Replacing diet soda with plain water might help you lose more weight, especially if you’re already on a diet. Researchers at the University of Nottingham in the UK recruited 89 overweight and obese women ages 27 to 40 who usually drank diet sodas at lunch and asked half of them to switch to water. The others were instructed to continue drinking diet sodas after lunch five times a week for the 24-week duration of the study. Of the 89 women who initially enrolled, 62 completed the study. Those who switched their lunchtime drink to water lost about 8.8 kilograms (19.4 pounds), compared to 7.6 kilograms (16.8 pounds) for the women who continued to drink diet soda. Another plus: the research team reported improvements in insulin sensitivity in the women who switched to water. Even though the difference in weight loss between the two groups was small, diet drinks definitely have another downside. Earlier studies have linked them to obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
If you often sleep in on weekends, you may be increasing your risk of heart disease and diabetes. In fact, a study from the University of Pittsburgh suggests that the greater the difference between the time you usually get up on weekdays and how late you sleep on weekends the greater the risk. Researchers tracked 447 men and women ages 30 to 54 and determined that those who slept later on weekends had lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol, higher triglycerides, higher insulin resistance and higher body mass index than those who kept consistent sleep schedules throughout the week. The link between sleeping habits and these factors remained even after the researchers controlled for physical activity, caloric intake, drinking alcohol, and symptoms of depression. During the 7-day study the participants wore devices that recorded when they fell asleep and woke up, and also measured their movements night and day. Almost 85 percent of the participants woke later on days when they didn’t have to go to work. Earlier research revealed an association between shift work and an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes. It’s not yet known whether the effects seen in the study from sleeping in on weekends are long lasting.
If you have recurrent tension headaches, the problem may be weakness in your neck and shoulder muscles and the solution might be training to strengthen those muscles. Tension headaches typically feel like a tight band is wrapped around the head, unlike migraines, which are usually one-sided and frequently more painful. Researchers in Denmark recruited 60 adults who experienced tension headaches on eight or more days out of 30 and compared them to 30 healthy people. They found that neck and shoulder muscles were up to 26 percent weaker in people with regular tension headaches, when measured against those who didn’t have headaches. They also saw strength imbalances between sets of muscles that hold the head straight, and noted that participants in the healthy group had more shoulder strength than the headache patients. Although previous studies have linked muscle weakness with tension headaches, the researchers wrote that it’s not yet clear whether the muscle problems are the cause or the effect of the headaches. They commented that these headaches might stem from habits of posture, including using computers and tablets, which leads to sitting with a protruded head.
Drinking 1.5 cups or more of coffee daily seems to lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes according to newly published research from Greece. This isn’t the first study to link coffee consumption to a reduced risk of diabetes, and its findings don’t add up to proof that coffee really was responsible for the lower risk seen. But the researchers at Harokopio University in Athens reported that higher coffee consumption was associated with lower levels of an inflammatory marker called serum amyloid, an observation that might explain the link between coffee and diabetes. More than 1,400 men and women age 18 and older were selected for the study in 2001 and 2002. Of this group 816 were deemed “casual” coffee drinkers who consumed less than 1.5 cups per day while 385 participants were “habitual” coffee drinkers who consumed 1.5 cups or more daily. The remaining 239 participants didn’t drink coffee at all. When the study ended 10 years later, 191 men and women in the study group had developed diabetes; the risk among habitual coffee drinkers was 54 percent lower than that of the other groups in the study even after the researchers accounted for such factors as smoking, high blood pressure, family history of diabetes and intake of other caffeinated beverages.
My take: A number of studies have linked habitual coffee consumption to lower rates of type 2 diabetes. One from University of California, Los Angeles, published in 2011 shed new light on why coffee may be protective. The investigators focused on a protein called sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), which regulates the activity of testosterone and estrogen, hormones believed to play a role in the development of the disease. The researchers determined that coffee boosts blood levels of SHBG and found that women who drank at least four cups daily had less than half the risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to women who didn't drink any coffee.
Bear in mind that lifestyle has a primary influence on the well established risk factors for this disease, which includes being overweight and sedentary. If you have these or other risk factors for type 2 diabetes, don't rely on coffee to protect you.
