Pineapple: Health Benefits, Risks & Nutrition Facts


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Pineapple: Health Benefits, Risks & Nutrition Facts

 Pineapple: Health Benefits, Risks & Nutrition Facts
Pineapples grow on the central stalk of a large plant with swordlike leaves.

Credit: 9comeback / Shutterstock.com

Pineapples are tropical fruit that are rich in vitamins, enzymes and antioxidents. They may help boost the immune system, build strong bones and aid indigestion. Also, despite their sweetness, pineapples are low in calories.

Pineapples are members of the bromeliad family, and one of the few bromeliads to produce edible fruit, according to the biology department at Union County College. The fruit is actually made of many individual berries that fuse together around a central core. Each pineapple scale is an individual berry.

Pineapples’ nutritional benefits are as fascinating as their anatomy. “Pineapples contain high amounts of vitamin C and manganese,” said San Diego-based nutritionist Laura Flores. These tropical treats are also a good way to get important dietary fiber and bromelain (an enzyme).

“As well as having high amounts of manganese, which is important for antioxidant defenses, pineapples also contain high amounts of thiamin, a B vitamin that is involved in energy production,” Flores said.

For all its sweetness, one cup of pineapple chunks contains only 82 calories. Pineapples are also fat-free, cholesterol-free and low in sodium. Not surprisingly, they do contain sugar, with 16 grams per cup.

Here are the nutrition facts for raw pineapple, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates food labeling through the National Labeling and Education Act:

Serving size: 1 cup chunks (165 g)
Amount per Serving (%DV*)
*Percent Daily Values (%DV) are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Calories 82 Calories from Fat 0
Amt per Serving %DV*
Total Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 2mg 0%
Potassium 120mg 3%
Total Carbohydrate 15g 5%
  Dietary Fiber 2g 8%
   Sugars 11g
Protein 1g
Vitamin A 2%
Vitamin C 131%
Calcium 2%
Iron 2%

The nutritional profile for canned pineapple is different from raw pineapple. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, canned pineapple in light syrup has 131 calories per cup and 31.88 grams of sugar. It also contains fewer vitamins and minerals. If you do opt for canned pineapple, try to get it with no added sugar or look for a variety that is canned in fruit juice instead of syrup.

Immune system support

Pineapple contains all of the recommended daily value of vitamin C, according to the FDA. Vitamin C is a primary water-soluble antioxidant that fights cell damage, according to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. This makes vitamin C a helpful fighter against problems such as heart disease and joint pain.

Bone strength

Pineapple may help you keep standing tall and strong. The fruit contains nearly 75 percent of the daily-recommended value of the mineral manganese, which is essential in developing strong bones and connective tissue, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. One 1994 study suggested that manganese, along with other trace minerals, may be helpful in preventing osteoporosis in post-menopausal women.

Eye health

Pineapples can help reduce the risk of macular degeneration, a disease that affects the eyes as people age, due in part to its high amount of vitamin C and the antioxidants it contains,” Flores said.

Digestion

Like many other fruits and vegetables, pineapple contains dietary fiber, which is essential in keeping you regular and in keeping your intestines healthy, according to the Mayo Clinic. But unlike many other fruits and veggies, pineapple contains significant amounts of bromelain, an enzyme that breaks down protein, possibly helping digestion, according to the American Cancer Society.

Anti-Inflammatory benefits

Due to a complex mixture of substances that can be extracted from the core of the pineapple, well known as bromelain, pineapples can help reduce severe inflammation … and can reduce tumor growth,” Flores said. A variety of studies have indicated that bromelain may be helpful in treating osteoarthritis, though more research is needed.

Excessive inflammation is often associated with cancer, and according to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, bromelain and other proteolytic enzymes have been shown to increase the survival rates of animals with various tumors. There is not yet, however, clinical evidence to show that such results will happen in humans.

Blood clot reduction

Flores noted that because of their bromelain levels, pineapples can help reduce excessive coagulation of the blood. This makes pineapple a good snack for frequent fliers and others at risk for blood clots.

