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Monday
Aug182014

This is Your Brain on Laughter

Seriously, research suggests that a good laugh can boost memory, lower stress, protect against heart disease and even burn calories. The latest news on the health benefits of laughter comes from a small study at California’s Loma Linda University, where researchers investigated the effects of humor on 20 seniors. First, they tested short-term recall among all the participants and took saliva samples from them to measure levels of the stress hormone cortisol. They then showed comic videos to half the participants while the others were asked to sit silently elsewhere without talking, reading or using their cell phones. After 20 minutes, the researchers again tested short-term recall in all the participants and took new saliva samples. They found that recall among those who watched the videos increased by 43.6 percent compared to 20.3 percent in the other group and that cortisol levels in the video-watching group were significantly lower than they were in the others. The researchers noted that studies elsewhere have demonstrated that a sense of humor helps protect against heart disease and that 10 to 15 minutes of laughter daily burns up to 40 calories.

My take? Laughter is infectious. When we see or hear people laugh, we tend to laugh ourselves, which makes them laugh more, and so on. This means that a group of people laughing constitutes a powerful collection of internal and external feedback loops of positive emotion. If you want to be happy, put yourself in joyful situations as often as you can. Or consider laughter yoga. According to the official Laughter Yoga website, there are more than 6,000 "social laughter clubs" in 60 countries. Studies have shown that laughter can influence health by easing pain, reducing stress and even helping protect against heart disease. Researchers in Japan have shown that participating in laughter yoga can help lower blood pressure among adults ages 40 to 74, and are now investigating whether the positive changes are long-lasting.

Sources:
G.S. Bains et al “The Effect of Humor on Short-term Memory in Older Adults: A New Component for Whole-Person Wellness,” Advances in Mind Body Medicine, Spring 2014, 28(2):16-24

Saturday
Aug162014

5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Eat Farmed Fish

Wild-caught Alaskan salmon is a favorite food of many, but when buying salmon and other fish, it is important to know its origins. Farmed fish is not a better option than wild-caught fish. Most farmed fish:

  1. Have unfavorable ratios of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids to pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids – meaning you get less of the good omega-3s and more of the less healthy omega-6s.
  2. Are raised in crowded conditions that are unnatural – and to help prevent infection they are given antibiotics. This means the fish are likely to contain residues of pesticides, antibiotics and other synthetic compounds used to control diseases that occur when fish are crowded in pens.
  3. May have lower levels of protein - as much as 20 percent less - compared to wild fish, making it a less valuable source of this essential nutrient.
  4. May have higher concentrations of cancer-causing chemicals such as PCBs and dioxin.
  5. Are resource- and energy-intensive (it takes several pounds of feed fish to produce one pound of farmed fish) and do not protect dwindling wild stock.

Choose wild-caught salmon, especially from the Pacific fisheries - they are more sustainably fished and have a larger, more stable population. If wild-caught salmon is cost-prohibitive, canned salmon (choose products containing salmon from wild, not farmed, sources) is a good alternative.

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Friday
Aug152014

How Long Would You Like to Live? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed living beyond 100 years old: Could You Live to Be 150? Check out the article and let us know how long you would like to live if you had a choice.

Thursday
Aug142014

No Surprise: Massage Therapy Works

In case you had any doubts, a new study from the University of Illinois at Chicago found that massage can relieve muscle soreness and improve general blood flow. The researchers noted that until now, no studies had actually validated what this investigation focused on – whether massage therapy is beneficial for aching muscles after exercise, and if the intervention improves circulation. For the study, healthy but inactive adults were asked to exercise on a standard leg-press machine until their legs were sore. Then half of the participants received massage on their lower extremities while the other half did not. After completing 90 minutes of therapy, the participants in the massage group reported no continuing soreness, while those in the the group that did not get massages were still sore 24 hours later. The researchers also reported improved blood flow (measured in the brachial artery of the upper arm) in the participants who received after-exercise massage, while the non-massage group had reduced blood flow at 90 minutes, 24 hours and 48 hours after exercise (their blood flow returned to normal at 72 hours). Because blood flow was improved in a part of the body distant from both the site of injury and the massage, the finding suggests a “systemic rather than just a local response,” the researchers concluded.

Sources:
Nina Cherie Franklin et al, “Massage Therapy Restores Peripheral Vascular Function following Exertion”, Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2014.02.007.

