Health Updates 25 April 2012

  • Really? Optimism reduces the risk of heart disease“Laughter may not exactly be the best medicine.  But a cheerful outlook on life may be good for your heart.  So concludes new research on the impact of happiness and optimism on cardiovascular health.  Scientists have known about the reverse relationship between psychological health and heart health for some time; studies show that depression and anxiety can worsen outcomes for heart patients.  But the findings on happiness and its medical impact over the years have not been as consistent.  In a new analysis, researchers at Harvard sought a more definitive conclusion by reviewing the results of more than 200 studies looking at cardiovascular risks and emotional state, making this the largest report on the subject to date.  Over all, the researchers found that traits like optimism and hope, and higher levels of happiness and satisfaction with one’s life, were linked with reductions in the risk of heart disease and stroke.  Such associations were hard to untangle.  Does being optimistic directly protect health, or is it the reverse — that people who watch their weight, exercise often and are generally in good health simply have more reason to be happy and optimistic?  While researchers cannot say for sure, some studies have found a protective effect for optimism even after controlling for things like socioeconomic status, body weight and smoking….  The bottom line: Optimism and happiness are associated with lower cardiovascular risk, but whether a positive outlook directly protects health is still under investigation.” (Anahad O’Connor, NY Times)
  • Mad Cow‘ case not health risk, USDA says: “The US Department of Agriculture has confirmed bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as ‘mad cow’ disease, in a dairy cow from central California.  John Clifford, DVM, USDA chief veterinary officer, said the ‘carcass of the animal is being held under State authority at a rendering facility in California and will be destroyed.  It was never presented for slaughter for human consumption, so at no time presented a risk to the food supply or human health.  Additionally, milk does not transmit BSE’.  In his statement, Clifford explained that the US has ‘had longstanding interlocking safeguards to protect human and animal health against BSE’.  Those safety measures, and similar safety initiatives in other countries, led to what Clifford said was a ‘dramatic decline in BSE’….The case was confirmed by immunohistochemistry and western blot tests….Clifford said this single case will not trigger a worldwide alert about US beef  products, noting that the agency ‘remains confident in the health of the national herd and the safety of beef and dairy products’.” (Peggy Peck, MedPage Today)
  • Social factors may affect lifespan more than race, location: “A group of socioeconomic factors such as education, income and work are better indicators of your chances of living to age 70 than race or geography, a new study shows.  The findings challenge the long-held belief that race or the region of the country where you reside are the best markers of how long you may live, according to researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine in Stanford, Calif.  Previous research has found large differences in life expectancy in various regions of the United States….Racial disparities also are a well-established factor in life expectancy….In the new study, the researchers examined data on the probability of survival to age 70 for people in counties across the United States.  The data was initially categorized according to sex and race, but the researchers then considered how other factors affect life expectancy.  The analysis showed that when factors related to local social conditions – such as education, income, and job and marital status – are included, health differences based on race and region virtually disappear.” (Medline Plus)
  • Cocaine habit might speed brain aging: “Chronic cocaine use may speed up brain aging, a new study suggests.  British researchers scanned the brains of 60 people with cocaine dependence and 60 people with no history of substance abuse, and found that those with cocaine dependence had greater levels of age-related loss of brain gray matter.  The cocaine users lost about 3.08 ml of brain volume a year, nearly twice the rate of about 1.69 ml per year seen in healthy people…The increased decline in brain volume in the cocaine users was most noticeable in the prefrontal and temporal cortex, regions associated with attention, decision-making, self-regulation and memory, the investigators noted in a university news release.  ‘As we age, we all lose gray matter.  However, what we have seen is that chronic cocaine users lose gray matter at a significantly faster rate, which could be a sign of premature aging.  Our findings therefore provide new insight into why the [mental] deficits typically seen in old age have frequently been observed in middle-aged chronic users of cocaine,’ Dr. Karen Ersche, of the Behavioral and Clinical Neuroscience Institute at University of Cambridge, said in the news release.” (HealthDay)

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