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Sep 30
Heavy texting linked to sleep problems in youngsters
Researchers have reported that texting was a direct predictor of sleep problems among first-year students in a study that examined links among interpersonal stress, text-messaging behaviour, and three indicators of college students' health: burnout, sleep problems and emotional well-being.

Although the study by Karla Murdock from Washington and Lee University showed that the impact of texting on students' psychological well-being depended on the level of interpersonal stress they were already facing, more texting was associated with poorer sleep regardless of their previous level of stress.

The students in the study, all in their first year, answered questions that measured academic and social burnout, emotional well-being and sleep problems. Murdock also asked them to estimate how many text messages they send and receive on an average day.

The study's findings on sleep were especially significant given the well-documented compromises in sleep that students experience throughout college, but especially in the first year.

To assess students' sleep quality, Murdock used the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index with minor modifications to fit the college sample and found that a higher number of daily texts was associated with more sleep problems.

Among the potential causes for this connection are two tendencies: students' feeling pressured to respond immediately to texts, no matter what time of day or night, and students' sleeping with the phone nearby, thus being awakened by the alerts from incoming texts.

Meantime, the study found that frequent text messaging was also associated with greater psychological vulnerability to interpersonal stress.

The study is published in journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture.

Sep 30
Diabetics more likely to develop breast, colon cancer
A new study has warned that diabetes sufferers are more prone to developing breast and colon cancer and at an even higher risk of dying from them.

Dr Kirstin De Bruijn said that previous studies have examined the association between diabetes and dying from cancer but death from specific types of cancer has not been well-studied.

"Our meta-analysis is the first to combine incidence and death from breast and colon cancer, while excluding all other causes of death. We have investigated the link between diabetes and the risk of developing as well as the risk of dying from these cancers," she said.

Dr De Bruijn, a PhD student in the Surgery Department at the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and colleagues analyzed results from 20 trials that had taken place between 2007 and 2012, involving more than 1.9 million patients with breast or colon cancer, with or without diabetes.

They found that patients with diabetes had a 23 percent increased risk of developing breast cancer and a 38 percent increased risk of dying from the disease compared to non-diabetic patients.

Diabetic patients had a 26 percent increased risk of developing colon cancer and a 30 percent increased risk of dying from it compared to non-diabetic patients, the findings showed.

Bruijn said that the results for breast and colon cancer incidence in patients with diabetes are consistent with other meta-analyses, additionally their meta-analysis showed a higher risk and a stronger association between diabetes and death from breast and colon cancer than previously reported.

Bruijn said that cancer patients, who are obese and diabetic, are an already more vulnerable group of individuals when it comes to surgery, as they have an increased risk of developing complications both during and after surgery.

Sep 27
How eating better can help you live longer
Diet can help lower hypertension and improve heart function in patients suffering from a common type of heart failure, according to a new research.

After 21 days of following a low-sodium Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan, patients saw a drop in blood pressure similar to taking anti-hypertension medicine.

Scott Hummel, M.D., cardiologist at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center, said that their work suggests diet could play an important role in the progression of heart failure, although patients should always talk to their doctor before making major dietary changes.

Heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, or "diastolic" heart failure, happens when the heart becomes stiff and does not pump out enough blood.

The patients, most of them in their 60s and 70s, agreed to keep food diaries and eat only the meals prepared for them in the metabolic kitchen at the University of Michigan Clinical Research Unit.

The meals, which could be picked up and heated at home, matched the DASH diet eating plan, which is high in potassium, magnesium, calcium and antioxidants and is recommended for hypertension treatment by the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association.

The study diet also contained a daily sodium intake of no more than 1,150 milligrams. That's much lower than what adults in the United States usually eat - about 4,200 mg a day for men, and 3,300 mg a day for women.

The U-M study, although small, showed the DASH diet can improve left ventricular relaxation and reduce diastolic chamber stiffness, meaning a more efficient transfer of blood between the heart and arteries, Hummel says.

Sep 27
Ibuprofen may ease arthritis patients depression
For people with a painful cartilage condition, common pain relievers may have small benefits for depression symptoms as well, a new study hints.

Depression is more than twice as common among people with osteoarthritis, which happens when cartilage wears down around the hands, lower back, knees or other joints.

