- Your Wheat Sensitivity May Have Nothing to Do With Gluten
- The Right Way to Take Melatonin Supplements For Sleep
- You Asked: What Causes a Miscarriage?
- A Man Ate a Ghost Pepper So Hot He Ripped a Hole in His Esophagus
- How to Stop Blushing So Much
- How Omega 3 Fats May Improve Fertility
Posted: 19 Oct 2016 10:02 AM PDT
When most people think of wheat-related health issues, they think of gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye that’s harmful for anyone with celiac disease. But gluten may not be the only culprit: A different family of proteins found in wheat and other grains—called amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATIs)—has also piqued the interest of scientists in recent years. And now, German researchers say that ATIs appear to cause inflammation, and make chronic health conditions worse.
According to the scientists from the Johannes Gutenberg University, for some people, eating ATIs (which make up no more than 4% of wheat proteins) can trigger powerful immune responses in the gut that can affect other parts of the body, including the lymph nodes, kidneys, spleen, and brain.
This reaction can worsen chronic conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, they say. It also likely contributes to the development of a condition known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity, in which people test negative for celiac disease but still suffer gastrointestinal pain, fatigue, and other unpleasant symptoms after eating bread, pasta, and other wheat products. (Celiac disease is a serious condition in which an autoimmune reaction to gluten damages the intestines, causing diarrhea, weight loss, and nutritional deficiencies.)
Detlef Schuppan, MD, who holds faculty positions at both Johannes Gutenberg University and Harvard Medical School, presented these findings at UEG Week in Vienna, Austria, an annual meeting for gastroenterologists and digestive-disease researchers from around the world. His presentation was based on several studies published in the last few years, as well as some recent, yet-unpublished research.
Health.com: 10 Risk Factors for Inflammatory Bowel Disease
“As well as contributing to the development of bowel-related inflammatory conditions, we believe that ATIs can promote inflammation of other immune-related chronic conditions outside of the bowel,” Dr. Schuppan said in a press release. He added that ATIs in wheat appear to “activate specific types of immune cells in the gut and other tissues, thereby potentially worsening the symptoms of pre-existing inflammatory illnesses.”
Research has also shown that people with diagnosed non-celiac gluten sensitivities suffer a different type of inflammation than those with celiac disease, leading Dr. Schuppan and his Harvard colleagues to speculate that the symptoms—which can range from digestive issues to headaches, joint pain, and rashes—are actually caused by ATIs, not gluten.
A gluten-free diet tends to relieve these people’s symptoms, they say, because gluten and ATIs appear together in foods. “Rather than non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which implies that gluten solitarily causes the inflammation, a more precise name for the disease should be considered,” Dr. Schuppan said.
Health.com: 6 Myths About Gluten-Free Diets You Shouldn’t Believe
Studies are currently in the works to examine the role that ATIs play in the progression of chronic health conditions. “We are hoping that this research can lead us towards being able to recommend an ATI-free diet to help treat a variety of potentially serious immunological disorders,” Dr. Schuppan said.
The effect of ATIs on inflammation appears to be dose-dependent. “A 90% reduction would likely be sufficient in most patients,” Dr. Schuppan wrote in an email to Health.
A Rutgers University study recently showed that the number of people following gluten-free diets has increased in the United States, even though diagnoses of celiac disease have remained stable. The authors hypothesized that people with so-called gluten sensitivities—either self-diagnosed or described by a doctor—could be partially responsible for the uptick. (Although others adopt a gluten-free diet due to the mistaken notion that it’s healthier or an easy path to weight loss.)
But Dr. Schuppan thinks that many people who would benefit from avoiding wheat, and specifically ATIs, aren’t even aware that such a dietary change could help. “They usually have severe (e.g. autoimmune) diseases and are under strong medication anyhow,” he wrote.
