Your Friday 5: The week in health

March 31, 2017 Mike Francis

As we in the Northern Hemisphere make the turn toward summer – and, man, are we ready to make that turn – researchers continue to peer into microscopes, spin centrifuges and analyze medical records. Here are some recent highlights of their essential work.

Big news in the fight against MS

The Food & Drug Administration has approved a new drug to treat a severe form of multiple sclerosis, giving hope to those who suffer from the disease, which disrupts communications between the body and brain, causing paralysis and mental decline. “This therapy not only provides another treatment option for those with relapsing MS, but for the first time provides an approved therapy for those with primary progressive MS,” said Billy Dunn, M.D., of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. The new drug is Ocrevus, made by Genentech. In a pair of clinical trials, Ocrevus slowed the worsening of MS symptoms. "This is a real game-changer” said Cyndi Zagieboylo, president of the National MS Society.

Cold symptoms are worse when you’re lonely

You know what to expect when the first line of the study reads: “Loneliness is a well-established risk factor for poor physical health.” And indeed, a study out of Texas has found that people who consider themselves lonely have worse cold symptoms, at least according to the sufferers’ self-reporting. In fact, the researchers say, the perception of loneliness matters more to the person who has the cold than objectively measured social isolation. “Put simply,” the authors wrote, “lonelier people feel worse when they are sick than less lonely people.” They said health care providers can learn more about their patients’ illnesses when they assess their loneliness. So here’s to friendships. And wellness.

Block post-traumatic stress with Tetris

Researchers in Great Britain believe they’ve found a way to keep people from developing flashbacks of traumatic scenes: Have them play a “visuospatial computer game,” such as Tetris. Because flashbacks are what experts describe as “sensory-perceptual, visuospatial mental images,” researchers say a game like Tetris interferes with the brain’s ability to develop a flashback. They tested the theory by showing participants a traumatic film consisting of scenes of real injury and death, then asking some to play Tetris. Those who played Tetris had significantly fewer flashbacks than those who didn’t, though both groups remembered the film equally well. The authors suggest playing a game like Tetris in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event can act as “a cognitive vaccine” for people who witnessed it.

Analyzing the need to empty your bladder at night

It’s called nocturia: the need to urinate at night. And Matsuo Tomohiro, M.D., of Nagasaki University studied it with the help of 321 Japanese adults who had sleeping problems and consumed high amounts of salt. He instructed them to cut down on salt and studied them for 12 weeks. About two-thirds of the subjects complied with his instructions, cutting their consumption from 11 grams (about 2.2 teaspoons) a day to 8 grams. As a result, they urinated on average 1.4 times a night, down from 2.3 times. "This work holds out the possibility that a simple dietary modification might significantly improve the quality of life for many people," Dr. Tomohiro told the BBC. Where did Dr. Tomohiro present his findings? At a meeting of the European Association of Urology. Of course.

You call it passive heating: I call it a hot bath

Researchers at England’s Loughborough University send us home with a relaxing note for the weekend. They studied how many calories were burned and how blood sugar levels changed when a test group of 14 men rode a bicycle for an hour or took an hourlong soak in a hot bath. Not surprisingly, the group that cycled burned more calories. But the bathers also burned calories—equivalent to about a half-hour walk. And blood sugar levels were similar for both groups. Researchers said the findings add to the “exciting results” emerging from the relatively new field of passive heating for human health.

What developments in the world of health have caught your attention? Is there something you’d like to read more about? Let us know by commenting below.

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