Being overweight or obese has long been linked to poor heart health, but could it also impair your thinking? New research out of Canada suggests it very well might. Working with thousands of young, middle-aged and older adults, the new study highlights what appears to be fat's direct harm on one's ability to think quickly, with rising body fat levels linked to diminishing mental health returns. The study identified a fat-induced slow-down in "processing speed" — meaning the time it takes to absorb, understand and react to sights, sounds or movement. Between 2010 and 2018, nearly 9,200 adults aged 30 to 75 years (average age: 58) were enrolled in the study. None had a prior history of heart disease. All underwent brain scans (MRIs) to pinpoint potential blood vessel injuries. Almost all had total body fat measurements, while about three-quarters completed assessments of belly fat as well. To gauge their thinking, the participants completed two tests that examined attention skills, concentration, short-term memory, eye-hand speed and coordination, and the ability to learn and/or calculate new information. On the physical health front, there were few surprises. Women carried more overall body fat than the men, though guys tended to pack on more excess weight around their stomachs. About two-thirds of the men had what the authors characterized as "central obesity," compared with just over one-third of the women. Still, carrying excess weight — regardless of where — was found to pose a threat to heart health, with higher overall body fat and abdominal fat driving up both high blood pressure and diabetes risk. Excess body fat also appeared to boost the risk for brain injury, including lesions or the kind of markers that indicate a history of unrecognized ("silent") strokes. And Anand and her colleagues noted that poorer heart health has long been known to put a person's ability to think clearly and quickly at risk. But this study went one step further, identifying what appears to be excess fat's direct damage to thinking, even after taking into account heart health, brain status and education. In fact, the researchers identified a direct more-is-more dynamic: As body fat rose, people processed information more slowly, as if their brains had actually aged. Specifically, the team noted that a participant's ability to think "aged" up by about one year for every 9% increase in overall body fat. Yet not every aspect of thinking skill appeared to be affected. Processing speed and attention skills declined with rising fat levels. "The greater the percent of body fat, the greater the loss of processing speed," the study noted. However, verbal understanding and memory skills did not appear to be similarly affected. Anand said it remains unclear whether a fat-induced loss of processing speed is permanent or if slimming down might reverse the situation. Either way, avoidance is key. Try to keep active and eat a healthy diet to prevent pounds from piling on to begin with.
College students who vape appear to be at higher risk of having an eating disorder, a new study suggests. "The study's findings are especially relevant as we have seen a surge in referrals for eating disorders and substance use disorders during the pandemic," said a study from the department of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. According to the researchers, an analysis of data from more than 51,000 U.S. college students found that those diagnosed with an eating disorder over their lifetime (such as anorexia or bulimia) were more likely to use electronic cigarettes. However, the study could not prove a cause-and-effect relationship. A study said it's concerning to see more vaping among people with symptoms of eating disorders, because the two together can lead to other health complications, including those of the heart and lungs, as well as neurological problems. Nicotine could be the common link between an eating disorder and vaping, the study said. "Nicotine vaping may be used by individuals to support eating disorder behaviors and goals, such as suppressing appetite and catalyzing weight loss," a University of Toronto news release said. But he warned that "nicotine vaping can lead to dependence and future polysubstance use." Nagata added that "young people who are struggling with their eating or substance use should seek help from a health professional. Clinicians should screen young people for disordered eating and substance use, especially during the pandemic." The findings were published online Sept. 11 in the journal Eating Behaviors.
Your daily cup of joe might be a quick pick-me-up, but it comes with a mixed bag of good and not-so-good effects on your health, a new study reports. Drinking coffee helps people stay more active, but it also significantly robs some of sleep, researchers say. And while java doesn't seem to cause irregular rhythms in the upper chamber of the heart, it can do so in the lower chambers, according to findings presented Sunday at the online annual meeting of the American Heart Association. "People should understand that this extremely commonly consumed beverage really does have substantive effects on our health, and they're variable," the study said. "It's not that coffee is necessarily all good or all bad. It's very likely that whether it's net good or net bad depends on a combination of factors." Physicians have long considered caffeine a potential heart health risk, since it is a stimulant that increases heart rate. But prior studies on the subject have produced results that were "all over the place," the study said. "A very common question we get almost every week from patients is: Can I drink coffee? Especially in patients with atrial fibrillation," a heart rhythm disorder that increases risk of stroke and heart attack, the study said. For this clinical trial, the trial team recruited 100 coffee drinkers and fitted them with several devices to continuously record their health -- a Fitbit, a heart monitor and a blood glucose tracker. Over two weeks, participants were randomly assigned on a daily basis to either drink as much coffee as they liked or to forgo it. The researchers then tracked the changes within each person and between people that occurred when they were either exposed to coffee or went without. The study found no evidence that coffee consumption created any irregular rhythms within the atria, the upper chambers of the heart. That's good news, since one of the major medical concerns about coffee has been whether it might promote atrial fibrillation, a potentially dangerous condition. But they did find that coffee consumption could cause the ventricles -- the lower chambers of the heart -- to skip beats. Coffee also had dramatic effects on two other major factors in your health -- physical activity and sleep. On days they were randomly assigned to drink coffee, participants on average took about 1,000 more steps than they normally would, Marcus said. On the other hand, coffee tended to rob people of sleep. Folks who were genetically inclined to metabolize coffee more quickly did not exhibit any significant relationship between their coffee consumption and sleep deprivation. Participants in this study were relatively young and healthy, with an average age of 38 and an average BMI on the high end of healthy -- "not typical of the patient population we see in clinical practice," who are older and have one or more health problems.