More studies are needed before doctors can make specific recommendations or pinpoint groups of people who might be affected most. And the study needs to be published in a peer-reviewed medical journal so that it undergoes closer scrutiny. But Dr. Schuppan says that so far, his research has consistently led to one conclusion. “Bottom line,” he wrote, “chronic diseases get worsened by ingestion of wheat (ATIs).”
Posted: 19 Oct 2016 09:00 AM PDT
Jet lag always seems to get the best of me when I travel. I’ve tried prescription sleeping pills, well-timed cups of coffee, and even gradually adjusting my sleep schedule in the days leading up to a trip. But I hadn’t used melatonin to help regulate my sleep cycle, so when Sundown Naturals Adult Melatonin Gummies ($10; amazon.com) landed on my desk a few days before a recent trip to Europe, it seemed like fate. I packed a handful in my carry-on, thinking at the very least they’d help me get a few hours of shuteye during the flight. That’s when my love affair began: Unlike sleeping pills, melatonin helped me drift off to sleep easily on the plane, yet didn’t leave me feeling groggy upon arrival. I ended up taking them every night during the trip to help my body clock adjust to the new time zone (with minimal jet lag!); and then, back in New York, to ease into Eastern Time again.
But two weeks later—definitely no longer jet lagged—I still find myself reaching for these gummies before bed. For me, it’s less about falling asleep and more about the quality of my rest. I’ve been snoozing soundly throughout the night and waking up feeling super-refreshed. But is that how you’re supposed to use melatonin? And even though it’s a natural sleep aid, is it possible to become addicted?
Health.com: How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?
The right way to take melatonin
I reached out to Chris Winter, MD, medical director of the Martha Jefferson Hospital Sleep Medicine Center and author of the upcoming book The Sleep Solution, to get his take. The good news, he says, is you won’t become physically addicted to melatonin supplements—at least not in the way you can get addicted to prescription sleeping pills, for example. But that doesn’t mean you should make a nightly habit out of taking them.
“You should give yourself a time limit, such as for four or five days,” he says, adding that they should be taken for a very specific reason, such as during an unusual bout of insomnia or when you’re traveling across time zones. “When that thing has run its course, you should stop.”
The reason for this, Dr. Winter explains, has to do with the way our body’s internal clock functions. When the sun sets and it gets dark outside, this alerts the brain’s pineal gland that it’s almost time to go to sleep. The pineal gland, in turn, begins to secrete melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle. The next morning, melatonin levels drop, signaling to your body that it’s time to wake up.
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“When someone starts taking melatonin for the first time, they’re experiencing a surge of the hormone from the supplement in addition to the natural nighttime secretion they’re already getting from their brain,” he says.
As a short-term fix, melatonin can be helpful for adjusting your internal clock. “It’s a good way to re-create circadian rhythms when they’ve been disrupted,” Dr. Winter says. It starts to become problematic, though, if you take melatonin supplements every single night.
“For chronic melatonin users, your body’s circadian rhythm can get pushed back over time,” he says. “So if your brain was naturally secreting melatonin every evening at 7 p.m., it may start to think it doesn’t need to secrete it until 11 p.m., for example, because that’s when you’ve been taking a melatonin pill.” In other words, you could sabotage the effectiveness of your body’s internal clock.
Some people can also become psychologically dependent on the idea of taking a supplement to fall asleep.
“It’s like a baby blanket,” says Dr. Winter. “It’s not actually curing anything, but if it becomes a habit, people will feel nervous to go to bed without it. They’ll start thinking, ‘I didn’t take melatonin, now I’m going to wake up during the night and feel horrible the next day.’ Then they have anxiety about not being able to sleep.”
And as for that whole sleeping-through-the-night benefit I’ve come to love? Dr. Winters insists it’s better to simply wake up and fall back asleep naturally rather than rely on melatonin. “If you wake up in the middle of the night, you might feel groggy the next day, yes—but that will teach your brain to help you sleep more efficiently the following night.”
