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The Year’s 10 Biggest Health Stories

The Biggest
The Year’s 10 Biggest Health Stories

When the average person reaches for health articles, do they want to read complex, clinical studies on rare and unknown disorders? Do they want to read about results that have been conclusively established, or are mysteries and enigmas more of a draw? What do we deem relevant health news? Do you look for yourself in these articles, and people you love, or do you look for more universal possibilities?

The answers to these questions are now more easily accessible than ever, in the health articles which prove most popular among online readership. Of course, the studies which get published are determined by the health industry – and by industry, we don’t mean simply doctors, researchers and scientists, but also estheticians, marketing groups, magazines and civilians. Health aficionados (and sometimes not-so-aficionados) will research anything they can get funding for, so it’s unsurprising that multi-billion dollar Pharma groups can get funding for anything they want (Mice growing human hair? Shudder) and are often the leading forces behind the health studies we read.

The often fascinating studies contained in health journals, once the remit of academics and health professionals, are now more widely diffused than ever in the digital age. And people love to read about health. When it comes to our health and the health of those we love, or even the health of future generations, most of us will read anything we can get our hands on – much to the dismay of our doctors and other professionals who caution to “stop reading medical stuff on the Internet”. Of course, it may be wise to use caution when deciding which studies to trust and which to chalk up to sensationalism or marketing motivations.

Among all these stories, from the unusual to the revolutionary, which health headlines are we most interested in these days? Here, we’ve selected 10 of the most popular stories from one of the internet’s leading health news sources, Medical News Today, to bring you a round-up of the biggest health news of 2014.

10. Women Go for Macho Men During Ovulation (17,600 + views)

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The study this article is based on is a composite of the new and the recycled. Similar results have been presented before in numerous studies on sexuality; women’s choice of mate during most of the menstrual cycle is different to their preferences when they’re ovulating. Normally, when not being overrun by hormones, women go for the guy who looks like he’ll make a good long-term partner and caregiver for. Good news for the average guy! However, for a few days around ovulation the macho men become more attractive to a woman. Everything down to a woman’s scent responses will favour Mr. Masculine – the man with the square jawline and greater facial symmetry – sight unseen. That’s right; women can unconsciously detect the masculine men simply from the scent of articles of their clothing.

9. Home-test for Early Alzheimer’s Detection   (18,600 + views)

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As with other neurological disorders including those found in children, such as ADD, ADHD, OCD and so on, a pen-and-paper test has now been developed to identify early-presenting symptoms of Alzheimer’s in adults. The test is a self-assessing one, where people answer questions that in this case judge things like language, reasoning, orientation and problem solving. The test takes 15 minutes to complete, and is called SAGE, which stands for Self-Administered Gerocognitive Examination. A total score of 22 is possible and anyone missing six or more points should follow up with a medical professional.

8. Fruit Juice is as Bad as Sugary Drinks   (19,115 + views)

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Again, the results of this study seem a little aged. Fruit juice contains an inordinate amount of sugar, but these days anyone who wants to limit their own sugar intake or that of their children already controls fruit juices in the same way as they would sugary drinks. Diabetics have also known this secret for a long time, as has anyone on a diet. Where the outcome of this study differs from its forebears is that the lead researchers, based in the UK, are asking their government to change actual dietary guidelines for the country, lowering the recommended daily number of fruit servings, which includes juice, from 5 to 4 portions. They are also asking that labels make clear that one portion of fruit, when given as juice, is only 150 ml.

7. New Drug for Type II Diabetes  (19,395 + views)

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Farxiga is a new drug that has been FDA approved for use in treating patients with Type II Diabetes. The drug is not recommended for people with Type I Diabetes or people with bladder cancer, or with a susceptibility to bladder cancer (family history). Side effects include urinary tract infections and dehydration. The way Farxiga works is by hampering glucose absorption by the kidneys – so it is at the kidney level that the nasty side effects like dehydration can occur. Still, the drug seems to help lower glucose levels in people with Type II Diabetes, especially in conjunction with diet and exercise. Researchers would like more follow-up studies, as higher rates of bladder cancer have been shown to develop in Farxiga users.

6. Polio-like Disease in California (23,490 + views)

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Researchers at California clinics where polio-like symptoms had been seen in more than one child decided to investigate further. They inspected every case of any child in the state presenting with symptoms akin to those of the long-eradicated (in the U.S., not globally) illness. They found 5 cases in a twelve-month period. These children had paralysis in one or more limbs which came on suddenly, and the paralysis was no better six months later. The study did not say whether children had traveled or been exposed to someone who had traveled, but two tested positive for a rare enterovirus, and three had flu-like symptoms before the onset of paralysis.

5. Blood Test to Predict Heart Attacks  (24,895 +) views

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The journal Physical Biology recently published the results of a study done in which researchers developed a blood test that identifies endothelial cells in blood. These cells which can line artery walls cause inflammation in the heart and have been associated with ongoing heart attacks. Two groups of patients were tested with the new blood test, which notes reactions with specific antibodies. Scientists accurately predicted which patients had recently been treated for a heart attack versus which were healthy and had never experienced the condition. The next step is to see if this test can be used while a person is in the early stages of an attack, and eventually as a predictor of vulnerability to heart attacks.

4. Stem Cells & Baldness (26,700 + views)

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Marie Ellis reports on a study from the journal Nature, in which Dr. George Xu and his team from U. Penn took human skin cells, converted them into another type of cell, then converted them into yet a third type of cell (there are a lot of letters being thrown around including iPSCs, EpSCs) with SC denoting the stem cell. When all was said and done, lab mice had some of these human cells mixed with their own and then grafted onto the tiny surface of their rodent skin; and they ended up growing hair follicles similar in structure to human hair follicles. Xu says more work needs to be done, but it’s an interesting step in the research of baldness.

3. Common Infections & Brain Function Decline  (28,900 + views)

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Scientists have followed up on a 2013 study that suggested higher rates of heart disease were linked to lower rates of cognitive function. The more recent study looked particularly at such things as memory performance, the ability to reason, plan, abstract thinking and the speed of mental processing, and found that all of these functions were lower in people with a greater number of antibodies (suggesting greater exposure to common infections, even if the exposure had not resulted in actual infection). So, just going outside could make you less intelligent – according to this study. Researchers warn they do not yet know if the correlation is a real one or a coincidence, or what the primary cause may be.

2. Too Much Protein in Midlife is Bad for You  (35,535 + views)

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This study came to the conclusion that eating too much protein when middle-aged is as bad for you as smoking. The original study, published in Cell Metabolism, shows that when middle-aged people consume a lot of protein they have a much higher risk of diabetes, cancer and even death. Also, proteins from plant-based sources lower negative results. In a comment on the ethos of the once popular Atkins diet, which touted high-protein, low carb intake, this study acknowledges that for weight loss the Atkins method will produce immediate results. However, in the long run individuals who eat a high-carb, low-protein diet will live longest.

1. Caffeine & Long Term Memory (69,100 + views)

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This article entitled, “Caffeine may boost long-term memory,” is based on a study published in Nature Neuroscience, has had 4.5K likes on Facebook and has been tweeted over 500 times. Author Honor Whiteman reports that researchers showed two groups of people a series of flash cards, after which one group immediately received a 200-mg caffeine tablet and the other group received only a sugar tablet. The next day, everyone was shown some old cards and some new. Results showed both groups could tell if a card was new, but the caffeine group could more accurately say if a new card was similar to one shown the day before. Having caffeine an hour before or after made no difference whatsoever, so according to research, drink your coffee while or immediately after learning something new.

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