Living Longer Determined By Smiling

Get this… a study just published in Psychological Science Online First by a team out of Detroit’s Wayne State University has an interesting, if unexpected, hint on living longer – your smile. That is… the bigger your smile, the longer you tend to live.

Facial expressions are known to be a way to judge emotions… to make a guess at who’s happier and has a more stable personality which is why the researchers examined the photos of 230 Major League Baseball players who started their careers before 1950. Other information that is known to affect longevity had been tracked as part of a longstanding database on the players, things like if they’d gone to college, if they were married, the year of their birth and their body mass index.

Reviewers, who didn’t know the purpose of the study, were asked to rate the player’s smiles on a scale of 1 to 3. One was no smile at all, two was a partial smile, and three was the broad, full smile, the type that crinkles the eyes and makes the face come alive. Those with the most visible smiles had what is known as a Duchenne smile, named for the French neurologist who discovered it. The cheeks and corners of the mouth are up, and some crows-feet wrinkles show up around the eyes.

As of June 1, 2009 all but 46 of the photographed players had died, so the researchers at Wayne looked back to see if smile intensity in pictures was linked to longer life. And it was.

Even after the researchers controlled for variables like marital status, the year of birth and body mass index, the smile-longevity link still held true. The players with the biggest smiles were half as likely to die in a year than those who did not smile.

But, what if you just hate taking pictures? Experts believe this wouldn’t affect the results since there are camera-haters in both happy and unhappy people.

On average, the nonsmilers lived 72.9 years. The partial smilers made it to their 75th birthday. The big smiles brought more years, 79.9 was the life expectancy here.

“People who had the most intense smiles lived the longest, compared to the other two,” explains Ernest L. Abel, a professor at Wayne State. A few examples… Bill Kennedy, a nonsmiler who played for Cincinnati (and other teams) died at 62; Ted Williams who played for Boston was a big smiler, and died at 83.

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Bigger Smiles Mean Longer Lives… Continued…

Stop and think about this.

It is really hard to fake an intense smile, which is the nugget of truth that underlies the thinking of the researchers conducting this study. A more intense smile is a simple demonstration of profound happiness… a more positive mind-set.

Earlier work has linked smile intensity in childhood and college yearbook pictures with later life satisfaction or marriage stability. This makes sense according to Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, as well as (who knew they had these?) a happiness researcher and author of The How of Happiness. “Most likely, the smiles are an indicator of the baseball players’ dispositions.”

Science does know that those who are happier tend to live longer, and while there is no cause-and-effect evidence, there is solid support for the idea that happiness… simple joy in life does predispose people to living longer. Probably better too.

Heart Risks Reduced With Polyunsaturated Fats

Just out, the first conclusive evidence borne of randomized clinical trials suggests that replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats does indeed reduce heart risks.

Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers looked at eight studies with a total of 13.614 participants, finding that those who replaced saturated fats with the polyunsaturated kind had a 19% lower risk of heart disease than those who didn’t make the change.

What’s more, for every 5% increase in those good-for-you polyunsaturated fats in the diet, heart attack or heart related death risk was cut by 10%. The longer subjects stayed on a diet rich in polyunsaturated fats, the greater the benefits. For this research, the authors only used studies where participants increased their polyunsaturated fat intake as a replacement for saturated fats, and where any heart events could be documented.

For nearly 60 years we’ve been told to reduce consumption of saturated fats to keep heart disease at bay, though there’s been mixed scientific evidence that doing this really cuts the risk. This work, published online in the journal PLoS Medicine, changes that.

“Saturated fat is not so bad for you that you can replace it with anything and get [a] benefit,” explains lead study author Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, the co-director of the Program in Cardiovascular Epidemiology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, in Boston, Massachusetts. “The replacement matters.”

Saturated fats are the ones found in butter, cheese, bacon and red meat, and are known to raise the levels of bad cholesterol that then block the arteries, especially the coronary arteries. The recommendation is that adults get no more than 11% of daily calories from these type of fats, though the average intake in the U.S. is less, probably 6-7% of total calories.

Over the years, the food industry has reduced the amount of saturated facts in many items, often replacing them with just as bad trans fats. The typical American diet often replaces these types of fats with increased consumption of refined carbs and grains. This isn’t any better… the fats from those fat-free cookies, cakes or other foods are hardly nutrition packed choices.