As many as 27 million Americans have osteoarthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To help manage their pain, those patients often take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, like ibuprofen or naproxen.

"This work suggests that anti-inflammatory agents may play a role in reducing the burden of depression," senior author Dr. Michael E. Farkouh of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, said.

His team's study includes data from five previous trials of over-the-counter NSAIDs and prescription Celebrex, a NSAID manufactured by Pfizer, which provided the Celebrex results. In each of the trials, people with osteoarthritis were randomly assigned to take one of those medications or a drug-free placebo pill for six weeks.

Almost 1,500 people not taking antidepressants took part in the studies, which involved multiple depression questionnaires.

People on each treatment, including the placebo, tended to report fewer depression symptoms at the end of the trials than at the beginning, according to results published in The American Journal of Medicine.

But depression scores - measured on a scale of 0 to 27 - fell by 0.3 more points in the over-the-counter NSAID groups and by 0.6 more points in the Celebrex groups than among people taking a placebo.

Arthritis patients started those studies with an average depression score of 3, far below the threshold of 10 used for a depression diagnosis.

"The relationship between depressive symptoms and chronic pain is complex, and important," David A. Walsh, director of the Arthritis Research UK Pain Centre in Nottingham, said.

Survey responses which are used to diagnose depression can sometimes be explained by physical pain, which makes results difficult to interpret, he said.

Trouble falling or staying asleep or trouble concentrating, for example, can be symptoms of either depression or distracting pain.

Though the researchers tried to take that into account, it's difficult to completely untangle the effects of pain on mood, Walsh told Reuters Health in an email. So the apparent influence of NSAIDs on depression may have just been due to a lessening of osteoarthritis pain, he said.

The study does provide some evidence that at least one form of pain medication may help reduce depression among people with osteoarthritis, Walsh said. It also "raises an interesting mechanistic question as to whether NSAIDs may have direct effects on mood, independent of their analgesic activity."

But based on these results, depressed people with osteoarthritis shouldn't be selectively given NSAIDs in hopes of easing their depression just yet, he said.

Doctors should follow existing guidelines when recommending or prescribing NSAIDs for arthritis pain, researchers said.

Farkouh said future studies should look at the connection between NSAIDs and depression, as that could help researchers learn whether inflammation plays a role in the disease.

Although the average changes in depression symptoms seen in his study would not be enough for patients to notice in their everyday lives, they may be for some people, Farkouh said. "That's why we need more work to figure this out."

Sep 26
Acupuncture as good as counseling for depression, study finds
People with depression may benefit as much from acupuncture as they do from counseling, suggests a new study.

Researchers found one in three patients was no longer depressed after three months of acupuncture or counseling, compared to one in five who received neither treatment.

"For people who have depression, who have tried various medical options, who are still not getting the benefit they want, they should try acupuncture or counseling as options that are now known to be clinically effective," said Hugh MacPherson, the study's lead author from the University of York in the UK.

Previous studies looking at whether acupuncture helps ease depression have been inconclusive. Those studies were also small and didn't compare acupuncture to other treatment options.

"What's more important for the patient is does it work in practice and that is the question we were asking," MacPherson said.

For their study, he and his colleagues recruited 755 people with moderate or severe depression. The researchers split participants into three groups: 302 were randomly assigned to receive 12 weekly acupuncture sessions, another 302 received weekly counseling sessions and 151 received usual care only.

About 70 percent of people had taken antidepressants in the three months before the study and about half reported taking pain medications. People did not have to stop taking their medicine to participate in the study.

At the outset, participants had an average depression score of 16 on a scale from 0 to 27, with higher scores symbolizing more severe depression. A 16 is considered moderately severe depression.

After three months, people assigned to the acupuncture group had an average score of about 9 - on the higher end of the mild depression category. Scores fell to 11 among members of the counseling group and about 13 in the usual care group, both considered moderate depression.

Participants who received acupuncture or counseling saw larger improvements over three months than those who had neither treatment. Those benefits remained for an additional three months after the treatments stopped.

However, any differences between acupuncture and counseling could have been due to chance, the researchers reported Tuesday in PLOS Medicine.

They found doctors would need to treat seven people using acupuncture and 10 people with counseling for one person to no longer be depressed.

