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Millions of Americans may be getting the wrong treatment to prevent a heart attack or stroke, a new study suggests. Prescriptions for blood-thinning aspirin, cholesterol-lowering statins and blood pressure medications might be incorrect because a tool that estimates risk appears to be off by as much as 20 percent, Stanford University researchers reported. That means almost 12 million Americans could have the wrong medication, according to the team led by Dr. Sanjay Basu, an assistant professor of medicine. It appears medications are overprescribed in many cases. But for black patients, outdated risk calculations may actually underestimate risk, the study authors said. Risk estimate tools predict the likelihood of a future heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years. Doctors use these tools to help them decide what treatment a patient needs, if any at all. But these tools are only helpful if they’re accurate. There’s been concern that some of the statistical methods used to develop a commonly used risk estimate tool in 2013 may be prone to miscalculating risk. “What initially prompted us to do this study was a patient I had, an African-American gentleman who I thought was at pretty high risk for a heart attack or stroke. But when I put his information into the web calculator, it returned a bizarrely low-risk estimate,” explained Basu. When he looked into this issue,…  read on >

(HealthDay News) — Your weight can be a strong indicator of your general health. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute says three weight calculations are good predictors of how healthy you are: body mass index (BMI), waist circumference and risk factors for diseases and conditions associated with obesity. BMI is calculated from your height and weight. The higher your BMI, the higher your risk for certain diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, gallstones, breathing problems and certain cancers, the agency says. If most fat is around your waist rather than at your hips, you’re at a higher risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. This risk goes up with a waist size that is greater than 35 inches for women or greater than 40 inches for men, the agency says. To measure your waist, stand and place a tape measure around your middle, just above your hips. Measure your waist just after you breathe out. And along with being obese, certain conditions increase your risk of heart disease and other chronic medical problems. These factors include: High blood pressure. High LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Low HDL (“good”) cholesterol. High triglycerides. High blood sugar. Family history of early heart disease. Insufficient exercise. Smoking.

Not every food you eat has to be low-calorie when you want to lose weight. There are many nutritious and tasty foods that can help you feel satisfied, rather than deprived, and that’s important when you’re facing calorie restrictions day in and day out. The key to including them is careful portion control. Nuts are heart-healthy, especially almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts, but they come in at about 180 calories per ounce, so make that your daily nut limit. You’ll often see a portion described as a “handful,” but that’s too subjective a way to measure them. Use a food scale. Sweet potatoes have 120 calories per half-cup, but when slow roasted, they don’t need any toppings, especially not butter, which could easily double the calories. These vitamin A powerhouses are filling and loaded with many other nutrients, making them a very worthy vegetable among starches. Yes, olive oil is a fat. However, it’s a mono-unsaturated fat, which won’t raise your cholesterol level — unlike saturated fats like butter and lard. Though it’s 120 calories per tablespoon, all you need is a drizzle of oil for salad dressing or to saute vegetables or a chicken breast. To be very judicious with your use, use an oil sprayer. Avocadoes are rich in a wide variety of nutrients and taste rich, too –important when you’re trying to eat…  read on >

(HealthDay News) — Fish is a protein-rich food that may be very nutritious. But it can also harbor dangerous levels of mercury that could add it to the “do not eat” list for some people, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says. The FDA offers these suggestions for kids and women of child-bearing age: Don’t eat fish more than two or three times per week, especially if you’re pregnant or trying to become pregnant. Eat a variety of fish. Limit children to 1-2 servings of fish a week. Don’t feed fish to infants or toddlers younger than 2. If you eat fish that is caught locally, check for advisories. If there are none, eat one serving and no more fish that week.

Recalls of assorted foods and different brands of ice cream over the past few years have put a spotlight on the germ known as listeria. And though many of these cases happened during manufacturing, the potential for contamination is actually greater for foods after they’ve arrived at supermarkets and other food stores. And one item at particular risk is store-sliced deli meat. One study that tested samples over 6 months in the deli departments of chain supermarkets in three states found listeria in almost 10 percent of samples. Even if surfaces that come into contact with food, such as meat slicers, are cleaned thoroughly, listeria can be transferred unintentionally from moist areas where it hides — even floors and drains. And unlike other types of bacteria, it can live and grow at some refrigerator temperatures. Listeria is a type of bacteria that can cause listeriosis, a serious food-borne infection. An estimated 1,600 Americans get listeriosis each year, and about 260 die. The infection is most likely to sicken pregnant women and their newborns, adults 65 or older, and people with weakened immune systems, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you’re healthy, eating contaminated food may cause typical food poisoning symptoms that you’ll recover from. But symptoms of listeriosis include diarrhea, upset stomach, fever, aches and chills, and can take days…  read on >