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These Foods May Lower Heart Disease Risk Continued…

Today the Institute of Medicine, an independent organization that gives advice to the U.S. government on health, recommends a range of 5%-10% of your calories come from polyunsaturated fats. These research findings suggest that the top number might actually be on the low side. In the study, the participants were consuming 15% of their calories from polyunsaturated fats.

” The specific replacement nutrient for saturated fat may be very important,” points out Mozaffarian. “Our findings suggest that polyunsaturated fats would be a preferred replacement for saturated fats for better heart health.”

Polyunsaturated fats are the fats in vegetable oils, and they might be just the right replacement for the saturated kind. These fats increase the levels of good cholesterol in the body, believed to help lower your risks of heart disease. You can get these fats from natural sources like soybean oil, corn oil. Safflower oil, fatty fishes like salmon, mackerel, herring and trout. Other natural sources include walnuts and sunflower seeds.

Heart disease is a known killer, a leading cause of death among adults all over the world. If you’re concerned about your own heart risks, this study affirms that a change in diet be a smart move – replace those saturated fats, but with healthy options like polyunsaturated fats. You best bet according to experts is that you need to eat the right amount of calories in a healthy, balanced way.

Common Pain Relievers May Reduce Cancer Risk

There’s some new research that might help explain the link earlier studies have found between aspirin and other over the counter pain relievers and a reduced risk cancer – of both ovarian and the breast. The 740 postmenopausal women in the latest study (all Nurses Health Study participants) who took either aspirin, another nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) or Tylenol on a regular basis had lower estrogen levels than women who didn’t regularly take these kinds of pain relievers.

The researchers collected information on the women’s use of pain relievers between the years 1988 and 1990. They also took blood samples from the subjects during this time. Women who said they used over the counter pain relievers at least 15 days out of a month had estrogen levels that were 13-15% lower than the women who didn’t use any analgesic.

The finding suggests a link between regular use of pain relievers and lower estrogen levels. Study researcher Margaret A. Gates, ScD, a fellow in epidemiology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School says, “We observed some significant inverse associations between concentrations of several estrogens and the use of aspirin, aspirin plus non-aspirin nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and all analgesics combined,”

The results appear in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Interesting that over the last ten years there have been no less than 12 studies to find an association between using aspirin (or NSAID) frequently and a reduced risk for breast and ovarian cancer. The trouble is, most all the research has been observational, and this method does have its limits.

One of the most widely reported studies was conducted by Columbia University researchers who questioned nearly 3,000 women, both with and without breast cancer, about their aspirin use. They found a 20% lower risk of breast cancer among the regular aspirin takers vs. the infrequent aspirin users.

Also last year, a team from Brigham and Women’s followed 4,000 nurses enrolled in the ongoing Nurses Health Study (NHS) who had been treated for breast cancer at least one year before. This work found the breast cancer survivors who took aspirin regularly had a reduced risk of cancer recurring, or dying from their disease, than those who didn’t take aspirin. There was even a lower risk in aspirin takers of the cancer spreading beyond the breast.

The researchers believe that the findings of the work support the idea that painkilling drugs could cut the risk of these cancers by suppressing the hormone that feeds them. The association must be confirmed by more research before your doctor will tell you to take these medications every day. There may be side effects that are more troublesome than the benefits you’re getting.

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Common OTC Pain Relievers Reduce Cancer Risk..? Continued…

Remember, these drugs have been linked to some serious health issues. Aspirin and NSAIDs have been associated with rare but serious bleeding in the stomach or intestines. Tylenol has been tied to liver failure. New studies with participants randomly assigned to using painkillers or not would help to show if these medications really do have a link to estrogen levels, and if the link is worth any risk to health.

While you wait for more studies, be sure you’re doing all you can to reduce your risk of cancer of the breast or ovaries. Manage your weight, limit your consumption of alcohol and get as much exercise as you can. Don’t put off those annual exams and yearly screenings, these can, and do, save lives.

If you are especially worried and want to reduce cancer risk, talk to your doctor or a specialist about your unique situation, get a realistic risk assessment, and investigate any prevention and screening techniques that might be available to you.

