Lifesaving Health News You Missed

Want to live longer and feel better? This year researchers overturned a lot of old-think and discovered new wisdom about diet, exercise, weight loss and preventing (treating) serious disease.

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Breakthroughs for Deadly Disease: Breast Cancer

Healthy women at high risk for breast cancer—which includes those who harbor abnormal but not cancerous cells—can lower their risk by two thirds with the drug Aromasin (exemestane), according to a multinational study. While other cancer-prevention drugs, like tamoxifen, block estrogen receptors, Aromasin stops the body from making estrogen in the first place, leading to fewer life-threatening side effects, such as blood clots or uterine cancer. However, Aromasin does cause menopause-like hot flashes and night sweats. Women with a particularly high risk of breast cancer should talk to their doctor about this and other protective drugs, suggests Mark Pegram, MD, a breast oncologist at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.


8 Out of 20...

Top-selling drugs, including the anti-blood-clotter Plavix, will lose their patent protection by the end of 2012, opening the market to much cheaper generic versions.

Mark Gabrenya

Breakthroughs for Deadly Diseases: Lupus

For the first time in 50 years, the FDA approved a new drug to treat this autoimmune disease. A monthly intravenous infusion of Benlysta (belimumab) blocks a protein that revs up the immune system's attack on the body and reduces symptoms without causing some of the serious side effects of steroids or immunosuppressive drugs, explains Arthur Weinstein, MD, professor of medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Jacob Wackerhausen

15 Years...

The time added to a woman's life if she doesn't smoke, is physically active, maintains a healthy weight and follows a Mediterranean diet (high in produce, nuts, legumes, whole grains, fish, mono-unsaturated fats; moderate in booze; and low in red meat and refined grains).

kristian sekulic

Life-Extending Foods: Sea Buckthorn Berries

Now found in the trendiest North American eateries, these tart fruits (also known as havtorn berries) are, nutritionwise, in a class by themselves. In a single cranberry-size fruit, you get tons of immunity-promoting vitamin C, plus vitamin E, beta-carotene, flavonoids and a host of omega fatty acids. “Many of these ingredients work in concert,” says Washington, D.C., dermatologist Noëlle Sherber. “For example, the omega-3 fats enhance absorption of the vitamin E and beta-carotene in the berries. Both vitamin E and beta-carotene are powerful neutralizers of free radicals, and including them in your diet will minimize disease-causing inflammation and wrinkle-creating collagen breakdown.”

Ekaterina Fribus

Retail Therapy Works!

Daily shopping appears to cut a woman's risk for early death by 23 percent, according to a study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Researchers suspect that shopping's health benefits come not just from the pleasure of spending money but also from doing the physical activity that running errands requires, socializing with people you meet along the way and enjoying the fun of getting out of the house, not to mention restocking the pantry with fresh food.

Damir Cudic

Reasons to Exercise

Yoga stabilizes heart rhythms. In a study, people who suffer from episodes of atrial fibrillation, in which the heart beats irregularly, reduced their number of occurrences by half while they followed a regimen that included attending 45-minute yoga classes three times a week for three months. The drop is important, because A-fib episodes can lead to heart failure or stroke. A bonus: This low-tech treatment avoids the serious side effects of the drugs that are usually prescribed, says chief investigator Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy, MD, associate professor of medicine at the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City.

Daniel Laflor

Life-Extending Foods: Aloe and Prickly Pear Juices

Aloe Vera and prickly pear juices are thought to have properties that reduce inflammation in the body. (Chronic inflammation has been linked to cancer and heart disease.) And prickly pear extract may be a hang-over remedy: One study says it cuts day-after symptoms, apparently by lowering alcohol-induced inflammation.

Pawel Gaul

The Case Against Diet Soda

More evidence that artificially sweetened soda is not really a diet aid: Among the 474 adults participating in the San Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging, those who drank two to five cans of diet soda a day added an average of nearly two inches to their waists during the study's nine and a half years, while non-drinkers' middles grew only by a third of an inch. One theory is that the artificial sweeteners raise insulin levels, which increases hunger and also makes it easier for any extra calories we eat to be stored as fat, notes study author Helen Hazuda, PhD, of the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.


True or False: You get a better outcome if you're treated by a very experienced doctor

False. People hospitalized with a serious illness are more likely to die within 30 days of admission if they're cared for by a physician who's been practicing for 20-plus years rather than one who finished her training more recently, says research from Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. “It may be more difficult for physicians who trained long ago to keep up with the rapid advances in hospital care for very sick patients,” explains lead study author William Southern, MD. That said, once admitted to a facility, you may be better off in the hands of a hospitalist—a doctor who works only in hospital settings—regardless of that person's age. “We suspect these physicians are more likely to keep up with improvements in inpatient care, because that's what they focus on all the time,” says Southern.