Common cold and sinus inflammation

In addition to having lots of vitamin C, pineapple’s bromelain may help reduce mucus in the throat and nose, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. So if your cold has you coughing, try some pineapple chunks. Those with allergies may want to consider incorporating pineapple into their diets more regularly to reduce sinus mucus long term

“Because pineapple is a great meat tenderizer, eating too much can result in tenderness of the mouth, including the lips, tongue and cheeks,” Flores said. “But, [it] should resolve itself within a few hours.” If it does not, or if you experience a rash, hives or breathing difficulties, you should seek a medical help immediately. You could have a pineapple allergy.

Flores pointed out a possible negative to pineapple’s high levels of vitamin C. “Because of the high amount of vitamin C that pineapples contain, consuming large quantities may induce diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain or heart burn,” she said.

Additionally, extremely high amounts of bromelain can cause skin rashes, vomiting, diarrhea, and excessive menstrual bleeding, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Bromelain can also interact with some medications. Those taking antibiotics, anticoagulants, blood thinners, anticonvulsants, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, insomnia drugs and tricyclic antidepressants should be careful not to eat too much pineapple.

Eating unripe pineapple or drinking unripe pineapple juice is dangerous, reports the horticulture department at Purdue University. In this state, it is toxic to humans and can lead to severe diarrhea and vomiting. Eating a great deal of pineapple cores can also cause fiber balls to form in the digestive tract.

  • The word “pineapple,” derived from the Spanish word piña, was first used in 1398 to refer to a pinecone. This changed about 300 years later, with the word “pinecone” being introduced so pineapple could be used exclusively for the fruit.
  • Pineapples were discovered by Europeans in 1493 on the Caribbean island of Guadalupe.
  • Early attempts by Europeans to cultivate the fruit failed until they realized that the fruit needs a tropical climate to flourish. By the end of the 16th century, Portuguese and Spanish explorers introduced pineapples into their Asian, African and South Pacific colonies.
  • Because pineapples are very perishable, fresh pineapples were a rarity for early American colonists. Glazed, sugar-coated pineapples were a luxurious treat, and fresh pineapple itself became a symbol of prestige and social class.
  • Pineapples were first cultivated in Hawaii in the 18th century. Hawaii is the only U.S. state in which they are still grown.
  • Other countries that commercially grow pineapples include Thailand, the Philippines, China, Brazil and Mexico.
  • Pineapple canneries use every bit of the pineapple. The skins, core and end portions are used to make a variety of products, including vinegar, alcohol and animal food.
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Liver: Function, Failure & Disease


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Liver: Function, Failure & Disease

Credit: Sebastian Kaulitzki | Shutterstock

The liver is an abdominal glandular organ in the digestive system. It is located in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen, under the diaphragm and on top of the stomach. The liver is a vital organ that supports nearly every other organ to some capacity.

The liver is the body’s second-largest organ (skin is the largest organ), according to the American Liver Foundation (ALF), weighing about 3 lbs. (1.4 kilograms). At any given moment, the liver holds about 1 pint (half a liter) of blood — about 13 percent of the body’s blood supply, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

The liver is shaped like a football, or a cone, and consists of two main lobes. Each lobe has eight segments that consist of 1,000 small lobes, or lobules, according to Johns Hopkins. The lobules are connected to ducts that transport bile to the gallbladder and small intestine.

“The liver has a complex role in the function of the body,” said Jordan Knowlton, an advanced registered nurse practitioner at the University of Florida Health Shands Hospital. “Detoxification, metabolism (including regulation of glycogen storage), hormone regulation, protein synthesis, digestion, and decomposition of red blood cells, to name a few.”

In fact, more than 500 vital functions have been identified with the liver, according to Johns Hopkins, including:

  • Production of bile, which helps carry away waste and break down fats in the small intestine during digestion.
  • Production of certain proteins for blood plasma.
  • Production of cholesterol and special proteins to help carry fats through the body
  • Conversion of excess glucose into glycogen for storage (glycogen can later be converted back to glucose for energy) and to balance and make glucose as needed
  • Regulation of blood levels of amino acids, which form the building blocks of proteins
  • Processing of hemoglobin for use of its iron content (the liver stores iron)
  • Conversion of poisonous ammonia to urea (urea is an end product of protein metabolism and is excreted in the urine)
  • Clearing the blood of drugs and other poisonous substances
  • Regulating blood clotting
  • Resisting infections by making immune factors and removing bacteria from the bloodstream
  • Clearance of bilirubin, also from red blood cells. If there is an accumulation of bilirubin, the skin and eyes turn yellow.

