(HealthDay News) — Here’s news to perk up your day: Drinking coffee might help you live a little longer, two new studies suggest.
Researchers found that daily coffee drinkers were up to 18 percent less likely to die over the next 10 to 16 years, versus non-drinkers.
The findings — based on over 700,000 middle-aged and older adults — add to the growing list of benefits linked to moderate coffee drinking.
Studies have already tied the habit to lower risks of various diseases — from heart disease and type 2 diabetes, to liver cancer, to neurological diseases like Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis.
None of those studies prove coffee, per se, provides the benefit.
And it’s unlikely that doctors will start recommending coffee as some sort of elixir, according to Veronica Setiawan, the senior researcher on one of the studies.
“But if you’ve always been a coffee drinker,” she said, “there’s no reason to stop.”
That runs counter to the common belief that coffee drinking is a bad habit — a belief the evidence does not bear out, according to Setiawan.
“Moderate coffee consumption can be incorporated into a healthy lifestyle,” said Setiawan. She’s an associate professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine.
For their study, Setiawan and colleagues used data on nearly 186,000 middle-aged and older Americans of all races.
That’s important, Setiawan said, because past studies on coffee and life span have mainly included white people.
At the study’s start, in the 1990s, people reported on their diet and lifestyle habits, including coffee drinking. During the next decade, more than 58,000 study participants died.
It turned out that coffee drinkers had somewhat better survival odds. Those who downed one to three cups a day were 12 to 18 percent less likely to die, versus non-drinkers.
And the pattern was consistent across racial groups — including whites, blacks, Latinos and Japanese-Americans, the study found.
According to Setiawan, that bolsters the theory that coffee, itself, might have some beneficial biological effects.
She noted that Americans of different races tend to differ in lifestyle habits, education and other factors. Yet coffee consumption was consistently linked to better survival, regardless of race.
The second study had similar findings.
This study included more than 520,000 Europeans. During the investigation, nearly 42,000 died.
People who drank about three cups of coffee (23 to 29 ounces) per day were 7 percent to 12 percent less likely to die over the next 16 years, compared with non-drinkers. And they had a 40 percent to 59 percent lower risk of dying from digestive disorders, such as liver disease.
The researchers said that finding makes sense. Past studies have hinted that coffee might support liver function; and coffee drinkers in this study typically had lower levels of certain proteins that can signal problems with the liver.
Both studies were published online in the July 11 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Still, neither study proved that coffee can extend a person’s life, according to an editorial published with the findings.
“We are not in a position to recommend people drink coffee for health benefits,” said Dr. Eliseo Guallar, one of the editorial’s authors.
There are also potential downsides to coffee, noted Guallar, a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
He said that drinking more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day — equivalent to four to five cups of coffee — can cause symptoms such as dizziness and a spike in heart rate. And some people, such as pregnant women and teenagers, should have stricter caffeine limits.
Plus, Guallar said, if people load their coffee with cream and sugar, that adds calories and unhealthy fats.
That said, he agreed with Setiawan’s take: “We can reassure moderate coffee drinkers that they can continue,” Guallar said.
If coffee does help ward off certain health problems, it’s not clear why. It contains a mix of antioxidants, Setiawan noted, but no one knows if they deserve the credit.
It’s not clear if caffeine has a role, either. In the U.S. study, people who drank decaf also had a lower death risk, Setiawan said.
Even if coffee has specific benefits, though, it would not be a magic bullet.
“Obviously,” Setiawan said, “overall lifestyle — physical activity, diet, not smoking — is important.”
SOURCES: Veronica W. Setiawan, Ph.D., associate professor, preventive medicine, University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, Los Angeles; Eliseo Guallar, M.D., Dr.PH, professor, epidemiology and medicine, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore; July 11, 2017, Annals of Internal Medicine, online
(HealthDay News) — Financial stress during pregnancy could increase the risk of having a smaller baby, a new study suggests.
Researchers call this “pregnancy-specific distress.” And it “includes concerns about labor and delivery, about relationships changing, about working after the baby arrives, paying for medical care, and whether the baby will be unhealthy,” said study senior author Lisa Christian in an Ohio State University news release.
She is an associate professor of psychiatry at the university’s Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research.
Previous research has shown that lower-income mothers are more likely to have smaller babies and worse birth outcomes. For this study, the researchers wanted to identify the specific factors responsible for this increased risk.
Their study included 138 pregnant women with an average age of 29. The women were between five and 31 weeks pregnant when they completed questionnaires to assess their mental health and any concerns they had about having a child.
