• iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- How do you take your caffeine? Caffeine is a stimulant that has been linked to improving how your brain functions. No wonder it is one of the most widely used drugs on the planet. The most common forms of caffeinated beverages include coffee, tea and energy drinks. New research in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggests that caffeine is not harmful to the heart, as it has previously been suggested, and may actually be good for it.Caffeine works by adding more energy to the inside of your cells. Because caffeine is known to make the heart beat faster, many people believe that it can be damaging to the heart’s electrical system. In fact, greater than 80 percent of doctors in the U.S. recommend against caffeine consumption in patients with known abnormal heart rhythms. Many feel the faster heart rate makes your heart more vulnerable to entry into life-threatening rhythms.On the other hand, caffeine has also been described as an antioxidant. Antioxidants neutralize the negative waste products of your cells’ day-to-day activities and are believed to preserve the long-term health of your cells and tissues. Some scientists believe that caffeine protects the longevity of the heart muscle itself.Heart doctors do not have great evidence that caffeine causes abnormal heart rhythms. The current recommendations against caffeine are conservative and mostly based on assumptions of how the body works. A new article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology compiles the data from multiple studies to add scientific data to the debate on caffeine.On to the results: Multiple studies associate regular coffee drinkers with lower amounts of new-onset atrial fibrillation, commonly known as “a. fib.” Atrial fibrillation is a very common, irregular heart rhythm that increases your risk of stroke. Approximately 9 percent of Americans older than 65 years old have this abnormal rhythm, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Treatment typically includes medications to control your heart rate and potentially blood thinners.Researchers in this article discuss other types of abnormal rhythms including supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) and ventricular fibrillation (“v. fib”). There were no studies that found an association between caffeine and these rhythms, even in patients who already had sick hearts from heart attacks or heart failure.While this information may be exciting to our “low fat, half sugar, extra hot” regulars, it is very important to note that some patients with atrial fibrillation have a negative relationship with caffeine. In 25 percent of people who already have the diagnosis of atrial fibrillation, caffeine can actually a trigger an episode of the abnormal rhythm. As always, it’s important to consult your doctor before making any changes.So here’s the good news.The authors do not think caffeine causes most abnormal heart rhythms. In fact, they suggest that regular coffee use actually protects patients from atrial fibrillation. Based on data in some animal trials, however, they do recommend a maximum of 300 mg of caffeine per day. This is the equivalent of about three cups of coffee.If coffee or tea is your drug of choice, you are in luck. If it’s an energy drink, not so much. While coffee and tea seem to be fairly safe, the research suggests that most energy drinks are slightly more risky. Unfortunately for some of our readers, multiple studies recommend against energy drink consumption. Researchers suggest that these drinks may cause life-threatening rhythms and even blood clots. On top of high amounts of caffeine, they often have other ingredients like guarana, sugar and ginseng. These additives seem to amplify the body’s response to the stimulant, causing more harmful side effects including abnormal heart rhythms.This article was written by Laura Shopp, MD, a third-year pediatrics
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Ketamine, often associated with street drug "Special-K" and also a hospital-grade anesthetic, could be a breakthrough, fast-acting therapy for major depression in a nasal spray form, according to a new study.People with depression are 20 times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population. Standard antidepressants prescribed can take four to six weeks to take effect, leaving those with severe depression vulnerable at a time of need. Even worse, those with severe depressive symptoms or judged to be at high immediate suicide risk are often left out of clinical trials for anti-depressant medications.But a small "proof of concept" study of 66 people, conducted by Yale Department of Psychiatry and Janssen Research at 11 hospitals around the U.S., suggests a possible remedy.People with severe depression who had been hospitalized for high suicide risk were given esketamine, a nasal spray form of ketamine, along with standard care that included antidepressants and counseling.Within four hours, the 35 people who received esketamine showed rapid improvement of depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts, with much better scores on a depression symptom scale than the 31 people who received regular care and a placebo nasal spray. After the first dose, only 29 percent of the esketamine group had "common" or "explicit" suicidal thoughts, compared to 58 percent in the group that had received the placebo.How esketamine could help bridge the 'efficacy gap'Esketamine and other ketamine derivatives are attracting interest from many doctors because they could be used to bridge the "efficacy gap" -- the time between the appearance of severe depression and the time standard antidepressant drugs begin to have an effect.Now that this small study has shown the drug’s potential to rapidly help counteract severe depression faster, larger scale studies can now be done.Esketamine is probably not a long-term solution for the majority of people with depression; after four weeks, the anti-depressant effect was no different than standard care, and there are side effects. Ketamine is known to cause hallucinations and feelings of "dissociation" -- feeling