Fresh Health News: Spring 2022

Listen, Ladies

Researchers find a higher incidence of ischemic stroke in young women than in young men

Stroke may be the leading cause of death in men, but a new study funded by the National Institutes of Health shifts the conversation to a surprising demographic: young women. Recent analysis of 16 international studies found that women under 35 years old are 44 times more likely to have an ischemic stroke than men of a similar age. (This type of stroke, when a blood clot blocks an artery leading to the brain, accounts for 87 percent of all strokes.) What’s more, after surviving a stroke, the risk of poor functional outcomes is two to three times greater for women than men. Authors of the study hypothesize that pregnancy, childbirth and hormonal contraceptives may play a role in such differences. While the incidence of stroke in younger patients is still much lower compared to older patients, these findings, published in the journal Stroke, point to a need for continued research.

Spot a Stroke: Treatment is best administered within three hours of symptom onset. Use this simple test to recognize when help is needed:

Time Well Spent

There’s a lot you can achieve in 10 minutes: fold a laundry load, organize your desk, empty the dishwasher, write a friendly note, increase your life expectancy. That’s right. This past January, JAMA Internal Medicine reported that just 10 additional minutes a day of moderate to vigorous exercise may lower a person’s death risk by seven percent. An extra 20 minutes of physical activity reduces that risk by 13 percent, and an additional half-hour cuts it by 17 percent. The government health and nutrition study, which examined data from 4,800 participants ages 40 to 85, found this correlation to be true regardless of race or sex. Unfortunately, roughly one-quarter of American adults don’t get any daily activity, estimates the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With a small bump in exercise, more than 110,000 U.S. lives could be saved annually. So take a brisk walk, park farther from the store or bike your neighborhood and add years to your life!

Under Pressure

For many Americans, the pandemic has marked a time of reduced exercise, poor sleep, elevated stress, increased drinking and little health care. As we now work our way towards post-COVID-19 normalcy, scientists continue to learn about the health havoc wreaked by this period. A recent letter in the journal Circulation reports a sizable jump in the blood pressure of U.S. adults during the first year of the pandemic. Readings taken from nearly half a million participants during quarter one of 2020 hardly changed from 2019, but between April and December 2020, systolic blood pressure averages more than doubled and diastolic blood pressure averages almost quadrupled. Elevated pressure can eventually damage the heart, brain, blood vessels, kidneys and eyes, and doctors worry that the coming months will see a spike in strokes and heart attacks. The report reminds us that chronic health conditions must be continually managed.

The Eyes Have It

At age 40, every healthy adult should complete a baseline eye exam, advises the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Seniors over 65 want to visit an ophthalmologist once every year or two. Regular exams not only monitor the eyes for vision problems, but they can also catch a wide variety of diseases: dryness may mean rheumatoid arthritis, rings around the irises could indicate high cholesterol, yellowing signals liver problems and bulging eyes mark thyroid trouble. Take a look at what else an eye exam sees:

  1. Scientists just developed an algorithm that uses a routine eye exam to determine a person’s true biological age. Large gaps between birth age and the body’s health are associated with up to a 67% higher death risk. –British Journal of Ophthalmology
  2. A 2021 study identified a potential marker for cardiovascular disease in the retina’s blood vessels, so comprehensive eye exams may help pinpoint those at risk for heart attack. –Eclinical medicine by The Lancet
  3. Low visual acuity, contrast sensitivity and poor depth perception are linked to an elevated risk of dementia, according to new research from Johns Hopkins wilmer eye institute. –JAMA Network Open

Cracking Peanut Allergies

Early treatment may help toddlers overcome peanut allergies

For the 1.6 million U.S. children living with peanut allergies, treatment isn’t currently approved until age four. Even then, it must be continuous to offer protection from accidental exposure. Now, recent research shows that attempts to desensitize life-threatening peanut reactions may be more effective when started younger. In a study funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, doctors gave daily peanut powder to 146 toddlers with peanut allergies. After 30 months, 71 percent of participants could ingest the equivalent of 16 peanuts without trouble. That tolerance remained in 21 percent of the children even six months after stopping treatment, suggesting full remission. The findings, published in The Lancet, point to an early opportunity to create lasting change in a child’s immune system. While babies as young as four months old can be given peanut-based foods, parents of those with known peanut allergies should only do so under a doctor’s supervision.

To the Dogs

Studies show seniors age better with canine companionship

Beyond slobbery kisses and fuzzy nuzzles, pet ownership fetches a number of health benefits, including decreased blood pressure and stress. Now, two new studies report that furry friends may be especially helpful to aging adults. Preliminary research to be shared at the 2022 American Academy of Neurology annual meeting shows that long-term pet ownership (five or more years) may protect against cognitive declines. And another recent study of 11,000-plus people aged 65 to 84 found that dog owners were half as likely to develop a disability than those who’d never had a pooch. (Unfortunately for feline lovers, that advantage didn’t carry over to cat ownership.) The findings, which appeared this winter in the journal PLOS One, also noted an even greater decrease in disability risk among seniors who exercised regularly. All the more reason to leash your pup and head out for a springtime stroll!

Photographs by (jogger) Jacob Lund; (under pressure) Prostock-studio; (eye exam) NDAB Creativity; (dog walker) Scott Henderson