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In the News, Research, Sports

A closer look at 'runner's high'

A closer look at 'runner's high'

I’m never really sure what to say when people ask me why I run. I stammer about enjoying the accomplishment of crossing the finish line, I mumble about the stress relief or I joke that it’s a preemptive strike against my fondness for Chipotle burritos.

Truth be told, I think that’s only part of it. The other part is how I feel after a good run: the rush of lightness, the release of tension lingering in my muscles and the thought that I’m stronger than I was before.

According to David Raichlen, PhD, a researcher at the University of Arizona and a runner, the so-called runner’s high is a legitimately addictive feeling and may be part of the reason I’m hitting the trails and doing laps around my neighborhood on a regular basis. In recent research published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, Raichlen explored similarities between this feeling and the addictive nature of drugs. And today, NPR Shots discusses Raichlen’s findings and how the runner’s high may have had evolutionary advantages for early humans:

When people exercise aerobically, their bodies can actually make drugs — cannabinoids, the same kind of chemicals in marijuana. Raichlen wondered if other distance-running animals also produced those drugs. If so, maybe runner’s high is not some peculiar thing with humans. Maybe it’s an evolutionary payoff for doing something hard and painful, that also helps them survive better, be healthier, hunt better or have more offspring.

So he put dogs — also distance runners — on a treadmill. Also ferrets, but ferrets are not long-distance runners. The dogs produced the drug, but the ferrets did not. Says Raichlen: “It suggests some level of aerobic exercise was encouraged by natural selection, and it may be fairly deep in our evolutionary roots.”

Raichlen himself admits that his research is not conclusive, saying that he would like to continue to experiment with more animals. But whether or not my ancestors ran to be more adept at chasing after food, I’m just happy to be addicted.

Photo by Infomatique

Behavioral Science, In the News, Media

New Israeli law targets extreme thinness in advertising

Advertisers in Israel will soon face tougher scrutiny about promoting too-thin models thanks to a new law banning underweight models from advertisements. The law takes aim at lowering the rate of eating disorders by targeting the fashion industry, often accused of idealizing extreme thinness, and also requires a clear, readable disclaimer on ads that have been digitally manipulated to make models appear thinner.

For models, the law requires that they provide medical reports at every photo shoot, dating back no more than three months, to prove that they are not malnourished according to standards set by the World Health Organization.

In an Associated Press article, Liad Gil-Har, assistant to the law’s sponsor, Rachel Adato, MD, explains, “We want to break the illusion that the model we see is real.”

The ink on this law is still drying – it passed late last night – but commendations and criticisms are already rolling in. Adi Barkan, one of Israel’s top model agents, has become an advocate for the law, citing that in his 30-year career he has seen women getting thinner and sicker. He told the AP that they “look like dead girls.” However, critics of the law argue that the ban focuses too much on a number and not the overall health of models, citing that some models are naturally much thinner.

Eating disorders severely affect an estimated 2 percent of Israeli girls between the ages of 14 and 18. In the United States, the National Eating Disorders Association estimates in their fact sheet (.pdf) that 10 million women and 1 million men suffer from eating disorders—approximately 3.5 percent of the population.

Photo by melohel

In the News, Sleep, Stanford News, Videos

More sleeping tips from a Stanford expert

More sleeping tips from a Stanford expert

I sleep like a champ – or at least, I’d like to think I do. But frequent bouts of temporary restlessness and insomnia have left me questioning whether I’m doing something wrong.

In a recent interview with 7 Live OnlineClete Kushida, MD, PhD, director of sleep medicine at Stanford, provides sleeping tips for people like me. As you’ll see in the video above, he discusses the recent time change as well as ways to establish a healthy pattern of behavior for better sleep.

Previously: Ask Stanford Med: Rafael Pelayo answers questions on sleep research and offers tips for ‘springing forward’Stanford sleep expert Rafael Pelayo featured on KGO, Stanford expert: Quality, not quantity, of sleep is what counts and Tips for not losing sleep over daylight-saving time

Mental Health, Technology

New social network aims to help anxiety sufferers

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A new social network called AnxietySocialNet aims to help people suffering from anxiety disorders address their symptoms, find information and network with others.

