December 6, 2010 at 10:58 am , by Julie Bain
My friend Lisa Collier Cool is an award-winning health writer. In fact, her very first published work was a letter to the editor in Ladies’ Home Journal when she was 9 years old! That’s Lisa, right, in Cozumel, Mexico, bonding with a dolphin (“What was most surprising is how the dolphin was so friendly and seemed to be smiling as he gently kissed me,” she says. “It’s amazing how strong and gentle these wonderful animals are.”) In addition to her books and magazine work, Lisa also started blogging this year. I was curious what fascinating things she’s learned from that, so she agreed to share her top 10 list in this guest blog just for the Ladies’ Lounge.
Did you know that it’s possible to survive for months or even years without a heartbeat or pulse? I didn’t until I interviewed someone who had done just that, thanks to a new type of heart pump that’s saving the lives of people who have heart failure, including former vice president Dick Cheney. Here’s a look at 10 more surprising things I’ve learned about health as the lead health blogger for GE’s Healthymagination, covering the latest medical news and innovations from all over the globe, with the help of a team of guest bloggers.
1. Kids who play outside have better vision. Children who spend time outdoors are less likely to develop myopia (nearsightedness), a vision problem that typically starts in elementary school. A recent study found that nearsighted kids spend an average of about eight hours a week outside, compared with more than 12 hours for kids with normal vision. Children with myopia also watched more TV. The researchers theorize that staying indoors, glued to the tube, deprives kids of opportunities to focus on distant objects as their vision develops.
2. A little-known but dangerous disorder affects one in four Americans. Most people (85 percent) have never heard of metabolic syndrome and don’t know that it’s a cluster of cardiovascular risk factors, including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, abnormal lipid (cholesterol) levels and an apple-shaped body. And of the more than 211,000 men and women polled, less than 1 percent thought they had it themselves. Actually, 50 million Americans suffer from metabolic syndrome, tripling their risk for heart attack and stroke and quintupling it for type 2 diabetes.
3. Being too clean is making us sick. Rates of autoimmune disease—a leading causes of death for women under 65—are soaring. And some experts blame modern hygiene, theorizing that lack of exposure to dirt, germs and intestinal parasites is weakening our immune systems. Researchers at Tufts Medical Center are testing an unusual “medication” for Crohn’s disease (a bowel disorder): treatment with live whipworms. 50 percent of those treated with the intestinal parasites got better, versus 15 percent of patients in the control group.
4. Even someone with a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Princeton can’t figure out food labels. That’s how confusing making healthy choices at the grocery store can be. The husband of that Princeton Ph.D., plus a team of medical experts, has come up with an innovative system called NuVal scores that hundreds of supermarkets around the country are starting to use. The higher the NuVal score, the healthier the food is.
5. A $5 treatment made of ingredients found in almost every home is one of history’s top medical breakthroughs. As Haiti combats cholera, a simple therapy—hailed by British Medical Journal as one of the greatest health advances in the past 150 years—is helping save lives. Known as oral rehydration therapy (ORT), it contains just three ingredients: sugar, salt and water. Discovered in the 1960s, ORT has rescued more than 40 million people around the world from otherwise fatal diarrheal illnesses, including about 3 million babies and toddlers a year.
6. Botox may be a weapon against depression and epilepsy. Along with smoothing your brow, Botox was FDA-approved in October to treat chronic migraine. Researchers are now investigating new wrinkles in potential medical uses for Botox, including reformulating it into a treatment for problems as diverse as pain, diabetes, epilepsy and depression.
7. Having healthy teeth could prevent a heart attack. Here’s more motivation to see your dentist regularly: Women who get dental care reduce their risk for heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular problems by at least one-third, a University of California, Berkeley study reported in September. That’s because the bacteria present in gum disease can also spark inflammation that damages blood vessels.
8. Japanese women have the longest life expectancy in the world. The average Japanese woman will live to celebrate her 86th birthday. In Okinawa, so many people pass age 100 that there’s an ongoing study of their extraordinary longevity. One explanation may be a tradition called “hara hachi bu” (only eating until they feel 80 percent full). Surprisingly, many Japanese people don’t exercise or go to gym.
9. Seemingly unrelated diseases can attack in pairs. Having just one migraine a month raises your risk for heart attack by 50 percent, and having migraines weekly triples the threat of stroke. Doctors have discovered several other diseases that strike in tandem, including endometriosis and melanoma (increased susceptibility to both disorders is thought to stem from the same genetic defect), and asthma and depression (possibly breathing difficulties worsen depression or vice versa).
10. A third of the world’s population has a disease that’s never in the news. Tuberculosis is an ancient disease that’s been found in Egyptian mummies. Today, about 2 billion people are infected. Yet this potentially fatal disease gets little research funding—and the main diagnostic test is more than 100 years old. The problem, says one frustrated researcher, is that TB “isn’t sexy or in the news because it mainly affects poor people in developing countries.”
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