One of the best-known roles of the liver is as a detoxification system. Itremoves toxic substances from blood, such as alcohol and drugs, according to the Canadian Liver Foundation. It also breaks down hemoglobin, insulin and excessive hormones to keep hormone levels in balance. Additionally, it destroys old blood cells.

The liver is vital for healthy metabolic function. It metabolizes carbohydrates, lipids and proteins into useful substances, such as glucose, cholesterol, phospholipids and lipoproteins that are used in various cells throughout the body, according to Colorado State University’s Department of Biomedical Sciences’ Hypertexts for Pathophysiology: Metabolic Functions of the Liver. The liver breaks down the unusable parts of proteins and converts them into ammonia, and eventually urea.

According to the Canadian Liver Foundation, there are more than 100 types of liver disease, and they are caused by a variety of factors, such as viruses, toxins, genetics, alcohol and unknown causes. The following are among the most common types of liver disease:

  • Alagille syndrome
  • Alpha 1 anti-trypsin deficiency
  • Autoimmune hepatitis
  • Biliary atresia
  • Cirrhosis
  • Cystic disease of the liver
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Galactosemia
  • Gallstones
  • Gilbert’s syndrome
  • Hemochromatosis
  • Liver cancer
  • Liver disease in pregnancy
  • Neonatal hepatitis
  • Primary biliary cirrhosis
  • Primary sclerosing cholangitis
  • Porphyria
  • Reye’s syndrome
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Toxic hepatitis
  • Type 1 glycogen storage disease
  • Tyrosinemia
  • Viral hepatitis A, B, C
  • Wilson disease

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), one symptom of liver disease is jaundice — yellowish skin and eyes. Other symptoms include abdominal pain and swelling, persistent itchy skin, dark urine, pale stools, bloody or black stools, exhaustion, bruising easily, nausea and loss of appetite.

There are two types of fatty liver, according to the Cleveland Clinic: that caused by excessive alcohol consumption (fatty liver) and that which is not (non-alcoholic fatty liver or non-alcoholic steatohepatitis).

Speaking of both conditions, Knowlton said, “Some fat on the liver is normal, but when it starts to accumulate to greater than 5-10 percent, it can lead to permanent liver damage and cirrhosis.” It also increases the chance of liver failure or liver cancer. Fatty liver “can be caused by genetics, obesity, diet, hepatitis, or alcohol abuse,” said Knowlton. Other risk factors include rapid weight loss, diabetes, high cholesterol, or high trigycerides, according to the ALF.

Some people may get fatty liver even if they don’t have any risk factors. Up to 25 percent of the U.S. population suffers from fatty liver disease, according to the University of Michigan Health System. There are no medical treatments for fatty liver disease, though avoiding alcohol, eating a healthy diet, and exercising can help prevent or reverse fatty liver disease in its early stages.

According to the Mayo Clinic, an enlarged liver (or hepatomegaly) isn’t a disease itself, but a sign of an underlying serious problem, such as liver disease, cancer or congestive heart failure. There may be no symptoms of an enlarged liver, though if they are they are the same as the symptoms for liver disease. Normally, the liver cannot be felt unless you take a deep breath, but if it is enlarged, your doctor may be able to feel it, according to the NIH. The doctor may then do scans, MRIs, or ultrasounds of the abdomen to determine if you have an enlarged liver. Treatment will involve addressing the underlying problem.

Liver pain is felt in the upper right area of the abdomen, just below the ribs. Usually, it is a dull, vague pain though it can sometimes be quite severe and may cause a backache. Sometimes people perceive it as pain in the right shoulder. It is often confused with general abdominal pain, back pain or kidney pain, according to New Health Guide. It can be hard to pinpoint the exact location or cause of such pains, so it is important to see a doctor. Doctors may do blood tests, ultrasounds or biopsies to determine the cause of pain.

Liver pain can be the result of a variety of causes. Some common causes are: ascites (fluid in the abdomen), cirrhosis, hepatitis, liver failure, enlarged liver, liver abscess, and liver tumors.

