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September 30, 2011 at 8:00 AMComments: 3 Faves: 0

The Week in Health

By Smarty More Blogs by This Author

The new and novel, weird and wonderful, week in health news. THIS Week in Health.

9/24 – The Best Pain Relief Comes from Many Sources

It’s funny how particular some people can be when it comes to their preferred pain reliever. Some are dedicated aspirin users, while others are die-hard fans of ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Now, research is showing there may actually be a good reason for this. Pain specialists have found that when it comes to pain and the best reliever for it – everyone’s a little different.

"Human beings, person to person to person, are very different in the way they respond to drugs, and one size does not fit all." explains president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine, Dr. Perry Fine. Research shows slight genetic differences in our pain receptors affect the way we process pain drugs.

A study compared 38 different pain treatments including common drugs like aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen as well as more powerful prescription opiate drugs and combinations of two or three of these together. The result? There was no single drug treatment that came out on top! While a pain reliever would work great from one person, another may get nothing at all from it. The best results they had came from the combo treatments - combining lower doses of a few different pain relievers.

However, Fine offered this word of caution – high doses of pain relievers can cause serious side effects and even death. Working with your doctor to find a safe and effective combination is the best and smartest thing you can do for pain relief.


9/25 – Coffee Keeps the Blues Away

One day it’s good for you, the next, it’s not – coffee is a beverage with a lot of interest from the medical community these days! Well, here’s one more study one the pro coffee side that’s bringing new meaning to the “best part of waking up”.

A huge participant group of over 50,000 American women recorded their beverage consumption over the course of ten years. Of these, 2,607 reported a new diagnosis of clinical depression and two years of regular antidepressant use during this period – occurrences researchers are linking to coffee consumption.

Compared to women that drank one cup or less of coffee, women who drank two or three cups were 15% less likely to suffer from depression and women who drank four or more were 20% less likely.

"In this large prospective cohort of older women free of clinical depression or severe depressive symptoms at baseline, risk of depression decreased in a dose-dependent manner with increasing consumption of caffeinated coffee… (however, this study) cannot prove that caffeine or caffeinated coffee reduces the risk of depression but only suggests the possibility of such a protective effect.” said study authors.


9/26 – Spontaneous Human Combustion Claims Coroner

Here’s one for the weird news file.

The mysterious death of Micheal Faherty, a 76 year old Irishman in December of 2010, sparked (no pun intended) some intense debate this week when the coroner on his case declared the cause of death to be “spontaneous human combustion”.

Can we REALLY be expected to believe that without any outside force or influence, a person can erupt in flames?!

It was explained that though there were scorch marks found above and below the body, there was no evidence of any accelerant like gasoline or kerosene being involved.

 "This fire was thoroughly investigated and I'm left with the conclusion that this fits into the category of spontaneous human combustion, for which there is no adequate explanation." said Faherty’s coroner.

Those that believe in the idea of spontaneous human combustion (SHC) point out that though reports of the phenomenon are exceedingly rare, there are actually circumstances under which things may self-ignite. For example, rags used to clean up oil or gasoline and even compost piles can burst into flame on a hot day.  In addition, they say, this is not the first case where SHC has been reported there have been hundreds throughout history.

So case closed?

SHC is a fact and we could all be struck down at any moment in a ball of fire?!

Well… maybe not. 

Under closer investigation the claimed hundreds of real-life cases throughout history become a lot less mysterious.  Most were alone, elderly and near a flame source like a cigarette candle or fireplace at the time of death – including Faherty. Why the coroner ruled out the idea that a spark from his fireplace may have caused the fire has not been said. 

Maybe our world has become so adept in scientific understanding we’re just left craving some mystery and a magic in the world. It seems that as odd as it may sound, some people simply want to believe such things could happen.


9/27– Research Shows We Learn While We Sleep

New findings in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General describe a new type of memory which occurs while we sleep.

“There is substantial evidence that during sleep, your brain is processing information without your awareness and this ability may contribute to memory in a waking state…. We speculate that we may be investigating a separate form of memory, distinct from traditional memory systems.” says lead researcher, Kimberly Fenn.

Could we learn a new language or study for a test while we slumber?

Well… it’s a little more complicated than that it seems.

When it comes to sleep memory, there’s still a lot scientists don’t know about this ability. Though most of the 250 people participating showed improvement through sleep learning, the ability to learn during sleep ranges greatly from person to person.  “You and I could go to bed at the same time and get the same amount of sleep,… but while your memory may increase substantially, there may be no change in mine.” explained Fenn.