Founded by Salomon Ptasevich, a former anxiety sufferer, the site also hopes to attract friends and family members who may be watching a loved one struggle with anxiety who feel helpless or confused about how to help. In a WebWire news release, Ptasevich explains:

The whole idea behind ASN is to allow people to share their emotions in a safe place and learn from each other’s experiences. We try to encourage users to get themselves out there and conquer their anxiety.

AnxietySocialNet hopes to help sufferers of agoraphobia, social anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder or any of the other forms of anxiety affecting many. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that anxiety disorders affect as many as 40 million Americans age 18 or older.

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock Photos

Behavioral Science, Nutrition, Obesity

Smaller plates may not be helpful tools for dieters, study suggests

Dieters advised to use a smaller dinner plate may find themselves without much weight loss success, or so says findings recently published  in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics.

In the study (subscription required), 10 overweight and 10 normal weight women participated in the study; each was randomly assigned to dine with either an 8.5-inch or a 10.8-inch dinner plate. Told to eat until they felt satisfied, the women were studied over one meal (lunch) on two different days and each used a different-sized plate every time they ate.

The plate size did not affect the amount of calories that participants ate at either meal. However, overweight/obese women in the study reported feeling less hungry prior to the meal and less full afterward.

Reading the results, I’m left wondering whether a longer study would have told a different story or if more direction about what to eat would have made a difference. But you can read more about the study in this HealthDay News story.

Photo by austin hsieh

Chronic Disease, In the News, Pediatrics, Research

Research shows kids' health good predictor of parents' future health

Research shows kids' health good predictor of parents' future health

I was a pretty healthy kid growing up, something I’ve mostly attributed to my parents’ encouragement of my vegetable-eating, outdoor-playing tendencies. It wasn’t until today when I read this Reuters article that it even occurred to me that my health could influence – or predict – that of my parents.

A new study in the Journal of Pediatrics finds that kids’ health may be a good predictor of their parents’ cardiovascular health.

Charles J. Glueck, MD, of Jewish Hospital of Cincinnati led the study that measured weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides of over 800 children at age 12, and then reassessed them, as well as their parents, 26 years later. The study found that nearly half of the now grown-up children – 47 percent – had a parent who had suffered a heart attack, stroke or needed a procedure to clear blocked arteries at some point during the duration of the study; 37 percent, a parent had developed diabetes.

For children in the study who were overweight, their parents’ likelihood of developing high blood pressure or diabetes had doubled. “Pediatric risk factors –  cholesterol, triglycerides, high blood pressure – identified families where parents were at increased risk,” Glueck told Reuters.

But what does this mean? For now, simply that childhood screenings – including one for cholesterol, which has only been recommended in recent years as part of ‘well-child’ checkups – may predict risks in both kids and parents. (And this is important, Glueck said, because some parents don’t go to the doctor’s themselves – but routinely take their children.)

Photo courtesy of parcelbrat

Health Policy, In the News, Nutrition

A call for understandable information on food labels

A call for understandable information on food labels

Nutrition labelThe individual-sized bag of Fritos sitting on my desk has 320 milligrams of sodium, no cholesterol, 3 grams of protein and 180 calories of fat. But what do those numbers actually tell me about the snack? Is it good for me? Bad for me? Somewhere in-between?

Today, the Institute of Medicine issued a report (.pdf) urging the Food and Drug Administration to begin labeling food with easy-to-read ratings on nutritional value. Instead of the nutrition-ese we’ve grown accustomed to seeing on food packaging, the proposed system would rate food based on its sodium, sugar and fat content on a scale from zero to three, with three being the best possible rating for the given factor.