A computer can beat even highly experienced dermatologists in spotting deadly melanomas, researchers report. The study is the latest to test the idea that “artificial intelligence” can improve medical diagnoses. Typically, it works like this: Researchers develop an algorithm using “deep learning” — where the computer system essentially mimics the brain’s neural networks. It’s exposed to a large number of images — of breast tumors, for example — and it teaches itself to recognize key features. The new study pitted a well-honed computer algorithm against 58 dermatologists, to see whether machine or humans were better at differentiating melanomas from moles. It turned out the algorithm was usually more accurate. It missed fewer melanomas, and was less likely to misdiagnose a benign mole as cancer. That does not mean computers will someday be diagnosing skin cancer, said lead researcher Dr. Holger Haenssle, of the University of Heidelberg in Germany. “I don’t think physicians will be replaced,” Haenssle said. Instead, he explained, doctors could use artificial intelligence (AI) as a tool. “In the future, AI may help physicians focus on the most suspicious skin lesions,” Haenssle said. A patient might, for instance, undergo whole-body photography (a technology that’s already available), then have those images “interpreted” by a computer algorithm. “In the next step,” Haenssle explained, “the physician may examine only those lesions labeled as ‘suspicious’ by the…  read on >

Pot is increasingly replacing cigarettes and alcohol as the first drug of choice among young Americans, researchers have found. Boys, black Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics and multi-racial Americans were the most likely to turn to marijuana before other recreational drugs, the new report suggests. For the study, the investigators analyzed nationwide surveys done between 2004 and 2014 that assessed drug use among 275,000 American boys and girls aged 12 to 21. “We also observed a significant increase in youth abstaining from substance use altogether, which rose from 36 percent to 46 percent, and therefore, it is unclear the degree to which increases in those initiating marijuana first could be due to youth abstaining or delaying cigarettes,” said study author Brian Fairman. He’s a researcher with the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The concern is that studies have shown that young Americans whose first recreational drug is marijuana are more likely to end up becoming heavy users, the study authors noted. The report was published online recently in the journal Prevention Science. According to Fairman, the findings also suggest that American Indian/Alaska Natives and black youth are important targets for prevention programs, because these groups are less likely to have access to drug treatment or successful treatment outcomes. “To the degree these trends continue and greater numbers of youth start with marijuana…  read on >

If mindless eating can put on the pounds, it stands to reason that mindful eating can help with diet success. In fact, studies show that “eating-focused” mindfulness can bring significant changes in weight, in how you approach food, and even in psychological well-being. This makes it especially helpful for binge eaters, but it’s also good for anyone whose first reaction to stress or any uncomfortable emotion is to reach for food. The goal of mindfulness is to help you develop a greater awareness of true hunger and the feeling of fullness, and to identify and work through the various triggers that lead to unnecessary eating. One simple way to apply the principles of mindfulness it to keep an eating diary. Whether in a traditional journal or through a food tracking app, you want to write down not just what you’re eating but also why you’re eating — are you hungry or just bored or stressed? To delve deeper into the practice of mindful eating, your options range from books for self-starters to training through mindfulness-based weight loss programs with weekly group meetings. These meetings can include one or more forms of meditation as well as mindful-eating homework so you can put into action what you learn in class. As with any technique designed to change behavior, the more effort you put in between sessions, the…  read on >

(HealthDay News) — Eating lots of cruciferous vegetables — such as kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower — could lower your risk of developing heart disease, Australian researchers say. Study results published in the Journal of the American Heart Association explored whether there was a link between the thickness of the neck arteries, the severity of plaque buildup, and veggie consumption. The study concluded that older women who ate more cruciferous vegetables had healthier carotid arteries. The exact reasons for the link — including why cruciferous veggies seemed to have a more protective effect — aren’t known, the researchers said. The study focused on older Australian women because the scientists said heart disease is often thought of as a “male” disease. Additional research hopes to establish whether the study results extend to men, as well.

Your blood mght be a thirst quencher for mosquitoes during a drought. A new study found that while female mosquitoes need the protein in blood to lay eggs, they also bite you to stay hydrated. According to the research team from the University of Cincinnati, learning more about how often these insects need to drink blood in dry conditions could lead to new ways to fight mosquito-borne diseases. These diseases include malaria, West Nile virus, yellow fever, dengue fever, Zika and Eastern equine encephalitis. “It makes sense,” said study co-author Elise Didion, a biology student. “We find the highest transmission rates of West Nile virus during droughts because mosquitoes may use blood meals to replace the water they lose,” she said in a university news release. Biology professor Joshua Benoit added that the findings will “make for better modeling for when disease outbreaks occur. When it’s dry, it might be easier for a mosquito to locate a host than limited supplies of water or nectar.” Benoit said mosquitoes don’t often seek a blood meal when they have ample water and hydration. “Normally only 5 or 10 percent of female mosquitoes will feed at any time, depending on the species,” he said. “Dehydration has a big impact on whether they feed normally or not.” In the lab, his team found dehydration led up to 30 percent…  read on >