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Fresh Health News: Summer 2022

Steps Toward Improvement

Walking could prevent new osteoarthritis knee pain

Roughly one out of every 10 American adults suffers from osteoarthritis (OA). Sometimes dubbed “wear and tear” arthritis, this condition involves a breakdown of cartilage in weight-bearing joints such as the knees, hips and spine, though it can occur at almost any joint. The resulting inflammation leads to regular bouts of stiffness and joint aches. Now, researchers have some simple advice for the 14 million people with knee OA—get moving.

It turns out that the most common joint disorder in the United States may be remedied by the country’s most common form of physical activity. Looking at more than 1,000 people with knee OA, scientists found that walking for exercise decreased the odds of new knee pain by as much as 40 percent when compared to non-walkers. Researchers also noted less structural damage in the walkers’ knees. And it didn’t take many miles to track down relief. The study, recently published in Arthritis & Rheumatology, saw improvements after just 10 times of walking for exercise.

Weighing Endometrial Health

When a person carries too much weight, the added inflammation and hormonal shifts that result make the body vulnerable to various cancers. In an article published this April in BMC Medicine, scientists honed in on the relationship between being overweight/obese and endometrial cancer (aka womb cancer). The disease, which is on the rise globally, occurs when cells in the uterine lining begin growing out of control. It’s most often found in menopausal women. Using genetic samples from 120,000 people, the researchers determined that for every five-point increase in body mass index, the risk of endometrial cancer nearly doubled. They believe the correlation stems from imbalances in the hormones insulin and testosterone, as well as elevated cholesterol levels. The study authors hope their findings will help scientists develop more targeted treatment therapies for this highly curable disease.

Hear This

Our ability to hear relies on a delicate balance of the ear’s inner and outer hair cells. When those sensory cells die, due to age, noise or injury, they don’t regenerate, making hearing loss irreversible. While scientists have previously produced artificial hair cells, they’ve never before been able to specifically program those sensory cells into either outer or inner—a distinction essential for hearing. Now, researchers studying the intricacies of deafness have pinpointed a single gene that can be switched on or off to differentiate those vital cochlear hair cells. The study, funded by the National Institute of Deafness and other Communications Disorders, appeared recently in the journal Nature. While this research is still at the experimental stage, it holds promise that hearing may one day be restored for the 37.5 million American adults currently suffering its loss.

Photograph by Scott Henderson

Drink It In

Are you a glass-half-empty or a glass-half-full type? When it comes to cardiovascular health, the answer may depend on what’s being sipped. Researchers have recently served up several interesting studies that look at the effects of certain beverages on the heart. While the medical benefits of fresh water flow clearly, the advantages of coffee and red wine have remained a little murkier. Let’s pore over some of the latest findings:

  1. By measuring sodium levels in the blood, scientists determined that regularly staying well hydrated could reduce your risk for developing severe heart problems later in life. –National Institutes of Health
  2. Enjoying two to three cups of caffeinated coffee may lower your chances of heart disease and boost longevity, according to studies presented this spring. –American College of Cardiology
  3. No level of alcohol consumption reduces cardiovascular risk, which rises slightly for people who consume one drink daily and sharply for those imbibing more. –JAMA Network Open

Gun Violence & Children

Gun-related injuries surpass car accidents as the leading killer of American children

For more than 60 years, motor vehicle accidents topped the causes of death for American children and teens, but in 2020, the United States saw a terrifying shift in youth fatalities. Gun-related deaths among young people increased by 29.5 percent between 2019 and 2020, according to an analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A recent letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that this surge in firearm violence against youth ages one to 19 is twice the rate increase recorded among the general population. (Drug overdoses and poisoning in children and adolescents also leaped by 83.6 percent, slotting it third after car accidents among causes of death.) Public health experts partly attribute this growing wave of gun violence to the stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic. Research shows that secure storage is an essential part of reducing the risk of
gun violence, so gun owners should be certain that their firearms are stowed locked, unloaded and away from ammunition.

The Link Between COVID-19 & Shingles

Seniors diagnosed with COVID-19 face a greater risk of shingles

The varicella-zoster virus lies dormant, sometimes for decades, in any person who’s battled chicken pox. That virus will eventually reactivate in one out of three people, leading to a painful skin rash known as shingles. Scientists believe that a weakening of the immune system—
be it from age or illness—can trigger the shingles virus, and a new study from the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline shows that COVID-19 is no exception. Following up on reports of shingles diagnoses close on the heels of COVID-19 cases, researchers analyzed medical records from nearly two million people. They discovered that when a person over the age of 50 contracts COVID-19, their risk of developing shingles within the next six months increases by 15 percent. That likelihood jumps to 21 percent in older adults who have been hospitalized for COVID-19. These findings, published this spring in Open Forum Infectious Diseases, underscore the importance of vaccines for both viruses in people over 50.

HEALTH MYTH: Doctors recommend daily low-dose aspirin to prevent cardiovascular disease.

THE TRUTH: The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force no longer recommends that most men ages 45 to 79 and women ages 55 to 79 take daily aspirin for the prevention of cardiovascular disease, unless directed by a doctor. This marks a significant change to the organization’s 2010 guidelines.

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