Cause of Breast Cancer Avoidable

There’s a rather prickly debate going on regarding the cause of breast cancer and the effect of lifestyle factors on the disease. A presentation at the recent European Breast Cancer Conference In Barcelona estimates that up to one third of breast cancers in Western countries could be avoided if women ate less and upped the amount of exercise they do.

Early diagnosis and better treatments have slowed the disease, leaving experts to suggest the focus needs to shift to behaviors also thought to impact risk, such as eating poorly and being inactive.

Figures from the International Agency for Research on Cancer have 25-30% of breast cancers being prevented if women were thinner and more active.

” What can be achieved with screening has been achieved. We can’t do much more,” Carlo La Vecchia, head of epidemiology at the University of Milan, said in an interview. “It’s time to move on to other things.”

Breast cancer is known to be the most common cancer in women. European women suffered 421,000 new cases and just about 90,000 deaths from the disease, while in the U.S. the number of new diagnoses was at 190,000 and 40,000 deaths. A woman’s lifetime risk of getting the disease is about one in eight.

In the 1980s and 1990s the rates of breast cancer were on a steady climb upward, coincidentally as rates of obesity reached all time highs. Another contributor to breast cancer is now known to be the estrogen containing hormones that used to be prescribed to women after menopause. Once the treatment was abandoned, breast cancer rates dipped, and doctors are hoping for a similar dip if more focus was placed on proper diet and getting enough exercise.

British researchers have found that obese women are 60% more likely to develop any type of cancer. This is likely the result of many breast cancers being fueled by estrogen, a hormone produced by fat tissue. So, the heavier a woman is, the more estrogen she’s likely to produce naturally. Anything that reduces the fat, turns it into muscle, should also help reduce the risk of cancer.

To some this sounds dangerously close to medicine blaming women for their disease. It’s important to understand that most of the risks for breast cancer, gender, age and your family history, are things you cannot control. “It is incredibly difficult to isolate specific factors. Therefore women should in no way feel that they are responsible for developing breast cancer,” says Tara Beaumont, a clinical nurse specialist at British charity Breast Cancer Care.

Others disagree, claiming it’s impossible to ignore the links between lifestyle choices and breast cancer. And if we have information on something we think might help – and help a lot – not talking about it is a dis-service to all women, especially younger ones, who really need to get this message.

It’s not that we can’t be taught; people have changed their ways because of health advice on smoking and sun exposure. Or that we don’t care. But many of us are still eating an unhealthy diet and getting far too little exercise.

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Cut Breast Cancer Risk By One Third… Continued…

Our lives are hectic and we have no time. Some may even be indulging in alcohol more regularly than is good for them or not getting the rest they need. Bad habits are the easiest to pick up, and the hardest to break.

And our metabolisms as we age aren’t exactly making things any easier.

While the issue between breast cancer and lifestyle factors is complex and highly charged, the American Cancer Society points out that the risk appears to increase for those women who gain weight as adults, but not those who’ve been overweight since childhood. To help reduce your risk, the ACS suggests 45-60 minutes of activity five or more days of the week.

When it comes to the cause of breast cancer, the factors that you can control – staying active, eating right and limiting your alcohol intake – are at least as important as the ones you can’t.

Study Reveals Secret of How to Stay Slim

Important, though hardly welcome news for middle aged women who are exercising but not losing weight. A new U.S. study of 34,000 women that appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds the secret of how to stay slim – an hour a day of moderate exercise is what you need to keep your weight in check.

This number is in line with earlier research from a 2002 Institute of Medicine report that doubled the amount of exercise from 30 at least 60 minutes a day for both adults and children.

Keep in mind that exercise… any exercise is good for your body. A half hour a day is perfectly fine when it comes to keeping your heart healthy and protecting the body against chronic diseases, but this amount is just not enough to keep the pounds in check according to the latest findings.

The work followed the subjects, healthy, middle aged U.S. women of an average age of 54, for 13 years. Subjects filled out questionnaires about the amount of time they spent being active during a typical week and were weighed on a regular basis. They were then broken into three different groups based on how often they exercised – less than two and half hours of moderate activity a week, between 2.5 and 7 hours a week, and more than 7 hours of moderate exercise each week.

Moderate exercise are things like walking a 15 minute mile, biking, skiing, tennis, dancing and golfing. Shoveling snow, weeding and hoeing a garden or carrying a load are also workouts of this intensity.