Liver failure is an urgent, life-threatening medical condition. It means that the liver has lost or is losing all of its function. “Livers typically fail gradually,” said Knowlton, “but sometimes [it] can be rapid.” Early symptoms of liver failure are general, making it difficult to know that the liver is failing. Knowlton said, “Symptoms of liver failure may include nausea, appetite changes, fatigue, diarrhea, jaundice, easy bleeding.” As the condition worsens, she said symptoms might include “mental confusion and coma.”

“Typical causes of liver failure include Tylenol overdose, viruses, hepatitis B & C, cirrhosis, alcoholism, and some medications,” said Knowlton. Georgia’s Emory Healthcare stated that there are two types of liver failure: chronic and acute. Chronic liver failure is the most common type of liver failure. It is the result of malnutrition, disease and cirrhosis, and it can develop slowly over years. Acute liver failure is rarer, and it can come on suddenly. Acute liver failure is usually the result of poisoning or a drug overdose.

Liver failure treatments depend on the case. Knowlton said, “Treatment options are mostly supportive (hospitalization and treatment until the liver recovers), but ultimately may require liver transplantation.”

Donated livers can come from cadavers or living donors. In the case of living donors, the donor donates part of his or her liver to another person, according to the American College of Gastroenterology. The liver can regrow itself, so both people should end up with healthy, functional livers. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases the most common reason adults get liver transplants is cirrhosis, though transplants can also be done for patients with various liver diseases or early stage liver cancer.

A liver transplant is a very serious surgery that may take up to 12 hours. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are several risks involved with liver transplants, including:

  • Bile duct complications, including leaks or shrinking
  • Bleeding
  • Blood clots
  • Failure of donated liver
  • Infection
  • Memory and thinking problems
  • Rejection of donated liver

If you have a liver transplant, you can expect to stay in the hospital for at least a week after the surgery, to get regular checkups for at least three months, and to take anti-rejection and other medications for the rest of your life. It will take six months to a year to feel fully healed from the surgery.

Liver transplant success depends on the individual case. Transplants from cadavers have a 72 percent success rate, meaning that 72 percent of liver transplant recipients lived for at least five years after the surgery. Transplants from living donors had a slightly higher success rate, at 78 percent, according to the Mayo Clinic.

While some liver diseases are genetic, others are caused by viruses or toxins, such as drugs and poisons. Some risk factors, according to theMayo Clinic, include drug or heavy alcohol consumption, having a blood transfusion before 1992, high levels of triglycerides in the blood, diabetes, obesity and being exposed to other people’s blood and bodily fluids. This can happen from shared drug needles, unsanitary tattoo or body piercing needles, and unprotected sex.

Pesticide exposure was associated with a 71 percent increased risk of liver cancer, according to a meta-analysis of more than 480,000 participants in Asia, Europe and the U.S. Though the study was large, more research needs to be done on what exact pesticides are the most harmful.

Alcohol is big player in liver damage. It is believed that alcohol could possibly change the type of fungi living in the liver, leading to disease, according to a small study published May 22, 2017, in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. If this is true, it could lead to new treatment options. The findings suggest that “we might be able to slow the progression of alcoholic liver disease by manipulating the balance of fungal species living in a patient’s intestine,” study co-author Dr. Bernd Schnabl, an associate professor of gastroenterology at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, said in a statement. [How Alcohol & Gut Fungus Team Up to Damage Your Liver]

Additional reporting by Alina Bradford, Live Science contributor.

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Man Dies in MRI Accident: How Does This Happen?


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Man Dies in MRI Accident: How Does This Happen?

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Man Dies in MRI Accident: How Does This Happen?

Credit: Craig F. Walker/The Denver Post/Getty

A man in India has reportedly died after being yanked toward a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine, according to news reports.

The man, Rajesh Maru, was visiting a relative at a hospital in Mumbai and had been handed a metal oxygen cylinder to carry, according to theAgence France-Presse. He entered the MRI room after being told the machine was off, but the powerful magnet that runs the machine was functioning and pulled the oxygen cylinder toward it. Maru may have died from inhaling liquid oxygen from the damaged cylinder, according to Mumbai police. The police also said two hospital staff members had been arrested for causing death by negligence. [27 Oddest Medical Cases]

MRI imaging is quite safe for human tissue, but introducing metal near the machines can be deadly. That’s because the MRI machine works by using large magnets to create strong magnetic fields, 1,000 times the strength of a standard refrigerator magnet. These mega-magnetic fields align the positively charged protons within the nuclei of the hydrogen atoms in the body’s soft tissue. There are a lot of hydrogen atoms in soft tissue, because soft tissue is rich in H2O, aka water. (The skin is about 64 percent H2O and the lungs are 83 percent, according to a 1945 paper in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.)