"What this says is if you don't get completely better, there are other options," Dr. Philip Muskin, a psychiatrist at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, told Reuters Health.

"One option would be to take a different medication, but by this study these would be valid options," said Muskin, who was not involved with the new research.

He cautioned, however, that counseling and acupuncture are not replacements for medication. The majority of study participants were still taking antidepressants at the end of the three months.

Muskin said the study also doesn't show what types of patients respond best to acupuncture or counseling.

"What I can't tell from this study is who's who. Not everybody got better," he said.

MacPherson said it's best to ask patients for their treatment preference.

"If you talk to people, they would almost always have a leaning one way or the other," he said.

Acupuncture is only covered by health insurance in the UK for chronic pain, MacPherson said. In the U.S., some plans also cover acupuncture for pain or nausea.

According to online information from the Mayo Clinic, the risks of acupuncture are low if people hire competent and certified practitioners. Complications can include soreness, organ injury and infections.

"Cleary acupuncture is a new option," MacPherson said. "This is the first evidence that acupuncture really helps."

Sep 25
Soon, spring-like fibres to mend broken hearts
Researchers have fabricated spring-like fibers to help repair damaged heart tissue.

Doctoral students Sharon Fleischer and Ron Feiner - under the supervision of Dr. Tal Dvir of Tel Aviv University's Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology and the Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology - have fabricated fibers shaped like springs that allow engineered cardiac tissue to pump more like the real thing.

Dvir said that until now, when scientists have tried to engineer cardiac tissue, they've used straight fibers to support the contracting cells.

He said that but these fibers prevent the contraction of the engineered tissue and what they did was mimic the spring-like fibers that promote contraction and relaxation of the heart muscle.

Dvir asserted that they found that by growing tissues on these fibers, they got more functional tissues.

The researchers identified spiral-shaped collagen fibers in the extracellular matrix of rat hearts and seeing the potential for an advance, they set out to recreate them for the first time.

After fabricating the spring-like fibers using advanced techniques, they subjected them to a variety of tests.

As the researchers predicted, the spring-like fibers showed better mechanical properties than straight fibers, with especially improved elasticity.

And compared to tissue engineered with straight fibers, the tissue engineered with spring -like fibers contracted with greater force and less mechanical resistance.

They study has been published in the journal Biomaterials in August.

Sep 25
Walnuts may prevent diabetes, heart disease
Eating walnuts daily can ward off diabetes and heart disease in at-risk individuals, a new study has found.

Researchers from the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center in Connecticut found that daily intake of 56 g of walnuts improves endothelial function in overweight adults with visceral adiposity.

The study included a sample of 46 adults aged 30-75.

Participants had a Body Mass Index larger than 25, and a waist circumference exceeding 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women.

They were also required to be non-smokers, and all exhibited one or more additional risk factors for metabolic syndrome, a precursor of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The group was randomly assigned to two 8-week sequences of either a walnut-enriched ad libitum diet or an ad libitum diet without walnuts.

Those chosen for the walnut diet were instructed to consume 56 g of shelled, unroasted English walnuts per day as a snack or with a meal.

"We know that improving diets tends to be hard, but adding a single food is easy," explained Dr David Katz, Director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center and lead author of the research team.

"Our theory is that if a highly nutritious, satiating food like walnuts is added to the diet, there are dual benefits: the benefits of that nutrient rich addition and removal of the less nutritious foods," Katz said.

The research found that daily intake of 56 g of walnuts improves endothelial function in overweight adults with visceral adiposity.

"The primary outcome measure was the change in flow-mediated vasodilatation (FMD) of the brachial artery," researchers said.

"Secondary measures included serum lipid panel, fasting glucose and insulin, Homeostasis Model Assessment-Insulin Resistance values, blood pressure, and anthropometric measures.

"FMD improved significantly from baseline when subjects consumed a walnut-enriched diet as compared with the control diet. Beneficial trends in systolic blood pressure reduction were seen, and maintenance of the baseline anthropometric values was also observed. Other measures were unaltered," they said.

The study is published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.

Sep 24
Afternoon naps can be 'hazardous to health'
Are you habitual of taking afternoon naps? Well, take a reality check then, as a new study has suggested that dozing for more than 30 minutes can increase the risk of developing type two diabetes.