The signals your body might give of a moderately intense workout include breaking out in a sweat after about 10 minutes, breathing being deeper and more frequent, you can have a conversation but you can’t sing a song.

Over the term of the study, the average weight gain of the subjects was 2.6 kg (about 6 pounds), with the high exercise group gaining significantly less weight than any of the others. The two lower exercise groups had little difference in weight gain over the same period.

The only subjects who didn’t gain weight during the study were those women of normal weight (BMI under 25) who were not dieting and worked out for an hour (or more) each day – a mere 13% of the study subjects.

Those who were already overweight, and according to many estimates that’s most American women, showed no relation between the amount of exercise and weight gained. To lose, these women had to workout more and cut the calories as well… exercise alone wasn’t enough.

Study author, I-Min Lee from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston draws two conclusions, “Firstly once overweight, it may be too late because physical activity – at least, at levels carried out by study participants – was not associated with less weight gain.

“Second, sustaining high levels of physical activity (60 minutes a day) is needed to successfully maintain normal BMI and prevent weight gain.”

This very likely mirrors the experience of many middle aged women who are working out but not seeing the results on the scale.

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One Hour Of Exercise Is All It Takes… Continued…

The unpleasant truth is that this study seems to confirm some of the inevitable disappointments of aging. As we get older, both men and women put on weight, in part because the metabolism slows and people of this age are just naturally more sedentary, though they continue to eat as they always have. The hormones of menopause can also be responsible for a women’s weight gain, especially in the tummy area.

If you just can’t see yourself doing an hour a day of physical activity, you’ll need to find other ways of how to stay slim. Make changes you can live with from now on, not drastic, short-term diets that are unhealthy and impossible to maintain. You don’t have to starve yourself, but do watch what you eat and limit the snacks and desserts.

Fluctuating Blood Pressure Increases Stroke Risk

High blood pressure patients take note… findings released in March 2010 at the American College of Cardiology (ACC) annual meeting in Atlanta have some pretty important implications for those who are trying to manage their condition.

A large five-year study finds that fluctuations in blood pressure over time may be a key indicator of stroke risk.

In the research, a British team of experts tracked the health of over 19,000 patients who were taking either beta blockers or calcium channel blocker medications to manage high blood pressure.

Patients who were in the highest 10% in terms of swings in blood pressure readings between visits to the doctor had almost four times the risk of stroke as those whose blood pressure didn’t vary so much. The results were the same when the researchers looked at the subjects’ risks for heart attack.

Subjects who took calcium channel blockers had a 22% lower risk of stroke vs. those who took beta blocker medications. The differences in blood pressure readings between the two groups seemed to explain the difference in risk.

In an ACC news release, study author Dr. Peter Sever, a clinical pharmacology and therapeutics professor and co-director of the International Centre for Circulatory Health, Imperial College, London says, “Our data convincingly demonstrate that patients with more variation in their blood pressure levels are at greatest risk of future heart attacks and strokes, and that reducing variability is a key goal of treatment.”

This research findings echo those of a total of four other studies published in The Lancet and The Lancet Neurology led by Dr. Peter Rothwell of the University of Oxford in England. Rothwell and his team found that those with the biggest variation in systolic blood pressure (the top number) over seven visits to their doctor were six times more likely to have a major stroke. Earlier work had looked at short-term variability (24 hours) but this time the researchers examined visit-to-visit variability of readings. Those with the highest blood pressure readings were a whopping 15 times more likely to suffer a stroke.

Everyone is now wondering if recommendations for the treatment of high blood pressure should change.

To date most doctors haven’t been too concerned about variation in blood pressure readings, or the maximum pressure reading for a patient, but this could change based on the latest research.

It may well be that random variations in blood pressure cannot be ignored as they’re telling you something about risk.

This might be especially important if you’re over 55 years old, the age group that makes up 80% of those with hypertension.

The take home message is this…

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Fluctuating Blood Pressure Increases Stroke Risk… Continued…

“Today, most hypertension guidelines recommend avoiding use of beta blockers as first-line drugs if there is no other compelling indication,” Carlberg and Lindholm conclude in a comment in The Lancet.

” The new analyses strengthen this recommendation and might prompt reconsideration by those who keep beta blockers as first-line treatment. However, more studies need to be done to better characterize the effects of different classes of antihypertensive drugs on long-term blood-pressure variability.”