A smarter sleep strategy
Rather than becoming dependent on melatonin to fall asleep, Dr. Winter suggested I start cultivating a routine that supports my body’s circadian rhythm.
“Create a quiet environment around dinnertime,” he says. In other words, I should dim the lights earlier in the evening, turn off the TV (no more post-work binges on Netflix), and enable that “night shift” setting on my iPhone. “This will signal to your brain that it’s time to start producing melatonin, and you’ll fall asleep more easily a few hours later.”
To feel more alert in the morning, he recommended scheduling A.M. workouts and using a “wake-up light” to make my bedroom feel sunnier in the dark winter months. I’ve started using the Philips Wake-Up Light With Colored Sunrise Simulation ($170; amazon.com), which gradually produces natural-looking light a few hours before wake-up time and also functions as an alarm clock with soothing nature sounds.
Most importantly, I’m putting away the melatonin gummies until my next big trip, which happens to be a 20-hour flight to Australia—I’m pretty sure I’ll need them for that.
Posted: 19 Oct 2016 08:47 AM PDT
Any discussion of miscarriage should start with the stats, which are eye opening.
Most Americans think lost pregnancies are rare, according to surveys, but the reality is that up to 1 in 3 pregnancies will end in miscarriage, experts say. Add in the pregnancies that fail before a fertilized egg becomes implanted in the womb, and the numbers jump as high as 50%, according to the National Institutes of Health.
“Human conception is one of the most ineffective conceptions in nature,” says Dr. Yadava Jeve, a gynecologist and fertility researcher with the UK’s University Hospitals of Leicester. There’s a great deal that can—and does—go wrong that will result in a lost pregnancy, his research shows.
Experts including Jeve break down miscarriages into two categories. The first, sometimes called “sporadic” or “spontaneous” miscarriage, refers to when women lose one or two pregnancies in a row.
Jeve says the majority of sporadic miscarriages are attributable to unpreventable “chromosomal abnormalities.” In many cases, a new embryo will have more or fewer than the 23 chromosome pairs it’s meant to have. “It’s nature’s mechanism to miscarry those embryos, which are not destined to develop into a healthy fetus,” he says. The risk for chromosomal abnormalities goes up as a woman ages. “But no one’s sure just why that is,” says Dr. Richard Bronson, director of reproductive endocrinology at Stony Brook University.
The quality of a man’s semen also seems to play a role. “Poor sperm quality can be the cause [of miscarriage] in about 6% of couples,” says Dr. Gavin Sacks, an obstetrician and researcher with IVF Australia. But there are probably multiple factors that, together, result in a lost pregnancy, he adds.
What you won’t hear from fertility experts, at least when it comes to miscarriage, are warnings about caffeine, stress, poor sleep or any of the other behavioral factors people often point to when trying to explain a lost pregnancy. While living a healthy lifestyle is linked to better odds of becoming pregnant and healthier babies, the ties between unhealthy behaviors and miscarriage are absent or dubious.
“I think caffeine consumption is the thing I’m asked about most,” says Emily Oster, a Brown University economist and author of Expecting Better, a book that includes a data-driven analysis of the hard evidence—or lack thereof—linking caffeine, stress and other behaviors to higher rates of miscarriage.
Oster says there’s no reason to think a cup or two of coffee could trigger a miscarriage. “A little caffeine is clearly safe,” she says. It’s more difficult to know if pounding cup after cup of coffee all day long could be harmful, she adds. But even then, caffeine’s links to miscarriage are uncertain.
The current research suggests the same is true of stress. Oster says suffering the loss of a parent or loved one—a very significant emotional trauma—is something researchers are looking into. But run-of-the-mill stresses from work or a busy home life are not going to lead to a lost pregnancy.
Even when it comes to smoking and drinking, ties to miscarriage are “tenuous,” Oster says. But beyond a lost pregnancy, there are established links between drinking during the first trimester and fetal alcohol syndrome, and smoking and issues like cleft palate, that make avoiding both a responsible choice.