After birth, the babies’ medical records were checked to see what impact mom’s money concerns and other worries might have had on her baby’s weight.
The study found a link between distress in pregnancy and a baby’s weight, though it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship. In addition, the study authors noted there were only 11 low birth weight babies in the study. They suggested a larger study should be done to confirm their findings.
Still, “there is an opportunity here to look for interventions during pregnancy that could help mitigate the effects of financial strain on birth outcomes,” said lead author Amanda Mitchell, a postdoctoral researcher in Ohio State Wexner Medical Center’s Stress and Health in Pregnancy Research Program.
Programs to improve access to housing, jobs and support for low-income women are important, but low-cost stress-reduction techniques such as meditation and breathing exercises could also help reduce risk, according to Mitchell.
“It’s important for all women who experience pregnancy-related stress to seek out help coping with that stress,” she said. “And ob-gyns and other medical providers should also talk about stress during their visits with expecting moms.”
The study was published recently in the journal Archives of Women’s Mental Health.
(HealthDay News) — No doubt that work, school and outside activities can make it hard to schedule regular family dinners. But research has shown that eating together on a regular basis helps to bond families and build good communication.
For children, the benefits range from better grades to getting along well with others. Kids and adults alike are also more likely to eat healthy meals and less likely to be overweight.
When busy schedules make it hard for everyone to sit down to dinner, use other meals to build togetherness. For instance, get everyone up 15 minutes early for a breakfast sit-down, or plan a regular weekend brunch where everyone pitches in. When dinner has to be fast food, eat at the restaurant instead of doing a pickup so you still have the chance to sit and talk, even if only for a few minutes.
There are also plenty of ways to build togetherness in addition to mealtime. Schedule regular outdoor activities, like a weekend walk on a nature trail or an afternoon at the playground. Make plans for a regular indoor activity, like family game night. Or, find a hobby everyone could enjoy. Perhaps take a vote on the activity, and then let each family member choose a role that will keep them involved.
The goal: Building togetherness, whether at the dinner table or beyond.
(HealthDay News) — Sizable numbers of adults with risk factors for heart attack — such as smoking, obesity or physical inactivity — aren’t inclined to do anything to improve their health, a large, new study finds.
Among those at greatest risk, meaning they having five or more risk factors, almost 1 in 5 did not feel they needed to make any changes, the study revealed.
Researchers can’t say exactly why this disconnect exists.
“Our study suggests that the link between risk perceptions and behaviors is complex,” said Dr. F. Daniel Ramirez, the study’s lead author. He is a research fellow at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute in Ontario, Canada.
But Ramirez and his co-authors don’t think indifference is simply due to a lack of education or appreciation of health consequences.
As study senior author Dr. Benjamin Hibbert explained in an American Heart Association news release, “Effectively convincing people to adopt and sustain healthy lifestyle changes requires a better understanding of what makes them tick.”
Among people in the study who perceived a need to improve their physical health, more than half cited barriers to change. The most common were lack of self-discipline, work schedule and family responsibilities.
Cardiologist Dr. Vincent Bufalino, a spokesman for the American Heart Association, said conversations about reducing risk factors occur in examining rooms across America every day.
“Some folks are totally motivated and they’re all over it: watching their diet, on their exercise program, mindful of their blood pressures and [blood] sugar,” he said. “Then there’s the folks that, you know what, no matter what we say, we can never quite move them on behavior.”
The challenge is changing behavior, said Bufalino, who is president of Advocate Medical Group in Downers Grove, Ill.
“Putting a stent in someone [is] the easiest thing. Now we have to change the way you’ve been living the last 25 or 30 years,” he tells patients. “That’s hard.”
Ramirez said little information exists on what really motivates people to adopt healthy behaviors. Hoping to shed some light on the topic, he and his team examined a database of more than 45,000 adults participating in the 2011-2012 Canadian Community Health Survey.
The survey gathered data on eight “modifiable” risk factors for heart attack: smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, stress, excess alcohol consumption, lack of physical activity and poor diet.
Along with high cholesterol, which was not part of the study, these factors account for 90 percent of heart attack risk, the study authors noted.
Researchers calculated the number of risk factors per person based on survey responses. They also asked people if they thought there was anything they could do to improve their health.
Overall, almost three-quarters of respondents agreed there were ways to improve their health. The vast majority of these people identified a specific behavior change as being most important. Common responses included exercising more, losing weight, eating better, and quitting or cutting back on smoking.