Still, this research provides some real promise for the future of education.

For now, Fenn leaves student with this advice: “Simply improving your sleep could potentially improve your performance in the classroom,”


9/28– Red Wine Helps Stop Breast Cancer Growth

Great for the heart and good for the mood, exciting new research is giving us yet another reason to enjoy red wine – cancer prevention.

You see, a common problem with breast cancer treatment comes from the use of hormone therapy. Overtime, cancerous cells can build a resistance to the hormones, rendering the therapy useless.  Doctors haven’t had a good answer to this problem, but in testing red wine they may have found one.

A team of American and Italian scientists found that resveratrol, the key ingredient which makes red wine so good for our hearts, also produces a drastic reduction in estrogen receptor levels among each variety of breast cancer tested.  Simply put, reseveratrol prevents the growth of hormone-resistant breast cancer cells.  

Though it may be some time before scientists collect research necessary to begin prescribing resveratrol, it’s promising news for sure!

“…scientists haven't finished distilling the secrets of good health that have been hidden in natural products such as red wine." said the FASEB Journal’s editor in chief,  Gerald Weissmann M.D.


9/29– More Fruit Gets Eaten from Colorful Bowls

When it comes to selling fruit to school kids, new research shows what business has always know – it’s all about presentation. By simply placing fruit more prominently in their lunchrooms and by using colorful bowls to hold them fruits sales DOUBLED!

This study was a test of just one of the many changes proposed by Cornell University’s Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs (BEN) division, a program which has recently teamed up with Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative. The new program created from this pairing is called “Chef’s Move to Schools” and according to their research, an increase in kid’s healthy diet choices can be as simple as some low-cost/no-cost changes in a school’s cafeteria design and layout.

Says Cornell University professor, David Just, "This is a great opportunity to improve kids' school meal choices. Everyone involved is enthusiastic and eager to help make school lunch exciting as well as nutritious. The Chef's Move to Schools program is a great way for chefs to capture kids' imaginations with a healthy and wholesome message -- and make a lasting difference,”

Readers – you can promote healthy eating in your homes at well using some of these same techniques. Read more about this in our member created blog, “ 7 Kitchen Tricks for Healthier Eating” for more information!


9/30 – Digital Cerebellum Restores Lost Brain Function

For the first time in history, a “digital cerebellum” has been shown capable of restoring previously lost brain function!

Using electrodes, scientists are now able to replicate brain wave activity, from what is basically a microchip, in rats. The digital cerebellum is able to receive and interpret sensory information from the brainstem and respond by sending the appropriate signal to initiate movement.

Right now, the technology only functions for the most basic of tasks. Fro example, the “robo-rats” learned to blink in response to a specific stimulus. Nothing too impressive to the casual observer, but in terms of scientific advancement, this progress alone is HUGE. The experiment is proof that a microchip can both receive and send signals to induce movement.

It’s another step toward repairing brain damage caused by accidents, stroke and more.


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  • Great stuff again this week! I always love to hear news in favor of coffee and red wine :)

    That spontaneous human combustion stuff is fascinating. I remember one of my older brothers telling me about it when I was a kid! Anyway, I too am curious to know why they ruled out a spark from the fireplace. It does seem odd that most cases of "spontaneous" combustion occurred close to a source of fire. You would think that with today's knowledge about how to find where a fire started and how fires behave, we'd be able to figure stuff like this out...but apparently a lot of the "knowledge" about fire behavior is actually just myth. Texas put an innocent man to death because they ruled he had burned down his house and killed his kids, but it turns out that all of the signs that pointed to arson were perfectly explainable by an accidental fire. But that's another rant for another day! Anyway, I'll be interested to hear if they ever come up with an explanation for SHC!

    I'm not surprised that more fruit gets eaten from colorful bowls - it's so eye-catching! I was in the grocery store and I kept commenting on how gorgeous all the fruit was. Putting it in colorful bowls is such an ingenious (and cheap!) way to get kids to eat more fruit. Awesome. :)

  • Thankful for our VERY colorful selection of dishes to help encourage nutritious options :)

  • Agreed Laura! I love hearing how good red wine and coffee are :)

    Very interesting about how placing fruit in a colorful bowl will encoruage kids to eat it more. Makes sense...I still think it works with me. I have white bowls and blue bowls at home. If I place something in the blue bowls I eat more of it...vs the white bowls. Maybe I am still a kid at heart?

    It makes a lot of sense that different pain relievers will work better for certain people. We all have our own chemical makeup, so what works won't always be the same as what works for others.

    Love these blogs! :)

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