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SATURDAY, Dec. 2, 2023 (Healthday News) — The holidays are typically a happy whirlwind of gift-buying, house decorating, party planning and family gatherings, but all that work can also stress people out. Luckily, experts at UT Southwestern Medical Center say there are things you can do to keep your stress levels under control and help make your holidays happy. “Excess stress wears and tears on our bodies,” said Rita Smith, a clinical social worker in the Clinical Heart and Vascular Center at UT Southwestern. “The best holiday gifts you can give yourself are equal doses of self-care and grace.” Start with realistic expectations, which will ease the pressure of trying to be perfect. Remembering the holidays are all about gratitude will also help, said Sarah Woods, vice chair of research in UT Southwestern’s Department of Family and Community Medicine. “Think about what you’re grateful for and put it in writing,” Woods suggested in a university news release. “Focusing on the good can help you relax and cope with the not-so-good.” Another stressor during the holidays? Money. Smith said it’s best to make a spending plan for gifts and celebrations because holiday debts can be overwhelming. So, try to be practical yet creative with your gifting. Then there’s family relationships, which are sometimes strained. Woods said stress linked to difficult family relationships can produce more cortisol.…  read on >  read on >

A new study of identical twins has provided fresh evidence that a vegan diet can vastly improve a person’s heart health. Twins assigned a vegan diet for two months had significant improvements in cholesterol, insulin and body weight compared to their siblings, who ate a healthy diet that included animal protein. “Based on these results and thinking about longevity, most of us would benefit from going to a more plant-based diet,” said researcher Christopher Gardner, a professor of medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine. It’s well-known that cutting back on meat consumption improves heart health, but differences between participants in diet studies — things like genetics, upbringing and lifestyle choices — make it hard for researchers to draw definitive conclusions. Gardner and his colleagues chose to study identical twins because they share the same genetics, grew up in the same household and often have similar lifestyles. “Not only did this study provide a groundbreaking way to assert that a vegan diet is healthier than the conventional omnivore diet, but the twins were also a riot to work with,” Gardner noted in a university news release. “They dressed the same, they talked the same and they had a banter between them that you could have only if you spent an inordinate amount of time together.” The research team recruited 22 pairs of identical twins…  read on >  read on >

Got a naturally sunny disposition? It might protect you from dementia as the years advance, new research shows. A team at Northwestern University in Chicago report that certain personality traits — being conscientious, outgoing and positive — appear to lower a person’s odds for a dementia diagnosis. On the other hand, being neurotic and more negative in outlook and behavior was tied to a higher risk for mental decline, the same study found. The good news: Daily behaviors are probably the key factor here, and behaviors can be changed. People’s personalities can influence whether or not daily habits are healthy or unhealthy for the brain, explained a team led by researcher Eileen Graham, an associate professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern. “Neuroticism is related to dementia decline, and people with neuroticism are more prone to anxiousness, moodiness and worry, whereas conscientious people are more likely to exercise, make and go to preventive health appointments and drink less,” Graham said in a university news release. “So, maybe that’s where an intervention might be useful to improve someone’s health behaviors for better health outcomes,” Graham reasoned. The new analysis focused on what psychologists have long called the “Big Five” personality traits: conscientiousness, extraversion, openness to experience, neuroticism and agreeableness. Graham’s team looked at data from eight studies. Together, the studies included more than 44,000 people —…  read on >  read on >

Doing some squats during commercial breaks or between YouTube videos can help couch potatoes keep their minds sharp, a new study suggests. Young volunteers who did short sets of squat exercises every now and then while relaxing performed better in brain games than when they simply sat around for hours, researchers report. Short bursts of exercise might help the brains of people who spend long periods on the couch or behind a desk, the study concluded. “Our half-squat intervention may be able to be used by individuals seeking to break up their sedentary behavior in an effort to preserve cognition during times, such as in the workplace,” the researchers wrote. For the study, a group of young adult volunteers participated in two scenarios: sitting without interruption for three hours; or sitting for three hours but performing a minute of half-squats every 20 minutes. In both settings, the researchers measured volunteers’ blood pressure, blood flow through the carotid artery — which accounts for 75% of total blood flow to the brain — and heart rate after 10 minutes, one hour, two hours and three hours. At the end of each trial, the volunteers completed three thinking tests. In one test, participants were asked to quickly identify if a word they were shown – “red,” “blue,” “yellow,” “green” or “black” – was printed in the same color…  read on >  read on >

Bodybuilders are largely unaware that the protein supplements they use to bulk up might harm their fertility, a new study shows. Four out of five male gym enthusiasts (79%) said they use protein supplements as part of their fitness plan, the poll found. But only 14% had considered how those supplements — which contain high levels of the female hormone estrogen — might impact their fertility, researchers found. “Too much female hormone can cause problems with the amount and quality of sperm that a man can produce,” explained lead researcher Meurig Gallagher, an assistant professor studying infertility at the University of Birmingham in the U.K. Men taking these protein supplements also might be unintentionally dosing themselves with steroids, Gallagher added. “Many protein supplements that can be bought have been found to be contaminated by anabolic steroids, which can cause reduced sperm count, shrunken testicles and erectile dysfunction, amongst other things,” Gallagher said. For this study, Gallagher and his colleagues surveyed 152 avid gym-goers. They found that more than half (52%) of male participants had thought about their fertility prior to being asked. “We found that men are genuinely curious about their fertility when prompted, but that they don’t think about it on their own – likely because societally people still think of fertility as a ‘female issue’ and [incorrectly] believe that men’s fertility doesn’t change…  read on >  read on >

