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  • iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A man rushed to the hospital with an excruciating headache after participating in a chili-pepper-eating contest may have triggered a hot medical discovery.Doctors who assessed him wondered what could have caused the massive pain in his head. After excluding a life-threatening bleed and a tear of the arteries in his neck, they were left with a more bizarre explanation: the chili peppers.The man had taken part the pepper-eating contest earlier in the day, during which he had eaten a "Carolina Reaper," one of the hottest varieties of peppers on Earth.After scanning his head, doctors found that several of his brain’s arteries had narrowed. They diagnosed him with "reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome," a rare side effect associated with some medications.Fortunately, the patient improved. A second scan five weeks after showed his brain's arteries had returned to normal.However the condition isn’t always harmless, it has previously been linked to stroke. The man's symptoms included a severe "thunderclap headache," dry heaves and neck pain, but a thunderclap headache can also occur by itself.So should people avoid spicy foods?"We would not advise against eating hot peppers at this time, but we would recommend the public be cautious about these adverse effects. Seek medical attention immediately if [you] develop sudden headaches after eating hot peppers," Dr. Kulothungan Gunasekaran from the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit that was behind the report told ABC News.Since cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome has previously occurred without an identifiable cause, doctors can’t be sure eating peppers was to blame. But they do think it's plausible that it caused the man's symptoms in this case.Though it may have spiced up the doctors' day, it's something they're unlikely to see again. The report, published in BMJ Case Reports, is the first that links hot peppers to reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome.Gunasekaran was unable to comment on exactly how common this effect might be."Unfortunately we don’t have any data as there is no randomized control trial in this field," he said.There have been other reports about the possible harmful effects of spices. In 2012, doctors in Turkey reported that a patient had suffered a heart attack after taking an excessive number of cayenne pepper pills for slimming. Another study found that capsaicin -– the active ingredient in peppers -– could increase heart rate and blood pressure.These findings led doctors to suggest that capsaicin might be "vasoactive," meaning it affects how blood vessels function. That could be how the pepper may have caused this man's headache, by constricting the vessels in his head.Conversely, some patients are prescribed capsaicin for pain associated with conditions like arthritis, diabetic neuropathy and muscle aches.A study published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics even found that it was effective in treating headaches -- although that might not work for the man at the pepper-eating contest.
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- If you have a parent or sibling with heart disease, especially one that died at a young age, should you avoid exercise because of your genetic risk?A new study says, quite clearly, no.Many people likely know that staying active and physically fit, in addition to other healthy behaviors, can prevent heart disease.Heart disease is the number one cause of death of men and women in the United States -- it kills more than 700,000 people yearly. Heart attacks, heart failure, stroke and abnormal heart rhythms such as atrial fibrillation are all under the “heart disease” umbrella, and most of these conditions involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels.A new study published in the American Heart Journal, Circulation, looked at almost 5 million men and women of different ages and races in Europe and followed them over the course of about six years.All were at risk for heart disease due to genetics but had other risk factors as well -- from high blood pressure and diabetes to high cholesterol and smoking. Researchers measured fitness and physical activity of the study's participants through a survey, and by fitness monitors, such as a Fitbit.People in the study were deemed as a high, moderate or low risk for heart disease based on their family history.The results were surprising. The most active people -- even considering their other high-risk factors -- saw their risk of having a heart attack, stroke or atrial fibrillation drop by almost 50 percent. This was true of those with even a low or moderate genetic risk for heart disease.Every year, one in every six U.S. healthcare dollars will be spent on cardiovascular disease, and that dollar number will be expected to rise to approximately $818 billion by 2030, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).However, exercise is the most cost-effective way to help prevent heart disease.There is no magic number of minutes of weekly exercise that doctors can recommend to make a difference, but the American Heart Association currently recommends 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity exercise three to four times per week to prevent a heart attack or stroke. So to maintain a healthy heart despite those bad genes -- avoid smoking, eat a heart-healthy diet and push activity levels up to get that risk down. Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- One of every 70 children and one of every 160 adults is allergic to peanuts, making it the most common food allergy.For those who are severely allergic, the world can be a minefield.A person with a serious allergy to peanuts can react to as little as a tiny sprinkling of the nut, with symptoms that can range from a simple rash to anaphylaxis, in which the immune system releases a flood of chemicals that can cause the person to go into shock and potentially die.But a preventive treatment could be on the horizon that might help to guard against the most severe reactions.Research has shown that pills containing peanut protein can act like a vaccine for the immune system. Use of the pills in a method called oral immunotherapy could help to reduce the severity of an allergic reaction to peanuts, according to a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice.To be clear, the only way for a person with a peanut allergy to avoid all risk is to stay away from peanuts.The immunotherapy treatment is geared toward people with the allergy who, while being careful to avoid peanuts, may still may be exposed accidentally.The goal of the treatment is not to try to cure the allergy, but to train the immune system of an allergic person not to react as severely if exposed to a small amount of peanut. It works by slowly, over time, desensitizing the patient with increasing doses of the allergy-inducing culprit.The study seeking to measure the possible effectiveness of the method was conducted on 29 people between the ages of 4 and 26 in 10 U.S. cities, plus another 26 in a control group. It was funded by Aimmune, the developer of the treatment. Authors of the research cite eight other articles on tests on the therapy from 2009 to 2015.Each of the group of 29 participants in the study was given an experimental drug containing peanut flour packed in a pill. Those in the control group were given pills containing only oat flour.Over a period of six months, participants receiving the peanut-flour pills were given gradually stronger doses of the powder.People in both groups were then given a “food challenge,” with exposure to about one and a half peanuts. Among those in the group who had been taking the peanut pills, 79 percent exhibited no reactions to the allergen.Among those who had been receiving the placebo, the percentage was reversed: 81 percent exhibited mild to moderate reactions such as itchy body rashes, vomiting, abdominal pain or anaphylaxis, with none of the responses being life-threatening. Only 19 percent in this group showed no reaction to the allergen.One of the study's authors, Dr. A. Wesley Burks, a professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina, said, “It’s great to have patients go from managing to tolerate at most the amount of peanut protein in a 10th of a peanut without reacting, to successfully eating the equivalent of between two to four peanuts with nothing more than mild, transient symptoms, if any at all."Other ongoing research, cited in a press release from Aimmune, has about 500 participants, all children between 4 and 17 years old. About 400 of them took escalating doses of the peanut-powder pills, with the rest taking placebo pills. As in the published study, about 76 percent of those taking the peanut pills were able to tolerate a small amount of peanut exposure in contrast to only about 8 percent of those in a control group, according to the press release.More and larger studies will be needed before the treatment can be proven to work and submitted for FDA approval.Meanwhile, it's unclear what the price of this series of treatments would be, or whether insurance would cover it. Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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