Wednesday
Aug132014

Okinawans Revere Aging (Video)

Dr. Weil discusses the diet and lifestyle of Okinawans, a group of people who live on the island of Okinawa, south of Japan. Okinawa, has the world's highest concentration of centenarians, a unique trait that many scientists are studying to determine the factors leading to this trait. Obesity and common Western diseases such as breast and prostate cancer are also rare there. Dr. Weil describes his experience while visiting this tiny island and how Okinawans revered the elderly.

Want new videos from Dr. Weil? Subscribe to his YouTube channel for weekly videos!

Tuesday
Aug122014

No More Appendectomies?

In some cases, antibiotics alone may be all that’s needed to address an inflamed appendix, a newly published study has shown. Researchers looked at substituting 24 hours of intravenous antibiotics in place of surgery for some children and teens. To qualify for the alternate protocol, the 77 youngsters who took part in the study had to have pain for 48 hours or less, exhibit only moderately elevated white blood counts, and completed a screening CT or ultrasound scans that clearly showed that the appendix hadn’t ruptured and the young patients had no impacted feces. Of the 77 patients who met the criteria, 30 decided to give the antibiotic route a try. Two of them needed surgery within 24 hours because they showed no signs of improvement on the drugs. Another youngster needed surgery later because of “insufficient improvement.” Under the usual protocol, appendicitis patients undergo immediate surgery. After 30 days, the 27 patients who received intensive antibiotics instead of surgery were doing well. The researchers wrote that they will continue to follow their young patients and provide information on the longer-term success rate, safety and cost-effectiveness.

Sources:
Peter C. Minnici et al “Feasibility of a Nonoperative Management Strategy for Uncomplicated Acute Appendicitis in Children,” Journal of the American College of Surgeons, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jamcollsurg.2014.02.031

Monday
Aug112014

Surprising Route to Creative Thinking

Need some new ideas? Take a hike. Seriously, new research from Stanford University shows that walking increases creative inspiration by about 60 percent compared to coming up with good ideas while sitting. You don’t even have to go outdoors. The research team found that walking on a treadmill is just as effective, creativity-wise. What’s more, returning to your desk (or couch) doesn’t immediately turn off the flow of inspiration stimulated by your walk, the Stanford study found. However, the researchers reported that there were some limits to the benefits of walking – for example, they found that while a stroll improved creative thinking, it didn’t necessarily help study participants (176 college students and other adults) come up with the right answers to questions aimed at provoking "focused thinking." Three of the other study experiments were designed to measure “divergent thinking.” Here, the students were given four minutes to come up with alternate uses for an object – their answers were considered novel (i.e. creative) when students came up with an answer no one else suggested.

My take? These are interesting findings. I’m an advocate for anything that gets people up and moving – if inspiration doesn’t strike, at least you’ll benefit from some exercise. I’ve also read that taking a short nap can help boost creativity in addition to bolstering emotional and procedural memory. Maybe a walk works – even if you’re on a treadmill – simply because it allows you to disengage from your usual surroundings. The Stanford researchers haven’t yet looked into the causal mechanisms that trigger creativity when you’re walking and may focus future research on whether other forms of physical activity have similar results.

Sources:
Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz, “Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking”. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0036577

Friday
Aug082014

Sleep Apnea and Osteoporosis

New research from Taiwan suggests that people with sleep apnea have nearly three times the normal risk of osteoporosis, particularly if they’re female and older. Sleep apnea isn't just snoring and frequent waking, it's a serious, potentially life-threatening disorder that causes interruptions of breathing during sleep. It may increase risks of high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. The research team spent six years following 1,377 patients in Taiwan who were diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, as well as 20,655 people without the sleep disorder. The investigators found that new cases of osteoporosis were 2.7 times higher among sleep apnea patients, than among people without the sleep disorder. This increased risk held true even after such factors as concurrent medical problems, age and gender were taken into account. Researcher Kai-Jen Tien, M.D., of Chi Mei Medical Center in Tainan, opined that when sleep apnea periodically deprives the body of oxygen, “it can weaken bones and raise the risk of osteoporosis.” The study was published online on April 15, 2014, in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Sources:
Kai-Jen Tien et al, “Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Risk of Osteoporosis: A Population-Based Cohort Study in Taiwan,” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, DOI: 10.1210/jc.2014-1718

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