The repeat head injuries suffered by football players, boxers and other athletes appear to affect brain health long after players have given up their sport. New research from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore could explain why: The persistence in the brain of inflammation tied to the original injury or injuries. “The findings show that participating in repeated collision sports like football may have a direct link to long-term inflammation in the brain,” study senior author Dr. Jennifer Coughlin said in a university news release. She’s an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Hopkins. Key to the new findings is a brain “repair protein,” with the unwieldy name of 18 kDa translocator protein — shortened to TSPO. Whenever a brain sustains injury, TSPO levels quickly rise as the brain tries to heal. TSPO is closely associated with immune cells in the brain called microglia, Coughlin’s group noted. It was thought that spikes in TSPO were only temporary. However, prior studies revealed that levels of the pro-inflammatory protein can remain elevated for up to 17 years. In the new study, the Hopkins team examined PET and MRI brain scans of 27 former NFL players, taken between 2018 and early 2023. They used the scans to compare levels of TSPO in the football players’ brains to those seen in brain scans of 27 former pro college…  read on >  read on >

FRIDAY, DEC. 1, 2023 (Healthday News) — Millions of American kids and teens love to play the game of baseball, but the sport can leave many with elbow pain and injuries, new research finds. “When we look at the forces that baseball players, even Little League baseball players, deal with during routine practice and games, it becomes apparent why elbow injuries are so common amongst this group,” said study co-author Vandan Patel, a radiology-orthopedics research scholar at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) in Philadelphia. Recent estimates show that 20% to 40% of youth baseball players between the ages of 9 and 12 complain of elbow pain at least once during the season, the researchers noted. “This does not mean that elbow injuries are inevitable in baseball,” Patel noted. “With proper technique and proper rest, these injuries could potentially be avoided.” What sets these youngsters up for injury in the first place? Throwing a baseball repeatedly stresses the growing bones, joints and muscles of the elbows of players. “We conducted this study in order to better understand the patterns of injuries that can occur among youth baseball players with elbow pain,” said senior study author Dr. Jie Nguyen, director for the section of musculoskeletal imaging in CHOP’s Department of Radiology. “A younger player injures differently than an older player. It is our hope that this data…  read on >  read on >

The latest national data show that when it comes to suicide, Americans are increasingly resorting to firearms as their method of choice.  An analysis by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that of the nearly 50,000 suicides recorded in the United States in 2022, more than half (27,000) involved a gun.   Gun-related suicides have been on the rise over the past two decades, but they jumped by 11% during the pandemic, reported a team led by Wojciech Kaczkowski, of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.  “The persistent upward trend in firearm suicide rates since 2020 across all racial and ethnic groups, coupled with unprecedented high rates during 2022, highlight the need for continuing prevention efforts,” the researchers said in their report. In sheer numbers, white Americans suffered the highest death toll from gun suicide, the report found. But the rate at which guns are being used in suicides is rising fastest among minorities, Kaczkowski’s group noted. For example, while the rate of suicides by firearm rose by 9% among white Americans between 2019 and 2022, it rose by 28% among Hispanic Americans, 42% among Black Americans and 66% among American Indians/Alaska Natives, the study found. Why the sharp rise? Unemployment pressures during the pandemic and lack of access to mental health care may have played a…  read on >  read on >

Teens glued to Instagram, TikTok and other social media are more likely to drink, take drugs, smoke and engage in risky sexual behaviors, a new review warns. For example, spending at least two hours a day on social media doubled the odds of alcohol consumption, compared with less than two hours daily use, researchers report in the Nov. 29 issue of BMJ. The results show that teens are particularly susceptible to social media depictions of risky health behaviors like alcohol use or unhealthy eating, the investigators said. “Experimental and risk-taking behaviors are an inherent part of adolescence,” the team concluded in a journal news release. “However, as safeguards for a digital world are still evolving, precaution across academic, governmental, health and educational sectors may be warranted before the risks of adolescents’ use of social media is fully understood.” For the review, researchers analyzed more than 250 social media measures reported in 73 studies conducted between 1997 and 2022, involving 1.4 million kids ages 10 to 19. The pooled data showed that frequent or daily social media use is associated with a 48% increased risk of alcohol consumption, a 28% increased risk of drug use and an 85% increased risk of smoking, compared to infrequent surfing of social media. Social media seems to have an influence over teens’ sexual choices as well. Frequent or daily social…  read on >  read on >

Women in a Chinese study who sat for more than six hours each day faced substantially higher odds of developing uterine fibroids before menopause, a new study has found. Overall, more sedentary women had double the risk of developing the often painful and harmful uterine growths prior to menopause, say a team led by Dr. Qiong Meng , of Kunming Medical University in Kunming, China. Why the link? Obesity linked to a ‘couch potato’ lifestyle could be one factor, since “studies have shown that obesity is a risk factor for uterine fibroids,” Meng’s group noted. Sedentary lifestyles and obesity are also tied to rising levels of circulating estrogen, as well as other hormones known to contribute to fibroids, the team added. Finally, being sedentary can also help lead to deficiencies in vitamin D — yet another risk factor for these growths. The findings were published Nov. 29 in the journal BMJ Open. According to the study team, uterine fibroids are benign tumors that are exceedingly common among women. They sometimes cause no symptoms, but in many cases can trigger “abnormal bleeding, pain in the pelvic and abdominal organs, adverse reproductive outcomes of infertility,” the researchers noted. Sometimes fibroids become so severe that a hysterectomy is advised. In the new study, Meng’s team analyzed data on over 6,600 women from across China who were between the…  read on >  read on >