The study conducted on 27,009 people aged 45 or over, found that out of those who took naps, 40 percent had high blood pressure, versus 33 per cent who didn't take siestas, News.com.au reported.

Researchers from Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China also found that 24 percent of afternoon sleepers had high cholesterol, compared to 19 percent of those who stayed awake.

Scientists said napping for less than 30 minutes, or not at all, reduced people's chances of developing diabetes.

It was found that nappers were at high risk of diabetes, because they were less involved in exercised.

Sep 24
Artificial sweeteners actually lead to piling on the pounds
A new research has revealed that 'energy less' artificial sweeteners are unable to satisfy the sugar craving of the body, and instead make people more desperate to gorge on sugary snacks.

According to the research, our pleasure in consuming sweet solutions is driven to a great extent by the amount of energy it provides: greater reward in the brain is attributed to sugars compared to artificial sweeteners.

Professor Ivan de Araujo, who led the study at Yale University School of Medicine USA, said that the consumption of high-calorie beverages is a major contributor to weight gain and obesity, even after the introduction of artificial sweeteners to the market.

"We believe that the discovery is important because it shows how physiological states may impact on our choices between sugars and sweeteners," Araujo said.

Specifically, it implies that humans frequently ingesting low-calorie sweet products in a state of hunger or exhaustion may be more likely to 'relapse' and choose high calorie alternatives in the future, Araujo asserted.

Araujo added that the results of the study suggest that a 'happy medium' could be a solution, which would combine sweeteners with minimal amounts of sugar so that energy metabolism doesn't drop, while caloric intake is kept to a minimum.

The study was published in the Journal of Physiology.

Sep 20
Gene map helps trace spread of MERS virus
Researchers in Britain and Saudi Arabia said on Friday that gene profiling of the MERS virus had provided insights, but no answer, as to how the mysterious microbe spreads.

Reporting online in The Lancet, the scientists said they had assembled a family tree of the coronavirus causing Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), using samples taken from 21 patients in Saudi Arabia.

With the exception of a cluster of cases in the eastern town of al-Hasa, the focal point of the outbreak is the Saudi capital, they said.

"These results suggest the circulating virus in Saudi Arabia is centred around Riyadh, with sporadic excursions to other centres," they said.

The probe reiterated the theory that the virus -- called MERS-CoV by scientists -- probably leapt to humans from animals.

The genetic history of the virus suggests repeat infections may have occurred since then, but what the animal source was, or is, remains unclear, it said.

Tests are being carried on mammals in Saudi Arabia ranging from camels and bats to goats.

The cluster in al-Hasa, in contrast, shows that viral strains there were closely related, which is consistent with spread from human to human.

The samples in Riyadh have a broad genetic diversity, the paper said.

This could mean that the virus is being transmitted through an animal source that is continuously being brought in from elsewhere, it said.

Alternatively, it may be down to the fact that the capital is the country's biggest population centre, which makes it more vulnerable to human-to-human transmission of the virus.

"Transmission of this virus appears to be more complicated than anticipated," Alimuddin Zumla, a professor at University College London, who helped lead the Lancet study, said in a press release.

An "intermediary" source may also be possible, as most of the known cases have had no known direct contact with animals, he added in a phone conversation with AFP.

Asked what this source could be, he said this was unclear. Theoretical avenues to explore would include food.

Zumla said the use of gene profiling could be a vital tool for monitoring the virus.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday it had been informed of 132 lab-confirmed cases of MERS, including 58 deaths.

Forty-nine fatalities have occurred in Saudi Arabia, according to official Saudi figures also issued on Thursday.

One of the world's biggest movements of people, the annual hajj pilgrimage, is to due to take place next month.

Authorities have urged the elderly and chronically ill to avoid the event this year and cut back on the numbers of people they will allow to perform the pilgrimage. Around two million people are expected.

Zumla called for health authorities to keep up their guard, but also noted that there had been no MERS outbreaks at the October 2012 hajj or the July 2013 Ramadan Umrah season.

"The reassuring news is that two mass gatherings events, attracting over eight million pilgrims have occurred in Mecca, Saudi Arabia since the discovery of MERS-Cov 12 months ago... yet no major outbreaks of MERS-CoV cases have been reported from these events to date," he said.

"Watchful surveillance and vigilance is required, despite the minimal risk of global spread."