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health and wellness
May 14, 2019

The World Health Organization announced on Tuesday its recommendations to reduce the risk of dementia. This is the first time the organization made an official recommendation on the condition, which affects 50 million people globally.

Dementia isn't just one disease, but a variety of conditions that produce similar symptoms, including memory loss and decreased cognitive abilities. This makes finding effective treatments difficult, and for many people, the damage is irreversible. The WHO's statement offers a strategy for people who may be at risk of developing dementia to significantly increase their chances of maintaining their neurological health for longer.

The WHO recommends practices that are already associated with a healthy lifestyle: exercising regularly, eating healthy, and laying off tobacco and alcohol. "Many people have the opportunity to substantially reduce their risk" by using these methods, said Tara Spires-Jones, a professor at the U.K. Dementia Research Institute. They have the greatest chance of working "before any cognitive symptoms are present," she explained.

Implementing these strategies on a global scale may help to stem the tide of dementia, which is growing at alarming rates. 10 million people are diagnosed with a form of dementia each year, which may triple the total number of patients by 2050, CNN reports. The costs of caring for dementia patients are growing, too: It costs somewhere around $818 billion each year, most of the burden on patients' family members, and that figure might rise to $2 trillion by 2030.

"We need to do everything we can to reduce our risk of dementia," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO's director general. Read more at CNN. Shivani Ishwar

April 23, 2019

New research has found that transgender Americans are more likely to have health risks and a poor quality of life. The study, published on Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, examined data from 3,075 transgender adults and compared it to data from 719,657 cisgender adults.

Analysis of this data revealed that transgender people are less likely to have health insurance than cisgender people, those who are not transgender. In addition, they are 66 percent more likely to have experienced "severe mental distress," NBC News explained. Trans survey participants were also more inclined to unhealthy habits such as a sedentary lifestyle or smoking.

The survey that collected the study's data was administered from 2014 to 2017, a period when "attitudes shifted" and transgender people may have gotten worse, said Kellan Baker, the study's author and a researcher at Johns Hopkins University.

"This study shows that being a transgender person in the U.S. today — being transgender in a society that you know doesn't fully accept you — is hard," Baker told NBC News in an email.

Xiang Cai, a researcher at Columbia University who wasn't involved in the study, said that the study's conclusions reflect "multiple levels of transgender-specific stigmas." But trans people are still "capable and resilient," Cai added, saying that gender-affirming surgeries for trans people can lead to higher quality of life. Read more at NBC News. Shivani Ishwar

December 17, 2018

Nearly 21 percent of high school seniors say they vaped within the past 30 days, up from 11 percent one year ago, a new survey out Monday says.

The Monitoring the Future survey has been in existence for 44 years, asking teenagers whether they use drugs, drink alcohol, or smoke, and this was the most dramatic spike in its history. The survey is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and its director, Nora Volkow, said the report is "very worrisome. We are very concerned about the increase in vaping."

Vapors from e-cigarettes contain high levels of nicotine, and doctors fret about how this affects brains that are still developing. The survey also found that more teens now believe that they are simply breathing in flavors when they vape, not understanding that they are indeed inhaling nicotine. Catherine Garcia

May 7, 2016

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) signed a bill Friday authorizing the state to participate in a federal health insurance program designed to provide subsidized health care to children from low-income families, Reuters reports. The 2010 program, already offered in the other 49 states, is geared toward kids whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to purchase private insurance.

The bill was controversial in the state legislature, with many conservative lawmakers opposing the program.

"Some of us here on the floor have obviously forgotten that we were not elected to expand government programs," said state Sen. Nancy Barto (R-Phoenix). "We were elected to get rid of them."

The program, known as KidsCare, is expected to serve about 30,000 kids in Arizona. It may go into effect as early as August. Julie Kliegman

May 2, 2016

Scientists are using reality TV to crack the mysteries of the human body — specifically, why people tend to gain so much weight back after major weight losses. Following contestants from NBC's The Biggest Loser, researchers concluded that it is because bodies biologically fight tooth-and-nail to climb back to their original weight.

The problem mainly lies with metabolisms, which slow radically as the body loses weight so that they eventually don't burn enough calories to maintain the thinner body size. Former contestant Danny Cahill, 46, for example, weighed 430 pounds before The Biggest Loser, 191 at the finale of the show, and six years later now weighs 295 pounds. His body burns 800 fewer calories a day than would be expected for a man of his size.