To sum all this up, the notion that an expectant mother does something to trigger a miscarriage is just not backed up by science. “When people ask, ‘What could I have done?’ the answer is nothing,” Oster says. “That’s kind of a terrible thing, but it really seems to come down to genes and chance.”
Sacks agrees. “Even if they were smoking, drinking, overweight…I wouldn’t say their activities ’caused’ it,” he says.
For women who experience “recurrent” miscarriages—three or more consecutive lost pregnancies—the underlying causes are a little different, but the fact remains that lifestyle choices aren’t to blame.
Along with chromosomal abnormalities, structural problems with the uterus could lead to repeated lost pregnancies, Bronson says. Infection, thyroid problems, genetic mutations, hormone imbalances or immune system issues could also explain multiple miscarriages. But even for women who experience four lost pregnancies in a row, the chances of eventually having a successful pregnancy are still above 50%, he says.
“I think the biggest message here is that we need to talk more openly about miscarriages and how common they are,” Oster says. “This topic is stigmatized, and there’s this idea that you should keep it secret, and so you don’t realize how many people it’s happening to.”
Posted: 19 Oct 2016 08:19 AM PDT
Correction appended, Oct. 19
A 47-year-old man ate a pepper so hot that he ripped a 2.5-cm hole in his esophagus.
As reported by the Washington Post, the man was taking part in a food eating contest and was challenged to eat a hamburger with ghost pepper puree. The ghost pepper originally hails from India and is regarded as one of the spiciest foods in the world, coming in at third place on Guinness World Records’ list of the world’s hottest chilies.
Also known by the name bhut jolokia, the pepper is ranked at 1 million on the Scoville Scale, which is a system for measuring the spiciness of different substances. To compare, a bell pepper is zero units on the scale, the fiery Scotch Bonnet is 350,000 units and the world’s hottest pepper, called the Carolina Reaper, is 1.5 million units.
The case study was originally featured in the Journal of Emergency Medicine, where the man is described as having reacted to eating the pepper by “violent retching and vomiting.” After it was discovered that this reaction to the pepper had torn a hole in his esophagus, which can be fatal, the patient was kept in the hospital for 23 days while surgeons worked on repairing the damage, and he was eventually discharged with a gastric tube in place.
Correction: The original version of this story misstated the cause of the man’s esophageal hole. It was caused by retching and vomiting after he consumed the hot pepper.
Posted: 18 Oct 2016 11:00 AM PDT
Literature is full of blushing characters: Everyone from Elizabeth Bennet to Hermione Granger—heck, even the ax-wielding Annie Wilkes from Misery—occasionally blushes, and as a result, the reader tends to like them all the more. (Until, you know, that ax scene.) But what’s cute in a Jane Austen novel isn’t necessarily endearing to the shareholders at your annual company-wide meeting. Or is it?
“Blushing is quite unique,” says Rowland Miller, PhD, a psychology professor at Sam Houston State University who specializes in social emotions. When humans are faced with certain threats, the fight-or-flight response kicks in, and blood is diverted away from the skin, to the muscles. The opposite occurs when we blush—the blood flow increases to the skin via the veins of the upper neck, chest, and face.
So why does your autonomic nervous system want to throw you under the bus? Well, it may actually be trying to help you. “Blushing serves a useful function,” says Miller. “It’s an authentic, non-verbal apology for misbehavior.” And socially speaking, “misbehavior” has a pretty broad definition—leaving your fly unzipped or mispronouncing a word can count.
Blushing is important, Miller says, because people who convey remorse are less likely to be ostracized by their peers. “If someone misbehaves and remains calm, they aren’t as well liked,” he explains. Example: If you knocked your friend’s iPhone into a swimming pool and just shrugged your shoulders, you would likely then have one less friend.
