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Health Updates 12 June 2012

  • Junk food more appealing when you’re sleepy: “Unhealthy foods, such as sweets and chips, are more appealing to people who haven’t had enough sleep, new research suggests.  When researchers examined the areas of the brain that were most active when people were looking at healthy or unhealthy foods, they found the reward centers of the brain were activated when sleep-deprived study volunteers saw pictures of unhealthy foods.  ‘We found regions associated with reward and motivation — those that are involved with addiction and pleasure-seeking behaviors — were more strongly activated in the short-sleep phase,’ said Marie-Pierre St-Onge…an assistant professor at Columbia University’s Institute of Human Nutrition in New York City….A second small study from the same meeting didn’t find a large difference in the activation of the brain’s reward centers in people who were tired, [but] did, however, find significantly impaired activity in an area in the frontal lobe of the brain.  This area of the brain helps control behavior and make complex choices.  When people were sleep-deprived and then presented pictures of unhealthy food, this area of the brain didn’t respond well, which would make choosing healthy foods more difficult.”  The researchers suggest keeping healthy foods around, both at home and in the workplace, to make it easier to reach for better options when we are tired, but first and foremost: be sure to get enough sleep.  (HealthDay)
  • Really? Quitting smoking is harder for women: “Smoking is a notoriously difficult habit to kick.  But female smokers have long been said to have more trouble quitting than their male counterparts.  According to conventional wisdom, nicotine replacement aids are less effective for women, and women are more fearful of gaining weight after quitting.  There is even speculation that menstrual cycles worsen tobacco withdrawal symptoms.   But in the largest related epidemiological study to date, published in the journal Tobacco Control, researchers found no evidence to support the claim.  In the study, a team … analyzed data for more than 100,000 smokers in the United States, Britain and Canada.  They found that women were slightly more likely than men to successfully quit smoking before age 50.  The reverse was true among people over 60, though higher death rates from smoking among older men may have affected that finding, the researchers said.  But over all, when they looked at all those who were able to stay cigarette-free for over a year — including avoiding smokeless tobacco — they found little difference between the sexes.  The authors said it was important to dispel the myth, lest it discourage women from trying to quit.  The bottom line: According to the strongest data, men do not have an easier time giving up smoking than women.” (Anahad O’Connor, NY Times)
  • Cute shoes can lead to ugly feet: “Derived from the Greek word for turnip, bunions are a significant problem in modern society.  Most clinicians recognize bunions from the bump on the side of the great toe joint.  When the bump is associated with lateral deviation of the toe, the deformity is called hallux valgus.  Hallux valgus is the most common pathologic entity affecting the great toe, occurring in 2 to 4 percent of the population.  Hallux valgus deformity occurs at least twice as often in females as males…Although it is unclear why females have a predilection for bunion deformity, shoes have been cited as the primary extrinsic factor contributing to the development of [the]…deformity.  According to the literature, incidences of hallux valgus deformity have been reported as high as 48 percent in shoe-wearing females…Although the constriction of women’s shoes has been implicated as a major causative factor…clear evidence for maternal genetic transmission of the deformity exists…”.  Surgical intervention is only warranted when conservative measures — including wearing flat or low-heeled shoes —  have failed.  (American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons)
  • Fear of dark keeps some adults awake at night: study “Some adults who have problems sleeping may actually be afraid of the dark, a small new study suggests.  Researchers at the Ryerson University Sleep and Depression Lab in Toronto used loud noises to measure blink responses among a group of college students in both light and dark settings.  They found good sleepers got used to the noises while the students with trouble sleeping anticipated the outbursts when the lights were out.  ‘The poor sleepers were more easily startled in the dark compared with the good sleepers,’ study author Taryn Moss said in a news release from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.  ‘As treatment providers, we assume that poor sleepers become tense when the lights go out because they associate the bed with being unable to sleep.  Now we’re wondering how many people actually have an active and untreated phobia’….The researchers suggested new treatments to help adults with sleeping problems who were afraid of the dark.  ‘We may need to add treatment components for these patients and adapt existing treatment components in light of the phobia…A lot more research is needed, but we believe we have stumbled across an unmet treatment need for some poor sleepers’.” (womenshealth.gov)
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