While they’re lining up protons, MRI scanners also use radio waves to vary the magnetic field, forcing the protons to flip their alignment in response. After the field turns off, the protons return to their usual orientation, which produces radio signals that the MRI machine can measure. The speed at which the protons return to normal is different depending on the tissue, so the radio signals produce an image that differentiates between muscles, organs and other structures.

It’s that strong magnetic field that can prove dangerous if there’s any metal in the room when the machine is switched on, as the magnet will yank metal objects toward it. Patients must remove any metal from their bodies before getting scanned; anyone with certain metal implants that can’t be removed (most older pacemakers, for example) can’t get an MRI scan.

Occasionally, metal objects brought into the room during scans cause tragic accidents. In 2014, a technician at another hospital in Mumbai spent 4 hours wedged inside an MRI machine after he was pinned between a ward assistant carrying an oxygen cylinder and the scanner. The technician lost blood circulation below the waist and was temporarily paralyzed; he also suffered organ damage and internal bleeding, according to the Mumbai Mirror. Last year, the maker of the machine, General Electric, paid the technician a settlement of 10 million rupees (about $157,000).

In 2001, a 6-year-old boy named Michael Colombini died in Westchester, New York, after an oxygen canister flew at his skull during an MRI for a benign brain tumor. The boy’s family and the hospital reached a $2.9 million settlement in 2009, according to news reports.

The most common MRI injuries, though, are burns, according to a 2008 report by The Joint Commission, a nonprofit healthcare accreditation agency. When metal is left inside a patient’s body — or a tattoo containing metallic pigments is overlooked — the magnetic fields induced by the MRI can create electrical currents in that metal, potentially heating up the soft tissue around it.

Originally published on Live Science. 

 

Lungs: Facts, Function and Diseases


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Lungs: Facts, Function and Diseases

 Lungs: Facts, Function and Diseases
The right lung is shorter than the left lung to make room for the liver. The left lung is narrower than the right to make room for the heart.

Credit: Shutterstock

Lungs are sacks of tissue located just below the rib cage and above the diaphragm. They are an important part of the respiratory system and waste management for the body.

A person’s lungs are not the same size. The right lung is a little wider than the left lung, but it is also shorter. According to York University, the right lung is shorter because it has to make room for the liver, which is right beneath it. The left lung is narrower because it must make room for the heart.

Typically, a man’s lungs can hold more air than a woman’s. At rest, a man’s lungs can hold around 750 cubic centimeters (about 1.5 pints) of air, while a woman’s can hold around 285 to 393 cc (0.6 to 0.8 pints) of air, according to York University. “The lungs are over-engineered to accomplish the job that we ask them to do,” said Dr. Jonathan P. Parsons, a professor of internal medicine, associate director of Clinical Services, and director of the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at the OSU Asthma Center at The Ohio State University. “In healthy people without chronic lung disease, even at maximum exercise intensity, we only use 70 percent of the possible lung capacity.”

According to the American Lung Association, adults typically take 15 to 20 breaths a minute, which comes to around 20,000 breaths a day. Babies tend to breath faster than adults. For example, a newborn’s normal breathing rate is about 40 times each minute while the average resting respiratory rate for adults is 12 to 16 breaths per minute. [Respiratory System: Facts, Function and Diseases]

Though breathing seems simple, it is a very complex process.

The right lung is divided into three different sections, called lobes. The left lung has just two lobes. The lobes are made of sponge-like tissue that is surrounded by a membrane called pleura, which separates the lungs from the chest wall. Each lung half has its own pleura sack. This is why, when one lung is punctured, the other can go on working.

The lungs are like bellows. When they expand, they pull air into the body. When they compress, they expel carbon dioxide, a waste gas that bodies produce. Lungs do not have muscles to pump air in and out, though. The diaphragm and rib cage essentially pump the lungs.