Research supports the theory that blushing helps us: People think better of us if we turn a little red after we make a social faux pas—more so than if we don’t blush, according to one 2009 study in the journal Emotion. And a 2011 study by the same group of researchers found that people who blushed after doing something wrong were more likely to regain their partner’s trust during a subsequent task. (Interestingly, people were less likely to trust partners who expressed embarrassment by averting their gaze and suppressing a smile; that expression was perceived as amused rather than ashamed.)
“You can’t blush on command, so if you do [blush], you’re perceived to be truly remorseful,” says Miller. “You can’t be embarrassed about something if you don’t care [about it].”
Okay, you might ask, then why do I blush when I give a speech in public? One theory: Back in grade school, being singled out for good or bad behavior usually resulted in some kind of consequence, either from your peers or your teachers, says Dr. Miller. And those memories (do we ever get over 5th grade, really?) might be enough to trigger a blush as an adult, he explains.
So how do you make yourself stop blushing? It’s actually pretty hard. And, in fact, thinking about it might make it worse: One study published in the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy found that people who were told they were blushing (even if they weren’t), blushed more. “Believing that one will blush can act as a self-fulfilling prophecy,” the study authors wrote.
If you can’t psych that redness out of your cheeks, you can do the next best thing: Pretend as if it doesn’t bother you. Because really, it shouldn’t. Even though research shows that people think others look down on them for blushing, the exact opposite is true, says Miller. “Blushing is charming, and audiences judge people who are blushing more positively.” Realizing that your blushing makes you even more likeable, he says, might just be the best way to keep it under control.
Posted: 18 Oct 2016 10:45 AM PDT
Even if you’re not a big fan of seafood, you probably know that adding more fish to your diet can do a lot of good, from improving your heart health to lowering inflammation. Now, according to scientists at the University of Colorado, there is even evidence that the healthy fat can boost your chances of getting pregnant.
The study, presented at the American Society of Reproductive Medicine annual meeting, was in mice, so more research needs to be completed before omega 3 foods or supplements become part of treatment for infertility. But Dr. Malgorzata Skaznik-Wikiel, an obstetrician-gynecologist who led the study, is encouraged. She worked with a group of mice that are genetically bred to have healthy ratios of omega 3 fatty acids. These mice are born with the ability to bathe cells and tissues in omega 3 fats, so the team then looked at their egg development in the ovaries.
What she found: The mice with the higher levels of omega 3 fatty acids seemed to have more precursors to egg cells than control mice with lower levels of the fat, meaning they had a larger reserve of eggs-to-be. These could then mature into a healthy egg that is fertilized and can lead to a live birth. When the ovaries were examined even further, Skaznik-Wikiel also found that the quality of the eggs were better among the animals with higher levels of omega 3s. Higher quality eggs improves the chances that the egg will be fertilized and develop into a live pup.
“Based on this study, it looks very encouraging that omega 3s can potentially improve fertility,” says Skaznik-Wikiel. “Our study shows that there may be some relationship between dietary factors and things like egg quality so one idea may be recommending supplementation with omega 3s to improve fertility.”
Exactly how the healthy omega 3 fatty acids are helping the ovary to produce better quality eggs isn’t clear yet. But other studies Skaznik-Wikiel has done with mice suggests that these fats may lower levels of inflammation that can adversely affect ovarian function.
More studies need to replicate and confirm the role that omega 3 fatty acids might play in fertility, but for now, Skaznik-Wikiel says that there isn’t much harm in consuming more omega 3 fats. (Some people who are predisposed to bleeding problems may be at higher risk of hemorrhages with high doses of omega 3s, but those cases are relatively rare.)
There may also be other benefits linked to omega 3 fatty acids for the fetus as well, in helping nerve development — that’s why many prenatal vitamins include forms of omega 3 fats. “We hope in the future to have more answers to be able to say firmly that yes, omega 3 fatty acids are the way to go [for women hoping to get pregnant,]” she says. “But even without that firm answer at this point I don’t see the harm in supplementing.”
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