The number of people acknowledging a need to make health changes increased with the number of risk factors they reported. Among those with three or more risk factors, nearly eight in 10 said they needed to change their health habits.
After adjusting for factors such as age, education, income and having a regular health care provider, older and white people were more likely than younger people and minorities to say they needed to improve their health.
Bonnie Spring is director of the Center for Behavior and Health at Northwest University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. She isn’t “overly surprised” that some people have trouble perceiving that lifestyle changes can improve health.
Study participants seemed to be “connecting bad habits to weakened will, rather than poor health,” Spring said.
Lack of education is rarely the root cause of unhealthy behavior, she explained.
However, “increasing people’s confidence about being able to change” might help, Spring said.
The study found that people with diabetes or high blood pressure were no more likely to perceive a need to change than people without those conditions.
Perhaps that’s because these medical conditions are not visible to others, unlike smoking, obesity and physical activity, Spring reasoned.
If that’s true, “it sounds like positive social norms for healthy lifestyle may be starting to take effect,” she said.
The study was published May 3 in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
SOURCES: F. Daniel Ramirez, M.D., research fellow, University of Ottawa Heart Institute, Ontario, Canada; Vincent Bufalino, M.D., national spokesman, American Heart Association, and president, Advocate Medical Group, Downers Grove, Ill.; Bonnie Spring, Ph.D., professor, preventive medicine, and director, Center for Behavior and Health, Northwest University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago; May 3, 2017, news release, and May 2017, Journal of the American Heart Association
(HealthDay News) — Hundreds of new genes tied to the start of puberty have been identified.
Researchers analyzed data from nearly 369,000 women and pinpointed 389 genetic signals linked to the timing of puberty. That’s four times the number that had been known.
The study also found new genetic evidence linking earlier puberty to increased risk in later life for several cancers that are sensitive to sex hormones. Those include breast, ovary and endometrial cancers in women, and prostate cancer in men.
“Previous studies suggested that the timing of puberty in childhood was associated with risks of disease decades later, but until now it was unclear if those were circumstantial observations, for example, secondary to other factors such as body weight,” said study senior author John Perry. He is a senior investigator scientist in the epidemiology unit at the University of Cambridge in England.
The genetic influences remained after the researchers compensated for body weight. This is important because body weight influences the timing of puberty as well as the risk of some cancers.
“Our current study identifies direct causal links between earlier puberty timing itself and increased cancer risk,” Perry said in a university news release. “This link could possibly be explained by higher levels of sex hormones throughout life, but we need to do more work to understand the exact mechanisms involved. We aim to understand these disease links and thereby contribute to the prevention of diseases in later life.”
The start of puberty, which is when sexual maturity begins, varies widely from person to person but tends to be similar within families.
Earlier puberty may have some advantages, such as for boys playing competitive sports, but it appears to have mostly negative effects in later life, according to the researchers. Among them: higher risks of heart disease and some cancers.
The study also identified unusual variations in two so-called imprint genes — ones that are active only when inherited from one parent but not the other.
“We identified rare variants in two genes, which both lower the age of puberty when inherited from your father, but have no effect when inherited from your mother. This is intriguing as it suggests that mothers and fathers might benefit differently from puberty occurring at earlier or later ages in their children,” joint senior author Ken Ong said in the news release. Ong is head of the MRC Epidemiology Unit’s Growth and Development program at the university.
The study was published April 24 in the journal Nature Genetics.
(HealthDay News) — Doctors should screen all pregnant women for preeclampsia, a serious complication tied to high blood pressure, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.
Expectant mothers should have their blood pressure checked throughout their pregnancy — even if they have no signs or symptoms of preeclampsia, according to the task force’s final recommendation released Tuesday.
The USPSTF, an independent panel of experts, makes evidence-based recommendations about preventive medical services.
Preeclampsia typically develops after 20 weeks of pregnancy. It’s a leading cause of premature delivery and low birth weight in the United States, the task force explained.
“Preeclampsia can progress quickly and lead to severe complications for both the mother and infant,” said task force member Dr. Maureen Phipps.
“It is critical that women be screened for preeclampsia during every clinical visit throughout their pregnancy,” Phipps said in a news release from the panel.
After reviewing existing evidence, the task force concluded that blood pressure screenings are a safe and effective way to help prevent serious complications that can stem from preeclampsia.
Pregnant women with the condition can have a stroke or seizures. They could also have organ failure. This pregnancy complication can also be dangerous for babies, inhibiting their growth in the womb or resulting in low birth weight, early labor or death, the panel noted.
