If more Americans ate healthier diets, the nation could save tens of billions of dollars in health care costs for major problems such as heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, strokes, hip fractures and Alzheimer’s disease. That’s the conclusion of a new study in which researchers assessed different scenarios and determined that boosting the number of Americans with healthy eating habits could save between $21 billion and $135 billion a year in health care costs. The amounts varied depending on how many more people improved their eating patterns and the type of diet they followed, according to the researchers. The researchers suggested foods such as fish, nuts, fruits and olive oil as components of a healthful diet. The study is scheduled for presentation Sunday at the American Society for Nutrition annual meeting, in Boston. “We found that increasing adherence to healthy dietary patterns by even 20 percent at a population level has the potential to save more than $20 billion in both direct and indirect costs associated with 10 major health outcomes,” said study lead author Carolyn Scrafford, senior managing scientist at Exponent, a scientific consulting firm. “That’s a significant saving from what we believe is a realistic shift in diet quality,” she said in a society news release. “Our results suggest that it’s worthwhile to educate Americans on these dietary patterns and their components,…  read on >

Studies show that depression is underreported. People aren’t getting the help they need, sometimes because they don’t know the warning signs or where to turn, or are embarrassed because of the stigma that can still surround mental health issues. But the numbers are too great to ignore. Up to 26 percent of U.S. women and up to 12 percent of men will experience major depression at some point in their lives. In any given year, that’s 16 million American adults. As many as one in 33 children and one in eight teens also struggle with depression — that’s 9 percent of kids aged 12 to 17 in any given year. And new research suggests these numbers may be even higher. It’s important to recognize signs of depression in yourself or a loved one, including a child, and to get help from a doctor. Signs of depression: Persistent sadness, anxiety or an “empty” feeling Hopelessness, guilt, worthlessness, helplessness Loss of interest in hobbies and favorite activities A lack of energy and persistent fatigue Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions Difficulty sleeping, early morning awakening or oversleeping Appetite and/or weight changes Restlessness or irritability Physical symptoms including pain Thoughts of death or contemplating suicide Take immediate action if you or a loved one is having suicidal thoughts. If you’re thinking of harming yourself or attempting suicide: Call 911…  read on >

Many migraine sufferers skip recommended behavioral treatments, such as stress management and talk therapy, a new study finds. Lack of time, cost and skepticism are among the reasons why, said Dr. Mia Minen, director of research for NYU Langone’s headache division in New York City. Previous studies have shown that treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy, stress management, relaxation techniques and biofeedback may reduce migraine symptoms by 50 percent or more, Minen and her team said. (Biofeedback involves using a monitoring device to reduce muscle tension.) These treatments can cost less than medications and have long-term benefits for migraine reduction, the researchers noted. “Migraines can be debilitating, so it stands to reason that many patients would want to access a treatment that reduces symptoms by half. However, our research shows this is far from the case,” Minen said in an NYU news release. Migraine headaches affect about 36 million Americans. The moderate to severe throbbing headaches are often accompanied by nausea and/or vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. For the study, Minen and her colleagues looked at 53 migraine patients who were referred for behavioral treatment with a specially trained therapist. The patients were interviewed within three months of their initial appointment. Only 30 (57 percent) made an appointment for behavioral treatment. Patients who had previously seen a psychologist were more likely to begin…  read on >

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 >

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 >

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 >

People with heart failure who are socially isolated are more likely to be hospitalized or die prematurely than those who feel connected to others, new research suggests. The study authors said screening heart failure patients to identify those who lack social support might help to improve outcomes. Previous studies have shown that social isolation may increase the risk of depression and anxiety. For the latest study, researchers examined the effects of isolation on risk of death and use of medical care. The investigators asked nearly 1,700 heart failure patients if they were lonely or if they felt socially isolated. The participants, who lived in southeastern Minnesota, had an average age of 73 years. Most were white and slightly more than half were men. Roughly 6 percent of the patients said that they felt socially isolated, according to the report. Compared to those who felt socially connected, those who said they were isolated had a 3.7 times greater risk of early death, a 1.7 times greater risk of hospitalization, and a 1.6 times greater risk of visiting the emergency department, the findings showed. “Our study found a patient’s sense of feelings of loneliness or isolation may contribute to poor prognosis in heart failure,” said the study’s senior author, Lila Rutten. She is a professor of health services research at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “Health…  read on >