Cupping is a 2,500-year-old Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) technique. TCM is a healing system of Eastern medicine that incorporates therapies that are in some cases millennia older. In addition to treating illness, TCM focuses on strengthening the body's defenses and enhancing its capacity for healing and maintaining health.
Cupping is one of TCM’s practices, and involves placing special cups filled with heated air on painful areas of the body. As the cups cool, the volume of air within them shrinks, creating suction on the skin that increases blood flow to the area. It can be used to:
- Relieve aches and pains
- Address respiratory problems
- Ease coughs and wheezing
- Improve circulation
- Minimize menstrual symptoms
Cupping can leave bruises that can take a week or more to fade. Sessions should be done by a licensed acupuncturist, and typically last 10 to 15 minutes. Once the marks from the previous session have disappeared, treatment can be repeated.
A simple change of pace during your daily walk can help boost your metabolism. In fact, it’s estimated that you’ll burn up to 20 percent more calories by varying your walking speed than you would if you move at a constant clip. Researchers at Ohio State University found that changing walking speed usually isn’t factored into estimates of the number of calories burned while exercising. They reported that up to 8 percent of the energy burned while walking is used when stopping and starting. They based their findings on measurements of the energy expended by volunteers altering their pace on a treadmill operating at a constant speed. The participants walked faster to move to the front of the treadmill or slowly to move to the back. If the treadmill speed itself is changed, you don’t get an accurate measure of energy used since the machine is doing some of the work, the researchers said. They also found that people walk slower when covering shorter distances and faster when they’ve got farther to go. And they advise that to burn more calories while walking “do weird things” - carry a backpack, walk with weights and stop, then start while you’re walking, or walk a curve rather than a straight line.
Marriage is supposed to be good for your health, but a new study from Switzerland shows that it may not be a panacea, at least where weight is concerned. Investigators from the University of Basel and Max Planck Institute for Human Development interviewed more than 10,000 men and women in 9 European countries to compare the relationship between marital status and body mass index (BMI). They found that married men and women actually have higher BMIs than single adults and “the differences between countries were surprisingly small.” However, the researchers also reported that married people were more likely to buy more unprocessed products and less convenience food, and that married men were more likely than single men to buy organic and fair trade food. Their final report suggests that married couples, although weighing a bit more, have healthier diets than single adults. The average BMI of single men was 25.7 compared to 26.3 for married men. The average for single women was 25.1 compared to 25.6 for married women. Those differences equal about 4.4 pounds, a small but meaningful difference, suggesting that at least in one key respect, marriage isn’t as healthy as had been assumed.
Some drug treatments for breast cancer are designed to keep estrogen levels low, causing a change in hormone balance that can trigger symptoms of menopause in women, including hot flashes. Because female hormones can foster the growth of cancer cells, these patients can’t take estrogen, even if symptoms become severe. Fortunately, new research from the University of Pennsylvania suggests that acupuncture may help relieve the hot flashes. The study, which included 120 breast cancer survivors who reported multiple hot flashes daily, examined the effects of four different treatments to assess the effectiveness of electroacupuncture, a therapy where the acupuncture needles deliver weak electrical currents. The women were divided into four groups. One group was treated with 900 mg of gabapentin daily, an epilepsy drug that has been shown to help reduce hot flashes. Another group received a gabapentin placebo. A third received two electroacupuncture treatments a week for two weeks, then one treatment weekly. The fourth group underwent sham electroacupuncture treatment. After eight weeks, the women who received electroacupuncture reported fewer and less severe hot flashes than women in any of the other groups. Those who received the sham acupuncture also had measurable relief followed by those who took gabapentin. The women who took the gabapentin placebo improved least. The investigators found that 16 weeks later, the women who underwent real or sham electroacupuncture were still experiencing fewer hot flashes – some were even more improved than at the end of the eight-week study. Compared to the sham group, the women who received the real electroacupuncture had a 25 percent reduction in hot flashes, but the researchers said the modest size of the study precluded a statistically definitive conclusion.