Preeclampsia could also cause the placenta to detach from the uterus.
Delivery is the only treatment for this complication, often before the baby’s due date, the task force said.
“If a pregnant woman has high blood pressure during a clinical visit, she should receive further testing and evaluation,” said task force vice chair Dr. David Grossman. “Several high blood pressure measurements are needed to diagnose preeclampsia.”
The USPSTF recommendation was published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
SOURCE: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, news release, April 25, 2017
(HealthDay News) — In rare cases, seizures that cause convulsions and a loss of consciousness can raise the odds of sudden death in people with epilepsy, neurologists warn.
These attacks are known as generalized tonic-clonic seizures, according to a new guideline from the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) and the American Epilepsy Society.
Just how rare is sudden death linked to these seizures? According to guideline researchers, these tragedies occur in 1 in 1,000 men and women each year and only 1 in 4,500 children annually.
Still, although rare, it’s crucial that the possibility of sudden death linked to seizures and risk factors for these events “are communicated to persons and families affected by epilepsy,” said guideline author Dr. Cynthia Harden. She’s with Mount Sinai Health System in New York City.
“Our guideline brings clarity to the discussion, giving health care providers practical information they can use to help people with epilepsy reduce their risk,” Harden said in an AAN news release.
Epilepsy experts agreed that patient education is key.
“Better understanding of this information may help to encourage people with epilepsy to take their medications regularly, promote a healthier lifestyle, and consider all potential medical and surgical treatment options to achieve seizure freedom and lower their risk,” said Dr. Meghan Fleming. She’s an epilepsy specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
The new guideline found that people with three or more tonic-clonic seizures a year are 15 times more likely to die unexpectedly than people who do not have these types of seizures.
“Educating health professionals and people with epilepsy about [the risk of sudden death] is an important first step,” said Harden.
“This guideline makes the conversation much easier with information that may motivate people to take their medications on time, to never skip taking their medications and to learn and manage their seizure triggers so they can work toward reducing seizures. People who follow their medication schedule or pursue other treatments such as surgery may be more likely to become seizure-free,” she said.
The AAN also advises doctors to work with their patients to prevent seizures, weighing the risks and benefits of medication or surgery.
Dr. David Friedman directs the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, N.Y. He agreed that the guideline “emphasizes optimizing seizure control” as a means of avoiding the very rare but potential risk of death.
The new guideline was presented April 24 at the AAN’s annual meeting, in Boston. It was also published online in the journal Neurology.
(HealthDay News) — Far more patients than expected are willing to reveal their sexual orientation when they visit the emergency room, a new study finds.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and National Academy of Medicine recommend routine collection of sexual orientation information in health care settings. In 2015, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ordered electronic health record companies to allow for it.
But few hospitals routinely collect that information, no clear guidelines say how it should done, and many have warned that patients would resist.
The new study underscores deep differences in how health care providers and patients view the issue. Nearly 8 out of 10 providers surveyed nationwide thought patients would decline to reveal their sexual orientation. Just over 10 percent of patients said they would refuse.
The study was published online April 24 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
“This is important information that patients feel is relevant to their health, and in most cases, they want and expect their health care providers to ask them about it,” said study first author Dr. Adil Haider.
He directs the Center for Surgery and Public Health at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
Patients say asking everybody seeking care about their sexual orientation creates a sense of normalcy, Haider said in a hospital news release. It also signals that everyone is equally welcome, including “the 3 to 10 percent of Americans who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual,” he added.
Study senior author Brandyn Lau sees the information as a way to close health care gaps.
“In order to identify and address health disparities among LGB populations, we must implement a standardized, patient-centered approach for routine collection of SO [sexual orientation] data on a broader, national scale,” Lau said in the news release. He is an assistant professor of surgery and health sciences informatics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
“These findings affirm the need for collection, are critical to informing how best to collect SO information, and may also be useful in the development of guidelines and policies at the provider level and beyond,” Lau added.
(HealthDay News) — With black men at higher risk of developing — and dying from — prostate cancer, some researchers believe these men merit their own race-based screening guidelines.
It’s known that incidence of prostate cancer is 60 percent higher among black men in the United States than among white men, said Ruth Etzioni, senior author of a new study.
Moreover, their death rate from prostate cancer is more than twice as high, said Etzioni, who’s with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s division of public health sciences, in Seattle.
The new study finds that prostate cancers in black men also tend to progress faster than in whites.