As a person breathes, air travels down the throat and into the trachea, also known as the windpipe. The trachea divides into smaller passages called the bronchial tubes. The bronchial tubes go into each lung. The bronchial tubes branch out into smaller subdivisions throughout each side of the lung. The smallest branches are called bronchioles and each bronchiole has an air sac, also called alveoli. There are around 480 million alveoli in the human lungs, according to the Department of Anatomy of the University of Göttingen.

The alveoli have many capillary veins in their walls. Oxygen passes through the alveoli, into the capillaries and into the blood. It is carried to the heart and then pumped throughout the body to the tissues and organs.

As oxygen is going into the bloodstream, carbon dioxide passes from the blood into the alveoli and then makes its journey out of the body. This process is called gas exchange. When a person breathes shallowly, carbon dioxide accumulates inside the body. This accumulation causes yawning, according to York University.

The lungs have a special way to protect themselves. Cilia, which look like a coating of very small hairs, line the bronchial tubes. The cilia wave back and forth spreading mucus into the throat so that it can be dispelled by the body. Mucus cleans out the lungs and rids them of dust, germs and any other unwanted items that may end up in the lungs.

The lungs can have a wide range of problems that can stem from genetics, bad habits, an unhealthy diet and viruses. “The most common lung related conditions I see are reactive airways or asthma, as well as smoking-related emphysema, in my general practice,” Dr. Jack Jacoub, a medical oncologist and director of thoracic oncology at Memorial Care Cancer Institute at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, told Live Science.

Asthma, also called reactive airway disease before a diagnosis of asthma, is a lung disease where the air passageways in the lungs become inflamed and narrowed, making it hard to breath. In the United States, more than 25 million people, including 7 million children, have asthma, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Lung cancer is cancer that originates in the lungs. It is the No. 1 cause of deaths from cancer in the United States for both men and women, according to the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms of cancer include coughing up blood, a cough that doesn’t go away, shortness of breath, wheezing, chest pain, headaches, hoarseness, weight loss and bone pain.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is long-term lung disease that prevents a person from breathing properly due to excess mucus or the degeneration of the lungs. Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are considered COPD diseases. About 11.4 million people in the United States suffer from COPD, with about 80 to 90 percent of COPD deaths attributed to smoking, according to the American Cancer Society.

Sometimes, those with COPD get lung transplants, replacement lungs garnered from organ donors, to save their lives. Research is also being done on growing new lungs from stem cells. Currently, stem cells extracted from the patient’s blood or bone marrow are being used as a treatment to heal damaged lung tissue.

Lung infections, such as bronchitis or pneumonia, are usually caused by viruses, but can also be caused by fungal organisms or bacteria, according to Ohio State University. Some severe or chronic lung infections can cause fluid in the lungs and other symptoms such as swollen lymph nodes, coughing up blood and a persistent fever.

Being overweight can also affect the lungs. “Yes, being overweight does adversely affect the lungs because it increases the work and energy expenditure to breath,” said Jacoub. “In the most extreme form, it acts like a constricting process or vest around the chest such as that seen in the ‘Pickwickian syndrome.'”

One of the best ways to promote good lung health is to avoid cigarette smoke because at least 70 out of the 7,000 chemicals in cigarette smoke damages the cells within the lungs. According to the Mayo Clinic, people who smoke have the greatest risk of lung cancer. The more a person smokes, the greater the risk. Those who smoke are 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If a person quits, their lungs can heal from much of the damage, said Dr. Norman Edelman, a senior scientific adviser for the American Lung Association and a specialist in pulmonary medicine. [Do Smokers’ Lungs Heal After They Quit?]

The Rush University Medical Center also suggests practicing deep breathing exercises, staying hydrated and regular exercise to keep the lungs healthy. Parsons also recommends having homes tested for radon. “Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas produced by the breakdown of uranium in the ground. It typically leaks into a house through cracks in the foundation and walls. Radon is the main cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers, and the second-leading cause of the disease after smoking,” said Parsons.

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It Looks Like the Flu, But Isn’t: What Is Adenovirus?


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It Looks Like the Flu, But Isn’t: What Is Adenovirus?

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It Looks Like the Flu, But Isn't: What Is Adenovirus?

This picture of an adenovirus was taken using a transmission electron microscope (TEM). It has been artifically colorized.