detached from the immediate surroundings, or even from all physical or emotional experiences.At the doses used in this study, most patients who got esketamine reported this effect after each dose, though their symptoms were less intense with repeat doses. Five of the 35 patients had to stop taking the drug due to other side effects: Agitation, aggression, dizziness and abnormal heart rhythm.Ketamine-family medications cause a short-term rise in blood pressure after each dose. While this isn’t an issue when the medication is used for a few days or weeks, this effect may limit its use in the long term and may disqualify those with very high blood pressure from using this medication.Regulating the use of ketamine to prevent addictionProlonged use of ketamine can also lead to addiction. In the world outside the hospital, people abuse ketamine and its derivatives to get high. One of the questions becomes: How can it be safely prescribed to treat depression?In an editorial published with the study in the American Journal of Psychiatry, Dr. Robert Freedman and several colleagues envisioned a scenario similar to the way oxycodone entered the market. Oxycodone was marketed as a "safe alternative" to the other narcotic painkillers. It then became a major source of addition and abuse, with more than 50,000 admissions per year for addiction to oxycodone alone. Aggressive marketing of prescription narcotics, coupled with an initiative for doctors and nurses to “take pain more seriously,” were key triggers of the current opioid epidemic rippling through the healthcare system.Like oxycodone, the editorial noted that esketamine could become a drug "whose abuse has outweighed their intended therapeutic effect."The medication can also be highly beneficial, also l
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Contaminated chopped romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona, is likely to blame for the E. Coli outbreak that has infected 35 people across 11 states, including 22 hospitalizations, according to the CDC."Consumers anywhere in the United States who have store-bought chopped romaine lettuce at home, including salads and salad mixes containing chopped romaine lettuce, should not eat it and should throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick," the CDC said in a statement.If a consumer is unsure if the lettuce is romaine and if a restaurant or retailer has romaine lettuce from the Yuma area, 185 miles southwest of Phoenix, the CDC recommended that the lettuce should be discarded.Over 200 million eggs recalled for salmonella concerns; sold at Walmart, Food Lion storesThe three people that have been hospitalized with E. Coli in this outbreak have developed a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome, the CDC said.No deaths have been reported, and the last related illness was reported on March 31.Of the 35 illnesses reported in this outbreak, nine people were in Pennsylvania, eight in Idaho and seven people in New Jersey. Other states that have reported cases include Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Virginia and Washington, the CDC said.Symptoms of E. coli infection include diarrhea, severe stomach cramps and vomiting.Those who have reported illness range in age from 12 to 84 years old, with a median age of 29, according to the CDC. Of those, 69 percent were female.More cases of E. Coli infection may be reported in the coming weeks, since some people may not immediately report the illness."Illnesses that occurred after March 27, 2018, might not yet be reported due to the time it takes between when a person becomes ill with E. coli and when the illness is reported," the CDC said. "This takes an average of two to three weeks."No specific grower, supplier, distributor or brand has been linked to the contaminated lettuce, the CDC said.CDC officials told ABC News that investigation of the outbreak is ongoing and they expect an update this week.Yuma has been considered the "winter lettuce capital" of the U.S.; the area hosts an annual lettuce festival.
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  • Andy Bell(BOSTON) --  Among the thousands of people running the Boston Marathon today is man who just five years ago weighed 100 pounds more than he does now and could not run more than two minutes at a time.Andy Bell, of Lewisberry, Pennsylvania, is aiming to run the 26.2-mile race in just three hours and 16 minutes.  Bell’s transformation from out-of-shape high school basketball coach to an athlete running in one of the world’s most exclusive marathons began with a simple 5K race on Thanksgiving that he says his wife forced him to enter.“She wanted to run a local Turkey Trot,” Bell, 45, told ABC News. “I thought it was the dumbest idea ever, but she wanted to do it and signed us up.”Bell, a high school sociology teacher, had just been to the doctor before his 40th birthday and was told he needed to take blood pressure medication and that he was on the fast track to diabetes."He was a heart attack waiting to happen," said Bell's wife, Heidi Bell. "There was a realization that [if things didn't change], he wasn't going to be around for as long as we wanted him."  At nearly 300 pounds, Andy Bell decided he would run for 10 minutes on a treadmill at his high school’s gym after basketball practice ended every day.“Two minutes in [the first 10-minute run] I had to hit the stop button,” he recalled. “There was a bench nearby and I sat down and just put my head in my hands and was crying.”He continued, “I could not believe it had gotten to this point. I was only 39 years old.”Andy Bell decided to eliminate fried food and soda from his diet. He kept running on the treadmill every day, just aiming to run 30 seconds or one minute more than the day before.Andy Bell, who played multiple sports in high school, completed the Turkey Trot and learned that he loved to run.“[In high school], running was always the punishment for doing what you weren’t supposed to do,” he said. “I was as surprised as anyone that I enjoyed how I felt not only after the run but during the run.”