:

  • they are allergic to stinging insects
  • they want to reduce the use of allergy medications
  • they suffer from unpleasant side effects from their allergy medications
  • their allergy medication interacts with other medications

People who have food allergies or experience chronic hives as a result of an allergy will not benefit from allergy shots.

Also, people with severe asthma or certain heart conditions should not get allergy shots.

Allergy shots vs. allergy tablets

Allergy tablets may be an option for some people who have allergies, particularly those with an aversion to needles.

Treating an allergy with tablets is known as “sublingual immunotherapy.” Allergy pills contain a small amount of a single allergen, and a person places the tablet under their tongue where they dissolve.

However, the only allergy tablets that have been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are for allergies to ragweed and grass pollen.

What to expect

Completing a full course of allergy shots can be a lengthy process that can last for up to 5 years, and even longer in some cases. The process can be broken down into two phases.

The first phase of treatment using allergy shots lasts 3 to 6 months. During this initial phase, a person may have an injection up to three times per week.

Initially, the doses of the allergen will be very low but will increase during this first phase as immunity increases.

The second phase is the maintenance phase. For this phase of the therapy, a person will have an allergy shot about once a month, and many people continue to do so for 5 years or more.

A person receiving allergy shots can expect the following at each appointment:

  • Before the injection, the upper arm will be cleaned with alcohol.
  • A nurse or technician will administer a shot to the upper arm.
  • After the injection, the person receiving the shot will remain at the doctor’s office for about 30 minutes to make sure they do not have a severe allergic reaction.

A person getting allergy shots should not expect immediate results. Most people require allergy shots for at least 6 months before they notice a decreased allergic reaction.

Side effects

Side effects from allergy shots are minimal. These side effects include:

  • redness and swelling at the injection site
  • minor pain at the injection site
  • an increase in allergy symptoms following an injection

Most of the time, side effects are relatively mild and can be managed with pain relief or allergy medications.


Allergy shots are a relatively safe form of treatment for allergies. However, there is a fairly small risk of having a severe allergic reaction including anaphylaxis after an allergy shot.

The risk is greatest in the first half hour following the shot, which is why doctors require people to remain in the office for about 30 minutes after having the injection.


Choosing to treat allergies with allergy shots needs to be considered carefully. It is a very time- consuming method of treatment that may be expensive as well, depending on the individual’s insurance coverage.

Before deciding whether to treat allergies with allergy shots, a person may want to consider the following:

woman blowing her nose
Considerations such as cost and time should be considered before treating an allergy with allergy shots.
  • the severity of their allergies
  • the effectiveness of other treatment options
  • the time commitment needed to receive allergy shots
  • the cost

Once a person has made the decision to use allergy shots to manage their allergies they will need to commit to the injection schedule.

Allergy symptoms generally start to lessen within 6 months of the initial treatment. Over time, the treatments should greatly reduce allergic reactions.

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30 Jun

Medical News Today: What is the average height for men?

The average height for both men and women has substantially increased over the last century.

Much of this is due to better nutrition, but individual and population-level health factors have had an effect, too.

While the average man is taller than his great-grandfather, the extent to which he is taller varies greatly by region, nutritional status, and other factors.

Average height for men by region

A football team lined up on the pitch
The average height for men varies by region due to health and nutrition.

In 2010, the average American man was 69.3 inches. A century ago, the average American man was 67 inches. Though this marks a growth of more than 2 inches, the rate at which Americans are growing has actually slowed relative to other nations.

In 1896, American men were the third tallest in the world. Since then, they’ve slid to 37th place in height. This is not because Americans are shrinking; it is because other nations are growing at a more rapid rate while American height growth is slowing.

American heights have stabilized over the past 50 years. Every 20 years, Americans gained about 2 inches on their parents, but today’s children will average the same height as their parents. This is largely due to better health and nutrition.

Over the last decades, American children have faced fewer growth-stunting nutritional problems or health issues, and so they have grown taller. Because this improvement in health has persisted for the last 20 years or so, children are no longer growing taller than their parents.

A study published in eLife reports that those nations that have experienced more significant improvements in health and nutrition have also grown taller.

East Asians have seen significant height gains over the last century. Iranian men have grown more than any other men, with height increases averaging 6 inches in this time. In Sub-Saharan Africa, poor nutrition has stunted growth, reversing gains in height over the last 2 decades.

Men born in the Netherlands are the tallest, with heights averaging just under 72 inches. Eastern European men also rank near the top of the list.