"All my friends were drinking beer and not gaining massive amounts of weight. The moment I started drinking beer, there goes another 20 pounds. I said, 'This is not right. Something is wrong with my body,''' Cahill said.

It turns out, he's right. "This is a subset of the most successful [dieters]," Dr. David Ludwig, who was not involved in the study, said of the Biggest Loser findings. "If they don't show a return to normal in metabolism, what hope is there for the rest of us?"

But with the problem identified, Ludwig adds researchers and people concerned about their weight shouldn't lose hope. "[It] shouldn't be interpreted to mean we are doomed to battle our biology or remain fat," Ludwig said. "It means we need to explore other approaches."

Learn more about what those approaches might be, and the science behind weight gain and loss, at The New York Times. Jeva Lange

March 3, 2016

Retired soccer player Brandi Chastain has agreed to donate her brain to researchers studying concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, The New York Times reports. Chastain — perhaps best known for scoring the winning goal during shootouts in the 1999 World Cup final against China — is the second United States' women's national soccer team member to donate her brain to the research, following Cindy Parlow Cone.

CTE has been found in athletes ranging from football players to boxers, as well as in male soccer players. Heading the ball is thought to cause the destructive subconcessive blows. To date, no female athletes have been found to have CTE, but of the 307 brains studied by Boston University, a mere seven have been from women.

"If there's any information to be gleaned off the study of someone like myself, who has played soccer for 40 years, it feels like my responsibility — but not in a burdensome way," Chastain told The New York Times.

Chastain has said there are "probably a half-dozen times" she has likely had concussions throughout her career.

"There are definitely days when I turn a corner and I'm like, 'Why did I come into this room?'" she said. "I have definitely, from time to time, thought, 'Hmmm, I wonder if this is connected to the past 40 years of playing sports.'" Jeva Lange

December 10, 2015

For some people, the thought of losing their hair is enough to keep them from starting chemotherapy, but a new treatment approved by the FDA has been shown to reduce the side effect.

The Dignitana DigniCap Cooling System works like this: A patient puts on a cap, which is connected to a cooling machine. The cap chills the scalp, in turn constricting blood vessels so the chemotherapy cannot penetrate hair follicles. "Hair loss is probably the most dreaded of all the side effects of chemotherapy," Dr. Tessa Cigler, a medical oncologist at the Weill Cornell Breast Center, told ABC News. "There's women who refuse treatment because of hair loss. Being able to preserve one's hair during chemotherapy is very empowering."

The treatment originated in Sweden and is available in several European countries. During a clinical trial in the U.S., 7 out of 10 patients with early stage breast cancer receiving the treatment kept at least 50 percent of their hair, and no adverse side effects were reported. The DigniCap has only been cleared for use in women with breast cancer, as they were the participants in the clinical trial, and women with solid tumor cancers. After being diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2014, trial participant Donna Tookes had a mastectomy, and then started chemo. She went through 12 treatments wearing the DigniCap, and didn't lose any hair; she's now in remission. "At first it's like a brain freeze," she told ABC News, "but then after you get used to it really fast." Catherine Garcia

October 26, 2015

Eating processed meats can give you cancer, a World Health Organization group announced on Monday.

In surprisingly direct phrasing, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) eschewed bureaucratic language like "may cause" to express any doubt about its research, instead labeling processed meats as "carcinogenic to humans." It's the highest ranking a substance can receive, putting the meat on par with alcohol, asbestos, arsenic, and cigarettes.

"Processed meat refers to meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation. Most processed meats contain pork or beef, but might also contain other red meats, poultry, offal (eg, liver), or meat byproducts such as blood," the report defined. In one example, the IARC found that a 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent.

Red meat — or "unprocessed mammalian muscle meat" such as beef, pork, lamb, veal, or goat meat — is also believed to cause cancer, according to the report, which associated consumption with pancreatic and prostate cancer. Research was carried out by an international panel who reviewed animal experiments, human diets, and cell mechanisms to reach their conclusions.

"These findings further support current public health recommendations to limit intake of meat," IARC director Dr. Christopher Wild said in a statement. Jeva Lange

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