Please Don’t Stop the Music

band students

Research shows that playing a musical instrument is great for your brain. (Photo credit: Radius Images/Alamy)

Do you listen to music or play an instrument? If so, research shows you’re giving your brain an excellent workout. [Read more…]

The Heart of the Matter

heart

A healthy heart is key to a healthy life. (Photo credit: Tlorna/Shutterstock)

February is the month of the heart. Not only home to Valentine’s Day–the day to celebrate the love long-considered to originate from the heart–in the United States, February is designated as National Heart Month. [Read more…]

The Appendix: More Useful Than Once Thought

For a long time, it was thought that the human appendix had no use. Instead, it was thought of as a vestigial organ, that is, an organ that functioned in an earlier ancestor, but no longer held that same use. However, new research indicates that the appendix is far from pointless. In fact, it may have an important role in survival.

The appendix is a pinky-finger sized organ located just below the junction between the small and large intestines. Though its function has been debated over the years, scientists have known for a while that the appendix is formed from immune system tissue.

appendix

The appendix is a pinky-finger sized organ located just below the junction of the large and small intestines.

[Read more…]

Does Being Overweight Hurt the Environment?

We all know that being obese is bad for your health. But did you know that being overweight may also be bad for the environment? Recent research indicates that obese populations expend more energy and produce more greenhouse gases than leaner populations (that is, those with a healthy body mass index, or BMI).

In their study, the researchers compared a population of one billion obese people with a population of one billion lean people. Using a mathematical model, the researchers determined that an obese population would emit 0.4 to 1.0 Gigatons more carbon dioxide equivalents than a lean population. Lean populations require less food and less energy for transportation than obese populations.

Food production accounts for 20 percent and transportation accounts for 14 percent of the global greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. Those who are overweight are more likely to use gas-powered transportation than leaner populations, who are more likely to walk or bike to their destination.

The results of this study are a cause for concern because in many countries the overall population’s BMI is increasing, and there is an increased incidence of obesity worldwide. As this study’s conclusions indicate, In addition to facing health problems, these populations may also be inadvertently harming the environment as well.

The study was conducted by Phil Edwards and Ian Roberts, both members of the faculty at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s Department of Epidemiology and Population Health. The results of their research was published in the April 20 edition of the International Journal of Epidemiology.

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Substance Found in Fruits and Vegetables May Reduce Chance of Flu

In a recent study published by The American Physiological Society, researchers found that mice given quercetin had a smaller chance of catching the flu. The researchers also found that stressful exercise increased the likelihood of contracting flu in the mice. When the mice that had exercised were given quercetin, however, the researchers found that the mice were less susceptible to the flu–quercetin effectively canceled out the negative effects of stressful exercise.

What is Quercetin?

Quercetin is a substance that is naturally found in fruits and vegetables. It is an example of a flavonol, a type of flavonoid. Flavonoids are substances found within plants that produce pigments in some flowers and protect the plant from attack by insects or microbes.

Foods rich in quercetin include red grapes, red onions, tea, and berries such as blueberries. Previous studies have indicated that quercetin is an effective anti-inflammatory agent and helps to prevent the processes that cause inflammation. Studies have also shown that quercetin, when combined with ultrasound therapy, works to inhibit the growth of cancerous tumors.

Blueberries are an example of a fruit rich in quercetin. (Photo Credit: USDA)

Blueberries are an example of a fruit rich in quercetin. (Photo Credit: USDA)

Quercetin and the Flu

In this most recent study, researchers based at the University of South Carolina and Clemson University studied the relationship between stressful exercise and susceptibility to flu in mice. In the experiment, the researchers studied four groups of mice. Two groups exercised to fatigue on a treadmill for three days in a row to imitate a short episode of stressful exercise. One group of exercising mice was given quercetin; the other was not. The two remaining groups of mice did not exercise. One of the non-exercising groups of mice was given quercetin; the other was not. Next, all four groups of mice were exposed to the common flu virus.