Credit: CDC

The flu isn’t the only virus that could leave you feeling feverish and generally miserable this winter — another virus, called adenovirus, can cause similar symptoms, although doctors don’t routinely test for it.

Adenoviruses are prolific viruses that can cause a variety of illnesses, including upper respiratory infections — such as colds — as well as pneumonia, gastrointestinal illness, conjunctivitis (pink eye) and even urinary tract infections, said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. (There are 52 strains of adenovirus, and different strains cause different illnesses.)

When a person has a respiratory infection caused by an adenovirus, “it would be really hard to tell it apart from influenza” just by looking at the patient, Adalja said. Symptoms can include fever, sore throat, cough and runny nose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). [The 9 Deadliest Viruses on Earth]

However, unlike the flu, adenovirus doesn’t have a “striking seasonality,” Adalja told Live Science. Although outbreaks of adenovirus infections are most common in the late winter, spring and early summer, they can occur year-round, the CDC said.

In some cases, adenoviruses can cause severe respiratory symptoms, including pneumonia, particularly in patients whose immune systems are compromised, Adalja said. In 2007, an outbreak of adenovirus sickened about 140 people in four states, killing 10 patients, according to the CDC. But that fatality rate doesn’t compare to that of the flu, which can cause between 12,000 and 56,000 deaths per year, according to the CDC.

Outbreaks of adenovirus in the military led the U.S. Department of Defense to begin vaccinating military recruits against two strains of the virus in 1971, according to Medscape. When vaccine production stopped in 1996, cases of adenovirus in the military increased, as the disease spreads easily in close quarters. This re-emergence of the disease led to the reintroduction of the vaccine among recruits in 2011, Medscape reported. It’s estimated that the vaccine prevents about 15,000 cases of adenovirus infections in U.S. military recruits, according to the U.S. Army Medical Material Development Activity.

A recent study, published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, looked at adenovirus respiratory infections in nonmilitary members and concluded that the vaccine should also be considered for susceptible groups outside the military, such as those living in long-term-care facilities or college dorms.

Adalja agreed that “because [adenovirus] does cause a considerable burden of illness, we want to explore” the ability to use the vaccine outside of the military context.

For example, the vaccine may benefit people at high risk of contracting the virus, such as patients with lung disease and others with compromised immune systems, but it may even benefit the general population, Adalja said. However, future studies would be needed to examine which segments of the population would benefit most, and whether vaccination would be cost-effective, he said.

Original article on Live Science.

Scientists Figure Out Why Italian Family Can’t Feel Pain


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Scientists Figure Out Why Italian Family Can’t Feel Pain

Some guy named Robert Earl’s broken leg (Image: rearl/Flickr)

An Italian woman, her two daughters, and her three grandchildren have always had trouble feeling pain. They can’t sense temperature. They break bones without noticing. Now, a team of scientists in the United Kingdom think they’ve figured out why.

Pain—whether it’s the sharp agony of a stubbed toe or the warning heat that comes before a burn—is an everyday occurrence for most people, but not for this unusual Italian family. By studying both the family members’ genetics and mice, researchers think they’ve located the gene responsible for their insensitivity. One day, this knowledge could help others treat chronic pain.

“Genetic analysis of a human family with Marsili syndrome, a rare and perhaps unique inherited pain insensitive phenotype, and mouse modeling have shown ZFHX2 as a critical gene for normal pain perception,” the authors write in the study published recently in the journal Brain. The syndrome’s name, Marsili, comes from this very family.

The family members agreed to go through rigorous examination for the new research—tests that sound like mild torture to a normal pain-feeler. They were poked at tender points, touched surfaces ranging from 14 degrees to 122 degrees Fahrenheit, and dunked their hands in ice water.

Finally, the researchers sequenced part of the family’s genomes, revealing a new mutation in the “ZFHX2″ gene. This gene alters how nociceptors, the pain-sensing part of the nerve cells that turn sensory inputs into stimuli for the brain, translate DNA code into protein-making instructions.

Previous research has created mice without that ZFHX2 gene, and those mice turned out to be pretty weird: They were more hyperactive and showed signs of mouse depression. In this new study, the ZFHX2-altered mice had difficulty sensing hot and cold, offering further evidence that a mutation in the gene is what causes the family’s lack of pain.