Hospitalizations for dangerously high blood pressure more than doubled in the United States from 2002 to 2014, new research shows. This jump in hospitalizations for what's called a "hypertensive crisis" occurred even though data show overall progress in Americans controlling their blood pressure and a decrease in blood pressure-related heart problems during that period. "Although more people have been able to manage their blood pressure over the last few years, we're not seeing this improvement translate into fewer hospitalizations for hypertensive crisis," the study reported. The study’s analysis of a database called the National Inpatient Sample showed that hospitalizations for hypertensive crises were more than two times higher in 2014 than in 2002. Hypertensive crises accounted for 0.17 percent of all hospital admissions for men in 2002, but 0.39 percent in 2014. Among women, the rates were 0.16 percent in 2002 and 0.34 percent in 2014, according to the study published Jan. 27 in the Journal of the American Heart Association. During the study period, there were over 918,000 hospitalizations and nearly 4,400 in-hospital deaths related to hypertensive crisis nationwide. The researchers did find that the risk of dying from a hypertensive crisis decreased slightly overall from 2002 to 2014. Women and men had a similar death rate, even though women had fewer health issues than men. There are a number of possible reasons why hospitalizations for hypertensive crisis are on the rise, a medical center news release said. An increasing number of Americans may have difficulty affording blood pressure medications, so they may be taking inadequate doses of the drugs or not taking them at all, he said. Also, poorer Americans may have limited access to health care; financial problems and other factors that make it more difficult for them to avoid a high-salt diet; inactivity; smoking; or other unhealthy behaviors that can contribute to high blood pressure. "We need more research to understand why this is happening and how clinicians can help patients stay out of the hospital," the news release said.
Worrying can take a toll on your psyche, but new research suggests that when middle-aged men fret too much, they face a higher risk for developing diabetes, heart disease or stroke down the road. And this increase in risk is on par with the health risks linked to heavy drinking, the findings showed. "Our findings suggest that anxiety is linked to unhealthy biological processes that pave the way to developing heart disease and diabetes in men," a study from Boston University School of Medicine and the National Center for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder of the VA Boston Healthcare System reported. Taking steps to improve mental health may help lower risks for heart disease and diabetes, the study reported. The study included more than 1,550 men (aged 53, on average), who took part in the Normative Aging Study. These men didn't have any major diseases at the beginning of the study. The researchers looked at seven biological risk factors — including blood pressure, cholesterol, blood fats known as triglycerides, body mass index, blood sugar and a marker for inflammation — every three to five years until the men died or dropped out of the study. A risk was considered elevated if the test results were higher than cut-off points in national guidelines, or the men were taking medication to control it. Men received one point for each elevated risk factor. They also answered standard questionnaires that measure anxiety and worry when the study began. Men who reported higher levels of anxiety had a 10 percent to 13 percent greater chance of reaching high biological risk for heart disease, stroke or diabetes during the 40-year follow-up period, the researchers found. The study wasn't designed to say how worry and anxiety increase risks for disease, but worriers were more likely to smoke, consume alcohol and not exercise regularly. "Psychosocial factors related to anxiety, such as a stronger tendency to interpret even neutral situations as stressful or to avoid uncomfortable situations, may mean that anxious individuals are less adept in coping with stressors and at greater risk for poor mental health in general, which can, in turn, increase disease risk," the study reported. Anxious men had a greater number of high-risk factors at all ages, and these findings held even after researchers controlled for other known risks for heart disease, such as family history. These risks preceded the diagnosis of any disease, suggesting a window of opportunity for prevention, the study reported. For example, it's possible to catch blood pressure as it starts creeping up and intervene with lifestyle changes before it turns into full-fledged high blood pressure. The study did have its share of limitations. The researchers didn't have data on whether men were diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. In addition, participants were all male and nearly all white, so the findings may not be generalizable to other groups.