The results of the experiment were five-fold. First, mice that experienced stressful exercise were more likely to catch the flu. Second, the mice that exercised caught the flu sooner than the mice that had not exercised. Third, mice that exercised and were given quercetin had nearly the same rate of illness as the mice that did not exercise. Fourth, those mice that did not exercise, or that did exercise but took quercetin, experienced the same severity of flu symptoms. And fifth, the mice that did not exercise but were given quercetin experienced protective effects from the supplement.

How these results in mice relate to humans is less understood. In one study involving humans, it was shown that, following three consecutive days of stressful exercise, those who had taken quercetin were less likely to suffer from illnesses than those who did not take the supplement. However, further research is needed to fully understand how quercetin affects humans and whether or not its affects are the same for humans as they are for mice.

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Teens’ Poor Sleep Habits May Lead to Elevated Blood Pressure

Research recently published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association indicates that teenagers who have a low sleep efficiency or don’t get enough sleep may have a higher risk of elevated blood pressure, which could lead to cardiovascular disease later in life. Sleep efficiency refers to the ratio of time asleep divided by the time allotted for sleep. Teens with a low sleep efficiency have trouble falling asleep at night and/or wake up too early in the morning.

More and more children and young adults are being diagnosed with hypertension due to sedentary lifestyles that often include long hours of playing video games, watching tv, or surfing the Internet (sometimes late into the night, affecting sleep patterns). Hypertension in children and adolescents is currently treated with a regimen of diet and exercise. The researchers who conducted this study hope future studies will help indicate whether a program involving sleep optimization in addition to weight management and exercise will aid in the prevention of hypertension.

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Joint and Muscle Impact Reduced by Low-Gravity Training Machine

Research conducted by Dr. Rodger Kram of the University of Colorado at Boulder indicates that a space-age, low-gravity training machine reduces the impact on runners’ muscles and joints by 50 percent. Kram, an associate professor of integrative physiology, coauthored the study with Alena Grabowski, a doctoral student at CU-Boulder at the time of the study. The results of their study were published in the August issue of the Journal of Applied Biomechanics.

The scientists based their research on the use of the “G-Trainer,” a machine that is made up of a treadmill surrounded by an inflatable plastic chamber that encases the lower body of the runner. Air is pumped into the plastic chamber, which increases the pressure and therefore effectively reduces the weight of the runner, who is sealed into the machine at the waist. The technology behind the G-Trainer was originally developed by Rob Whalen, a researcher at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California. NASA was interested in the technology as a way to help astronauts maintain their fitness while in space. The technology developed by NASA was used to help astronauts effectively increase their weight while in low-gravity situations to prevent muscle atrophy and bone loss. The G-Trainer, however, reverses the process.

For their study, Kram and Grabowski modified the G-Trainer by exchanging a standard treadmill for a treadmill that measured force. The modified treadmill measured the biomechanical forces on the subject’s legs during running by charting the vertical and horizontal stress load on each foot during locomotion. The study included ten subjects. Each subject ran at three different speeds at a variety of reduced weights for a period of seven minutes. In addition to measuring the forces on the subject’s legs, the researchers also measured the subject’s oxygen consumption during their runs.

The researchers found that a subject running at half their weight on the G-Trainer decreased the “peak” force absorbed by their joints from their heel striking the treadmill by 44 percent. These results are significant given that when running in a normal situation, a runner’s joints absorb a force equal to double the runner’s weight each time their foot strikes the ground.

According to Kram, the results of the study have implications for both competitive runners recovering from injuries and for normal people recovering from hip or knee surgeries. Several Olympic-bound and other competitive runners already use the G-Trainer as a part of their normal training routine. Training on the G-Trainer allows healthy runners to prevent injuries while still getting in the necessary workout.

“We showed that a person can run faster in the G-Trainer at a lower weight and still get substantial aerobic benefits while maintaining good neuromuscular coordination,” Kram said.

A follow-up study is in the works to research the use of the G-Trainer with walkers. Kram and Grabowski hope to learn how effective the G-Trainer would be as a rehabilitation device for those recovering from surgeries, stress fractures, or other lower body injuries.

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