Indonesian men are the shortest, with average heights of 62.25 inches. Men from Malawi are a close second, with an average height of just 63 inches. Yemen, Laos, and Madagascar also have some of the shortest men.

In Britain and Australia, men average 70 inches tall. In France, the average man is 69.5 inches. In most cases, female height tracks male height, such that nations with taller men also have taller women.

Women in Guatemala and the Philippines are among the world’s shortest, with average heights of 58 inches.

Factors that influence height

Height is 60-80 percent heritable, which means that 60-80 percent of the difference in height between people is due to genetic factors. This suggests that genetics influences the height differences between individuals living in environments that offer quality nutrition and little exposure to disease.

In more challenging conditions, factors such as diet and exposure to disease can significantly affect height.

Factors other than genetics that can affect height include:

baby being weighed
Factors that may affect height include premature birth, geographic location, and birth weight.
  • Birth weight: Birth weight is the result of many factors, including genetics and nutrition in the womb. It is a significant predictor of height.
  • Being born prematurely: Premature babies tend to have a lower birth weight, and prematurity is also an independent factor affecting height. Premature babies may grow into shorter adults.
  • Hormones: Hormones affect growth throughout life, and especially during puberty. Hormonal imbalances can make people unusually tall or short.
  • Nutrition: Nutrition is a major factor in height. Individuals who have poor nutrition, especially those who do not get enough calcium, vitamin D, and other vitamins and minerals, may not grow as tall.
  • Geographic location: There is a significant relationship between geographic location and ethnicity, which is related to height. Beyond this factor, location affects exposure to natural sunlight, a source of vitamin D. Location can also affect access to healthful food, poverty, and overall health.
  • Stunted growth: Factors that stunt growth, such as eating disorders, severe illnesses, and exposure to some medications, can cause people to grow less tall than they otherwise would.

Medical conditions that cause extremes in height

Health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, and cancer can affect height. A handful of other conditions can also cause extremes in height.


Achondroplasia is a medical condition that causes unusually short arms and legs. It is also the leading cause of dwarfism. People with achondroplasia average about 48 inches tall.

Spondyloepiphyseal dysplasias (SED)

SED causes a shorter than average trunk. It’s also genetic, but it is often not diagnosed until middle childhood.

Diastrophic dysplasia

Diastrophic dysplasia is a rare genetic form of dwarfism that shortens the calves and forearms.

People with dwarfism may experience a variety of health issues. SED, for example, can cause severe osteoarthritis.

Pituitary tumors

Children who have an adenoma, a tumor of the pituitary gland, may secrete too much growth hormone. This causes them to grow much taller than they otherwise would.

Gigantism is almost always the result of a pituitary tumor, though some rare medical conditions can also cause excessive growth. These include:

  • Carney complex
  • neurofibromatosis
  • McCune-Albright syndrome
  • multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1

People who are abnormally tall are also at risk of a wide number of health issues. Their excessive size can strain the metabolic system and cause cardiovascular problems, including an enlarged heart.

Weight and height: How they are related and why it matters

Weight and height are connected in terms of health. A healthy body mass index (BMI) involves a greater weight as height increases. This means that one person could be considered severely obese and another could be seriously underweight if they had substantially different heights while weighing the same.

A healthy BMI ranges from 18.5 to 24.9. BMIs between 25 and 29.9 are considered overweight, while a BMI above 30 indicates obesity. A BMI below 18.5 is considered underweight.

For an average man with a height of 69 inches, a healthy weight is between 128-168 pounds.

People with BMIs that are too low or too high are vulnerable to a wide range of medical conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and metabolic syndromes.

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Source: medicalnewstoday

30 Jun

Medical News Today: Disturbed sleep might worsen suicidal thoughts

a woman having trouble sleeping
Researchers have linked sleep disturbances to an increase in suicidal thoughts.
Insomnia, nightmares, and erratic sleep times could be indicators of worsening suicidal thoughts among young adults, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that young adults who experienced sleep disturbances were more likely to have suicidal thoughts over the subsequent 3 weeks, compared with young adults who slept well.

Lead author Rebecca Bernert, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University in California, and colleagues recently reported their findings in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

Statistics show that in 2015, suicide was responsible for more than 44,000 deaths in the United States, making it the tenth leading cause of death in the country.

What is more, in 2014, more than 1 million adults in the U.S. reported a suicide attempt, and a further 9.4 million adults reported having suicidal thoughts.

Needless to say, suicide is a major public health concern, and there is a need to identify risk factors for suicide, so that preventive measures can be put in place.

The new study from Dr. Bernert and team suggests that sleep disturbances could be one such factor.