In spite of new diets emerging each year promising dazzling results and studies published on a seemingly weekly basis proclaiming new nutritional information, Americans still spend more than $145 billion each year in obesity-related health costs. As Ellen Wartella, PhD, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University and leader of the Institute of Medicine committee advocating the new rating system (which has been likened to the Energy Star program labels on consumer products), points out in a Bloomberg article:

Americans today have access to more information about nutrition than any previous generation, and yet the nation is facing a crisis of obesity and diet-related chronic disease. It’s clear that there is a disconnect between dietary recommendations and actual consumption.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which launched its Facts Up Front program in January, asserts that consumers would rather make judgments on healthy food for themselves than be told what’s good for them by the government. But in a commentary on MSNBC’s Vitals blog, bioethicist Art Caplan, PhD, offers that:

Big government is an easy target but the industry argument misses the point. The government’s role is to get industry to give you trustworthy useful information. Telling you that Captain Crunch is fortified with iron does not make it healthy for kids to eat sugary breakfast foods.

As I try to make sense of the nutritional gibberish on the back of my bag of Fritos, I nod in affirmation.

Photo by Syvwlch

Autism, Health Policy, In the News, Pediatrics

A mandate for insurance companies to cover autism treatment

I was almost 21 before I had any concept of what autism was or what it meant, especially for those families affected by it. But in just a few weeks, I found myself immersed in the issues after taking a job as a behavior instructor for an early-intervention Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) program.

So I took notice when California Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 946 – a bill mandating that private insurance companies provide coverage for families seeking ABA therapy as autism treatment. The law will take effect in July 2012.

Insurers have argued that behavior therapy is more aligned with education than with actual health care, but in a Los Angeles Times column, David Lazarus points out these types of treatments are medically necessary. And pricey:

Autism, like nearly all chronic conditions, is expensive. It requires not just medical treatment but also extensive educational, behavioral and vocational support.

A study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that direct medical and nonmedical costs for a severely autistic person can run as much as $72,000 a year. People with milder forms of autism can face costs of about $67,000 annually.

Insurers are concerned about cost: A statement from the California Assocation of Health Plans (an industry group) predicted that SB 946 would drive up health care costs by $850 million a year. But the financial impact of the legislation varies depending on who you ask. The California Health Benefits Review Program conducted an evaluation of the bill for the state legislature estimating that annual costs of the law would actually be closer to $93 million – no small amount of change, but a far cry from $850 million.

The issue is certainly complicated, and there is still quite a bit of time before we begin to see how this will unfold. But as someone who now considers herself an advocate for early intervention and for ABA, I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t a win for many families in California.

Previously: Autism therapies: It still comes down to parents
Photo by Lance Nielson

Health Policy, In the News, Nutrition

Denmark's "fat tax" aims at life expectancy – not just waistlines

ButterIn my kitchen, I fancy myself Julia Child. OK, not exactly… but the two of us do share a mutual affinity for a common ingredient: butter. And so I was intrigued to read that Denmark recently became the first country to begin raising the prices of fattening food — a “fat tax” that adds 16 Danish kroner per kilogram of saturated fat to food with saturated fat content exceeding 2.3 percent (which equates to about $1.29 per pound of saturated fat).

Romania and Finland may soon be joining Denmark by rolling out similar taxes. In the United States, similar sin taxes (such as a proposed soda tax) might help improve our country’s obesity problem. But, as a recent Booster Shots entry pointed out, leaders in Denmark have a different health goal in mind:

The fat tax isn’t aimed at curbing obesity. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the obesity rate in Denmark was 13.4 percent last year, below the European average of 15.5 percent. But Denmark lags in terms of life expectancy, and the country hopes the measure will increase the average lifespan by three years over the next decade.

When then-health minister Jakob Axel Nielsen proposed a variety of sin taxes on unhealthy foods in 2009, he explained that “higher fees on sugar, fat and tobacco is an important step on the way toward a higher average life expectancy in Denmark.” The fat tax was especially critical because “saturated fats can cause cardiovascular disease and cancer,” he said, according to the AP.

Butter in Denmark would increase in price by an estimated 39 cents for a small package – it may not bust budgets, but would hopefully discourage Danes from consuming as much. Though to some Danes, it may make no difference at all: Copenhagen resident Mathias Buch Jensen told The Guardian, “I would fry cabbage in butter, and add a little more butter at the end. That way at least I’m getting my vegetables.”

A man after my own heart.

Photo by Steve Johnson

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