10.2 Years...

That's how long, on average, women who get hot flashes can expect them to continue, according to research in Obstetrics & Gynecology. Until now, experts believed that the total was two to four years.

Diane Diederich

True or False: It's dangerous to swim after eating

True, but … not for the reason you think. Researchers from Tokyo Women's Medical University examined autopsy reports from 2000 to 2007 and found that nearly 80 percent of the people who drowned had eaten two hours or less before swimming. The surprise: They didn't necessarily die because they cramped up. The scientists suspect that some choked on their vomit while swimming (because the physical exertion caused their filled stomachs to churn too much). Or some may have lost consciousness because too much blood was diverted from the head to the belly, where digestion was taking place.


Reasons to Exercise

Shaking may strengthen bones. A preliminary study found that standing on a whole-body vibration device reduces the rate of bone breakdown, confirming, for the first time, results of previous animal research. The payoff here is in bone strength: Women who experienced intermittent, low-frequency shaking three times weekly for two months had a third less of a blood marker that indicates bone turnover—part of the process that leads to weakening bones. Some bone cells seem especially sensitive to the movements, says University of Sydney researcher Maria Fiatarone Singh, MD. Only 46 women were in the study, though, so much more research is needed before you should consider giving up bone-building strength training or drugs.

Anthony Mayatt

Power of Positive Imagining

Jonesing for some chocolate? If you visualize yourself eating multiple bites of your favorite candy before you take that first chomp, you'll end up consuming a lot less, according to research done with M&M's at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. What's going on? When you eat a single food, you get tired of it after a while and don't want it anymore, notes lead author Carey Morewedge, PhD. More good news: The study team recently discovered that this trick curbs cravings even more effectively when you're hungry.


Breakthroughs for Deadly Disease: Melanoma

In advanced cases—meaning that this skin cancer has spread to other organs—the prognosis is grim. Two new drugs offer hope: Zelboraf (vemurafenib), which targets a gene mutation that leads to runaway cancer growth, and Yervoy (ipilimumab), which ramps up the immune system to go after the cancer. While neither is a miracle cure, the drugs offer extra months (or, in some cases, years) of life—something no other mel-anoma drug has done before, says Yale University's David J. Leffell, MD.

Dean Bertoncelj

Reasons to Exercise: Lifting weights helps prevent Type 2 diabetes

In a major study of nearly 14,000 subjects, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, concluded that each 10 percent increase in muscle mass (as a percentage of body weight) correlated to a 12 percent drop in prediabetes. Improvements occurred even in individuals who exercised but did not lose weight. To boost your odds of preventing type 2 diabetes, strength-train at least twice a week by lifting weights, exercising with resistance bands or doing push-ups and other moves that use your body weight for resistance.

Pete Saloutos

40 Percent

How much your cold is cut short if you take zinc lozenges, especially if you get 80 to 90 milligrams of zinc acetate a day. Check package labels to see which formulation of zinc the medicine contains.

Sean Barley

Breakthroughs for Deadly Disease: Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C can seriously—and fatally—harm your liver. But when either of two new drugs, Incivek (telaprevir) and Victrelis (boceprevir), is used in conjunction with conventional medications, the cure rate for the disease rises from under 50 percent to nearly 70 percent, says Nancy Reau, MD, associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center.


Life-Extending Foods: Chia Seeds

Once a staple of Mayan diets, chia has been primarily known as the “pet” in ’70s-style novelty planters. If we'd only realized what we were missing: The seeds are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and two tablespoons' worth supplies a whopping 11 grams of fiber. Toss the mildly flavored seeds on cereal or salads.

Sonia Caron

The Number You Want to Improve

Vo2 max, a measure of the maximal amount of oxygen per kilogram of body weight that your body uses in a minute of intense exercise. (Calculate yours at or download the free iPhone app VO2Cal.) You're in good shape as long as your VO₂ max stays above 35 milliliters per kilogram per minute, according to a study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Women who slipped below that figure were five times as likely as the fittest women in the study to have at least three cardiovascular-disease risk factors. VO2 max, a common gauge of fitness, is the single best indicator of longevity because it reflects, among other things, “how well your heart pumps,” says study author Ulrik Wisloff, PhD, head of the Cardiac Exercise Research Group at Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. Regular aerobic exercise can help boost your VO2 max.


1 Inch...

How much your hips spread from age 20 to age 79, when your pelvic bones finally stop expanding. This increase could add as much as three inches to your middle section, say researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Tatyana Ogryzko

True or False: You get shingles only once

False. A new study shows that nearly 7 percent of women who get shingles will succumb again—a good reason to talk with your doc about protecting yourself with the shingles vaccine. This year the FDA approved the vaccine for people 50 and older; previously it was approved only for those 60 and up. Shingles, an extremely painful rash, is caused by a reactivation of the chicken pox virus 98 percent of us had as kids.


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Andrey Chmelyov

First Published December 7, 2011

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