How sleep influences suicidal thoughts

To reach their findings, the researchers enrolled 50 adults aged 18 to 23 years old. All participants either had a history of suicide attempts or had recent thoughts of suicide.

For 1 week, participants were required to wear an accelerometer on their wrist each night. This enabled the researchers to monitor their wrist movements, which previous research has shown is a reliable indicator of sleep-wake patterns.

The participants also completed questionnaires detailing the severity of insomnia, nightmares, depression, alcohol intake, and suicidal thoughts. Questionnaires were completed at study baseline, as well as 1 and 3 weeks after sleep monitoring.

Compared with participants who fell asleep and awoke at similar times each day, those who had greater variability in their sleep and wake times – particularly the former – were more likely to have suicidal thoughts 1 and 3 weeks later.

What is more, subjects who had greater variability in sleep times were also more likely to experience insomnia and nightmares, and both of these were independent predictors of suicidal thoughts.

“Insomnia and nightmares beget more variability in when we are able to then fall asleep on subsequent nights, which speaks to the way in which insomnia develops,” notes Dr. Bernert.

“Sleep is a barometer of our well-being, and directly impacts how we feel the next day,” she adds. “We believe poor sleep may fail to provide an emotional respite during times of distress, impacting how we regulate our mood, and thereby lowering the threshold for suicidal behaviors.”

Even after accounting for the severity of depression among participants, the link between sleep disturbances and suicidal thoughts remained.

‘A target for suicide prevention’

Based on their findings, Dr. Bernert and team believe that insomnia, variability in sleep-wake times, and other sleep disturbances may be a predictor of suicidal thoughts among young adults – a population most commonly affected by suicide.

As Dr. Bernert says, sleep disturbances “may represent an important treatment target in suicide prevention.”

The team is already in the process of conducting two clinical trials, in which non-drug treatments for insomnia are being tested for their efficacy in preventing suicidal behaviors.

“Compared to other risk factors for suicide, disturbed sleep is modifiable and highly treatable using brief, fast-acting interventions,” says Dr. Bernert.

Because sleep is something we universally experience, and we may be more willing to openly talk about it relative to our mental health, we believe its study may represent an important opportunity for suicide prevention.”

Rebecca Bernert, Ph.D.

Learn how an enzyme discovery may bring us closer to a suicide prevention drug.

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Source: medicalnewstoday

30 Jun

Medical News Today: Work-life balance in medicine with a side gig

Medical student second career
Having a second career in addition to medicine helps some doctors to find work-life balance.
Many pre-med students share one goal: acceptance at a top medical school to become a great physician. The myriad challenges of school prepare them for the ultimate responsibility of protecting their patients’ health. But what about these new doctors and their own health?

Many physicians try to avoid burnout by striking a balance between their professional and personal lives and other interests that they may have. This focus on work-life balance is sometimes sniffed at by established physicians, labeled as a “new concept” valued only by the younger generation.

“Medicine shouldn’t be a part-time interest to be set aside if it becomes inconvenient; it deserves to be a life’s work,” argued Karen S. Sibert, M.D., in a New York TimesOp-Ed in 2011, which was met with widespread debate.

But these attitudes have started to shift greatly in light of the effects of burnout.

Burnout increases the risk of making medical errors and affects approximately 45 percent of physicians in the United States, which is more than any other profession. Burnout has also been linked to major depressive disorder and suicide; the physical exhaustion and stress are often too much to bear.

The old approach to medicine is certainly changing quickly with the development of mentorship programs and a reduction in required work hours. But what else are physicians doing to maintain work-life balance and avoid burnout?

Pursuing a side gig

Many physicians know that they want to be doctors from a young age. But maybe they also liked to paint, play the violin, or write. Yet finding time to incorporate other interests into their life in medicine can be challenging.

For some physicians, hobbies are pursued in their spare time, while for others, starting a side gig based on these interests has helped them to keep their work-life balance by allowing them to fulfill different passions.

Chef in medicine

As a child growing up in Iowa, Michelle Hauser, M.D., knew that she wanted to be a doctor but also loved to cook.

Following culinary school, she interned at a restaurant in Berkeley, a farm-to-table establishment that opened her eyes to the importance of eating fresh, healthful food. She taught cooking classes and was astonished at how her students’ health transformed after switching their diets.

“I’m really thankful for the experiences I had taking cooking school and teaching cooking classes because I saw that people really do make healthy changes because they realized that food that is healthy can also be delicious,” Dr. Hauser told Medical News Today.

Dr. Hauser later entered Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA, with a fresh perspective on nutrition and health.