“I just discovered I was at peace when I was running and it just fueled me to keep adding time,” said Andy Bell, who does not listen to music when he runs, focusing instead on his heartbeat, his steps and the environment around him.The more he ran, the more weight he lost. The more weight he lost, he said, the faster he ran.Within one year, Andy Bell said he lost 100 pounds.  Today, five years later, he has maintained the weight loss and completed 11 marathons, three ultramarathons and 100 Spartan races -- running races that also include extreme obstacles."Once he decides to do something, he gives all of himself to it," Heidi Bell said of her husband. "It's nice to be reminded that we're capable or more than we think we are, and he's a perfect reminder of that."Andy Bell, who is now a certified personal trainer, qualified for this year’s Boston Marathon in his age group by more than six minutes.  He wakes up at 4:55 a.m. to get his workout done before his wife and three daughters start their days. He follows an eating plan of “everything in moderation,” he said.“I have a healthy combo of vegetables, good carbs (multi-grain bread) and lean meat like turkey,” he said. “After a long run on the weekends I like to treat myself to a diet soda.”He and his wife made their trip to Boston a celebration weekend, marking the longest time the two have been apart from their kids since their oldest, 19, was born.“We’re viewing this as our celebration,” said Andy Bell, who had a racing shirt custom-made for today’s marathon with his wife and daughters’ names on his sleeves.  When asked what he is most looking forward to during today’s marathon, he quickly replied, “seeing the finish line.”“I don’t think there’s anything anyone wants to
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Girls born to obese mothers are more likely to start puberty early than daughters of normal-weight or underweight mothers, new research finds.The study, published today in the American Journal of Epidemiology, involved more than 15,000 girls ages 6 to 11 in Northern California, using doctors' records of children's development for the analysis.The normal age for girls to start puberty is between 8 and 13 years old, with early puberty defined as beginning when a girl is younger than 8.The research -- when adjusting for factors like the mother's age, ethnicity and education level when she gives birth, and whether she smokes -- found that early puberty was 39 percent more likely among girls born to obese mothers, and 21 percent more likely among those with overweight mothers.The gap was even larger when comparing girls of overweight and underweight mothers. Daughters of overweight mothers started puberty on average seven months earlier than those with underweight mothers.It is already known that a mothers’ weight can affect the weight of her children.But this is the first large-scale study showing that it may also affect the age at which a daughter reaches puberty. Researchers think the association might be related to fetal development in the womb.“What we are learning is that the in-utero environment may affect the timing of future pubertal development” Ai Kubo, a research scientist at Kaiser Permanente in Northern California and one of the authors of this study, said in a press release. “[This] makes sense since human brains are developed in utero and the brain releases hormones affecting puberty”.Girls who undergo puberty early are known to experience higher rates of depression and anxiety. Later in life they are more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes, cardiac conditions and some breast and reproductive cancers.However, this study did not follow girls who had puberty early for years or measure the rates at which they suffered such health problems. Researchers also looked only at the age girls started puberty, not the time taken to complete it.When comparing groups of girls based on ethnicity, the study found that the association between a mother's weight and a daughter's age at puberty onset was strongest for children of Asian ethnicity. Girls born to overweight Asian mothers were 53 percent more likely to start puberty early compared to daughters of Asian mothers of normal weight.American girls in general have begun in recent years to start puberty at younger ages, partly because of higher rates of childhood obesity.However, the average age of puberty has fallen also for children who aren’t overweight, leading doctors to think that other factors besides a girl's weight may be involved.Although this study adjusted for several factors -- including the child’s weight before puberty and the mother’s age and whether she smoked -- it isn't certain that every possible factor which could affect the onset of puberty was accounted for.The research also found that girls born to mothers with hyperglycemia, a high blood-sugar level, were more likely to start puberty early.Interestingly, no such association was found when mothers had gestational diabetes, a condition in which blood-sugar levels rise temporarily during pregnancy. Researchers think this might be because the women with this diagnosis took extra care of their health.“It’s possible that women with the diagnosis of gestational diabetes were more careful about weight and diet, which might have changed the amount of weight gain,” Kubo suggested. Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) --  If you're not one of those people yourself, chances are you know someone who insists they can tell if it's going to rain thanks to a bum knee or a trick elbow. Sorry to inform you, however: researchers from Harvard Medical School say they've proven you don't have a super power.  After comparing data from 11 million primary care visits for back or joint pain in the United States to weather stats from thousands of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) stations, the scientists found no connection between the visits and rainy weather.  "The bottom line is: Painful joints and sore backs may very well be unreliable forecasters," noted study lead Anupam Jena with Harvard Medical School’s Department of Health Care Policy.Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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