It’s important to note that the mutant mice didn’t show exactly the same symptoms as the humans did—and the genetics of pain are more complex than single genes. Other people who have fractured bones without feeling pain have had mutations on another gene, called SCN11A, for example. Much about pain is still poorly understood, according to a Nature editorial.

But understanding mutations such as these may one day lead to better pain treatment ideas. Further work is needed to determine which genes might be the best targets for painkilling therapies, the authors write.

As for the Italian family, New Scientist reports that they’d rather not sense pain normally. I mean, me too.

[Brain via New Scientist]

Even New Birth Control Pills May Raise Women’s Breast Cancer Risk


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Even New Birth Control Pills May Raise Women’s Breast Cancer Risk

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Even New Birth Control Pills May Raise Women's Breast Cancer Risk

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Using hormonal birth control methods — including newer types of birth control pills, as well as intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants — may slightly increase women’s risk of breast cancer, according to a new study from Denmark.

The study builds on earlier findings linking hormonal birth control and breast cancer, but the new study focused on newer forms of birth control.

The study, which included about 1.8 million women in Denmark, found that those who used hormonal birth control methods were 20 percent more likely to develop breast cancer over an 11-year period, compared with those who never used hormonal birth control.

Still, a woman’s overall chance of developing breast cancer linked to hormonal birth control use was quite small: The researchers estimate that there would be 1 extra case of breast cancer for every 7,690 women who took hormonal contraception (or 13 extra cases of breast cancer for every 100,000 women who used hormonal contraception). [10 Do’s and Don’ts to Reduce Your Risk of Cancer]

When the researchers examined a number of different hormonal formulations used in birth control, they found that all of the formulations raised the risk of breast cancer by about the same amount. (Hormonal birth control methods typically use either a combination of the hormonesestrogen and progestin, or progestin by itself.)

The study is published today (Dec. 6) in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Not a “new” link

The findings of alink between hormonal contraception and breast cancer is not new; studies going back decades have suggested that the hormones in birth control could raise the risk of breast cancer. But these earlier studies looked mainly at older types of birth control pills, which had a higher dose of estrogen than today’s pills. Therefore, it wasn’t clear if this risk applied to newer formulations of birth control pills or to other birth control methods, including intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants that contain only the hormone progestin.

The new study “confirms that the increased breast cancer risk … that was initially reported with the use of older, often higher-dose formulations also applies to contemporary formulations” of birth control, David Hunter, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Population Health in the United Kingdom, wrote in an editorial that accompanied the study. “These results do not suggest that any particular preparation is free of risk,” Hunter added.

But this risk should be weighed against the important benefits of hormonal contraception, which is an effective method of birth control, the researchers, from the University of Copenhagen, wrote in their study. What’s more, other studies have found that taking hormonal birth control may actually reduce the risk of other cancers, including ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer and colorectal cancer, they said.

Risk with longer use

The new study involved women in Denmark ages 15 to 49 who had not previously been diagnosed with cancer. The researchers used nationwide registries to collect information about prescriptions that were filled for hormonal contraception, as well as diagnoses of breast cancer.

The longer women used hormonal contraception, the greater their risk of breast cancer, the researchers found. Using hormonal contraception for less than one year did not increase women’s risk of breast cancer. However, using hormonal contraception for 10 years was linked with a 40 percent increase in the risk of breast cancer, compared with those who had never used hormonal contraception.

Once women stopped using these forms of birth control, the increased risk of breast cancer disappeared if the women had used hormonal contraception for less than five years. But if they had taken hormonal contraception for more than five years, the higher risk of breast cancer persisted for at least five years after their discontinuation of hormonal birth control, the study found. [Beyond Birth Control: 5 Conditions ‘The Pill’ Can Help Treat]

The findings held even after the researchers took into account some factors that can affect the risk of breast cancer, such as becoming pregnant or having a family history of the disease.

But the study did not account for some other things that affect breast cancer risk, including physical activity levels and alcohol consumption.

Still, the researchers noted that any unaccounted factors would need to have a large effect on the risk of breast cancer and be very common in the population to explain the results.

The study was funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation, a commercial foundation in Denmark that funds research to support its business interests, which include the pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk. It had no role in the design, analysis or interpretation of the study, or in writing the paper.

Original article on Live Science.