She was determined to bring what she had learned to her medical career. Her passion for working with under-served communities also led her to pursue additional training in public policy and leadership.

Dr. Hauser is now tackling research in epidemiology with a postdoctoral fellowship in cardiovascular disease prevention at the Stanford Prevention Research Center in California. She is also working part-time as a primary care physician and is on the Board of Directors for the American College of Lifestyle Medicine and other organizations.

She spends around 2 to 6 hours per week running a cooking and nutrition website in addition to her other duties.

Dr. Hauser calls her path to medicine an “unlikely journey,” but her story is a key example of how physicians can successfully work to balance their passions with their medical practice.

The beat goes on

Not all side gigs come with an apron. Rupa Marya, M.D., has a passion for music and knew that she wanted to pursue both medicine and music from a young age.

Dr. Marya attended the University of California at San Diego for her undergraduate degree and pursued her medical degree at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., while keeping her musical interests separate from her professional life.

“I went through medical school tortured because I didn’t understand how I was going to be able to live my life in a way that I felt I had to,” said Dr. Marya.

Near the end of her time at medical school, Dr. Marya’s father passed away and she realized that she needed to stop worrying; she just had to push forward and try to make both careers work.

She found solace in a colleague who was a novelist pursuing a flexible track in training so that he had time to work on his writing.

This prompted her to discuss this alternate training path with her program director who fully supported her decision to pursue her side gig in music. And she did just that.

“I found that [a] really healthy, vibrant, and beautiful dynamic would make me more engaged as a clinician. I think it’s taught me how to listen more deeply to patients and it also shapes how I am as an artist because [of] the stories and the encounters I have as a physician,” Dr. Marya told MNT.

Her music career has been heavily influenced by her medical career. The stories of patients she treats are often echoed in the lyrics and emotional tone of her songs. To her, one cannot exist without the other.

Dr. Marya currently splits her time working as a hospitalist at the University of California, San Francisco, where she works for just over half of the year. The remainder of her time is spent touring with her band, Rupa & The April Fishes.

Advice for physicians pursuing a side gig

For physicians who have been thinking about taking their interests or hobbies to the next level, there are likely a plethora of questions and trepidations about how to get started and what to do next.

Dr. Hauser and Dr. Marya both experienced similar challenges on their way to forging uniques path in medicine, and they offered the following advice.

Prioritize what you want early in your career

Dr. Hauser recommended taking stock and asking “what are all the things I’m doing, what are the most important things to me, what am I willing to do so that I can combine these things… what am I not willing to do, how much am I willing to compromise on things?”

Dr. Marya said, “I noticed some folks that a little later in their careers started thinking about priorities but it might be good to start thinking about it when you’re in training and to insist upon it.”

Look to your colleagues for guidance

“Meeting other people who were doing this was helpful,” Dr. Marya said. “Also just thinking about the priorities that I have that are different than my colleagues and allowing them to be different.”

Be your own advocate

Dr. Hauser explained that you “have to be really good at selling yourself and what you do if you want to do [nontraditional] things.”

Consider integrating your side gig into your medical career

“A lot of times you don’t keep [your other interests] separate, you end up integrating them somehow because you just don’t have a lot of extra hours in the day,” Dr. Hauser said. “A couple of my friends that are really great musicians have found ways to make money for hospital charities by putting on concerts or coming in and playing for patients.”

Put your health and well-being first

“I always get in exercise every day and I eat well every day; I get enough sleep for most of the time,” Dr. Hauser explained. “I don’t think I could be functioning and doing the things I’m doing if I didn’t take care of myself first.”

Both Dr. Hauser and Dr. Marya strongly recommended that physicians talk to their colleagues and mentors about their other interests, and that they keep their passion for non-medical interests as they go through their training.

But has following their own non-medical interests helped to them deal with the rigors and demands of medical training and practice?

Indeed it has. Both Dr. Hauser and Dr. Marya felt that their side gigs helped them to stay focused and endure the long hours and stress they experienced as medical students and residents, as well as in their medical duties today.

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Source: medicalnewstoday

30 Jun

FDA Seeks to Increase Number of Generic Drugs

New measures to increase the number of generic prescription drugs available to Americans were announced Tuesday by the Food and Drug Administration.

The agency will now give priority reviews to new generic drugs until there are at least three on the market, the Associated Press reported.

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That number tends to trigger sharp price decreases, up to to 85 percent off the brand name price.

The FDA also published its first list of brand name drugs that are no longer protected by a patent but don’t yet have generic competitors, the AP reported.

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Source: MediciNet