Because of this, Etzioni and her colleagues believe black men should start discussing prostate cancer screening with their doctor in their 40s, rather than waiting until their 50s, which is what most guidelines recommend.
“Screening recommendations for the general population are likely not optimal for black men,” she said. “Black men may need to consider beginning screening earlier and possibly screening more frequently.”
Prostate cancer is the leading cancer diagnosis in U.S. men, and the second leading cause of cancer death for them, according to background notes with the study.
Screening is controversial because it sometimes leads to unneeded treatment. But among men at high risk, screening is a matter of when, not if, the new study suggests.
“There is a need for clinical guidelines around prostate cancer screening that are specific to black men,” Etzioni said.
Screening usually consists of a blood test to measure the level of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) and a digital rectal exam to check the prostate gland for enlargement or other abnormalities. PSA levels above 4.0 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) of blood are considered high, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute.
Recently the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force proposed new recommendations for prostate cancer screening. Instead of recommending no screening, it now says men in their 50s should start a discussion with their doctor about the risks and benefits of screening.
According to the task force, whether a man gets screened or not should be an individual, informed decision.
Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, agrees. And he has reservations about the need for guidelines geared specifically to black men.
“We need to be very careful when we start doing race-based medicine,” he said. “I am willing to accept that men whose majority geographic heritage is from sub-Saharan Africa have a higher rate of prostate cancer, but that’s separate from black men,” Brawley said.
There are a substantial number of black men in the United States, “or men who we call black, who have white relatives,” he said.
However, Brawley does think men with a sub-Saharan African heritage should start the discussion about screening earlier than other men.
“I do believe these men should start the discussion in their 40s,” Brawley said.
In general, men need to understand the harms and benefits of screening and make a decision themselves, he advised.
“I, for example, have chosen not to get screened,” said Brawley, 57. “I’m a black guy who understands what’s known and not known about prostate cancer screening, and I decided not to get screened. The next guy who’s more concerned about prostate cancer can legitimately decide he wants to get screened.”
For the study, Etzioni’s team used data from the U.S. National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results program. The researchers constructed three models of prostate cancer incidence and PSA screening in the nation to estimate disease onset and progression.
The investigators estimated that 30 percent to 43 percent of black men develop preclinical prostate cancer (cancer without symptoms) by age 85. That rate is 28 percent to 56 percent higher than that of other men, the study authors said.
Also, without screening, black men with preclinical prostate cancer have a similar risk of diagnosis as other men, the findings showed.
But their risk of being diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer is 44 percent to 75 percent higher compared to the general population. That suggests the disease progresses faster in blacks, Etzioni’s team concluded.
The report was published online April 24 in the journal Cancer.
SOURCES: Ruth Etzioni, Ph.D., division of public health sciences, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle; Otis Brawley, M.D., chief medical officer, American Cancer Society; April 24, 2017, Cancer, online
(HealthDay News) — Ask kids what their favorite part of the school day is and most will say lunch and recess. But the timing of these events matters when it comes to what children eat and how much physical activity they get, researchers report.
The new findings could help schools develop policies to promote healthy eating and exercise habits for kids, the study authors said.
“Overall, our findings suggest that recess and lunch behaviors are interrelated. However, the specific food choices and activity levels children engage in may be subject to the timing and duration of lunch and recess,” researcher Gabriella McLoughlin said in an American Society for Nutrition news release.
McLoughlin, a doctoral student at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, is scheduled to present the research Sunday at the society’s annual meeting in Chicago.
For the study, researchers analyzed what 151 fourth- and fifth-graders at two schools ate for lunch and their physical activity. All ate lunch right before or right after recess.
Most research has focused on nutritional intake or physical activity during recess. Study leader Naiman Khan called this the first “to objectively measure food intake at lunch in conjunction with physical activity, and consider the influence of duration and timing.”
Khan is an assistant professor of kinesiology and community health at the university.
The researchers discovered that students who had recess before eating lunch wasted less food. But kids who had lunch before recess ate more vegetables.
While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends recess before lunch to help curb food waste, researchers say this schedule and how much time kids have to eat and play could have unwanted effects on what they eat and how much exercise they get.
The study found that kids who had more time for lunch and recess and who ate before they played were more active. The opposite was true for boys and girls who had less time for lunch and recess. These students were more active if they had recess before they ate.
“We plan to communicate our findings to school teachers, administrators and policymakers to facilitate the implementation of evidence-based policies that support children’s ability to meet their daily physical activity and nutritional recommendations,” Khan said.