More research will surely follow, but this work certainly should have you taking your high blood pressure treatment seriously and talking to your doctor about any variations in your own readings.

Why Eating Lunch Can Be Bad For Your Health

Here’s some research parents will want to hear about… more than one in three middle schoolers who eat school lunches are either obese or overweight, and are also more likely to have high bad cholesterol levels than kids who bring a lunch from home.

It seems that efforts to make healthier choices a part of school lunch menus still have a good way to go. Earlier research in this area has examined the nutritional content of school lunches; this is the first effort to assess the impact of those lunches on kid’s eating habits (and overall health as well).

“The school environment is an excellent opportunity we should not be missing to teach kids to make healthy choices, both in terms of food and exercise,” says Elizabeth Jackson MD, MPH an assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Health System. And with skyrocketing rates of childhood obesity, many experts are worried about young people setting themselves up for future health problems before they’re able to understand the consequences.

“One-third of kids in the U.S. are now overweight or obese, which means one-third of kids are at risk of heart disease and diabetes as they age. That scares me,” Jackson warns.

The research, presented March 13, 2009 at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology, involved 1,076 Michigan area middle school students who answered questionnaires that covered what they ate, how active they were, and the number of hours they did things like watching TV, playing video games and spending time on the computer each day.

The researchers also collected data on student weight, height, blood glucose and cholesterol levels. The subjects were then divided into three groups, depending on whether they said they always or almost always ate school lunch, always or almost always brought a lunch from home, or did either one or the other.

The kids who ate school lunch…

- Were more likely to be overweight or obese (38.2% vs. 24.7%) and had higher levels of bad cholesterol.

- Were more likely to eat two or more servings of fatty meats, fried chicken or hot dogs, each day – 6.2% vs. 1.6%.

- Were more likely to have two or more sugar-sweetened drinks daily (19% vs. 6.8%).

- Were less likely to eat at least two servings of fruits (32.6% vs. 49.4%) or vegetables (39.9% vs. 50.3%) a day.

What’s more, the kids who ate school lunch were less likely to take part in activities like basketball, or team sports than the kids who ate lunches from home.

School lunch eaters also spent more time watching TV, playing video games and being on the computer after school.

So should the parents of the estimated 30.6 million U.S. students who eat school lunch start packing one from home?

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Why Eating Lunch Can Be Bad For Your Health… Continued…

As any parent of an independent-minded middle schooler can attest, packing the nutritious foods is no guarantee they won’t be traded or tossed aside in favor of choices from vending machines or the local store. It’s better to work with your school to make lunches healthier -with less salt and fat, and more fiber.

Rather surprising that only 6% of school lunch programs currently meet the requirements established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

To help your own kids, be sure to offer healthy food choices at home. And don’t forget the exercise. This can be something as simple as walking to school or helping out with chores around the house.

You’ll also want to remember that eating patterns are especially important during the middle school years when kids start to get more independent. The choices they make during this time will shape their eating and exercising habits as they get older. Now’s your chance to help ensure those choices are healthy ones.

Is This Fruit the Next Cancer Fighter?

The exotic papaya is getting some respect in Western medicine, though the tasty fruit has been used in folk cultures as a remedy for a variety of ailments for years now.

In the lab an extract of dried papaya appears to slow the growth of different types of cancer cells, though it’s not known if it would have the same affect in people. The next steps will be to try to duplicate this success in animals and human studies.

Dr. Nam Dang of the University of Florida and a team of Japanese colleagues found that the papaya extract seems to enhance the regulation of the immune system, but does not cause any harm to normal cells – thus no troublesome side effects. According to Dang, papaya has been used by the indigenous peoples of both Australia and Vietnam for many years.

The fruit is pear shaped with a bright golden skin. The flesh of the fruit is bright orange-yellow, juicy and smooth with a flavor that’s both sweet and sour. The seeds in the middle of the fruit have a peppery taste and can be eaten, though most people throw them away. All parts of the plant including the leaves are full of valuable nutrients.

“Based on what I have seen and heard in a clinical setting, nobody who takes this extract experiences demonstrable toxicity; it seems like you could take it for a long time — as long as it is effective,” he explains. Dr. Dang is a board certified medical oncologist with experience in the study and treatment of lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

The researchers used an extract made from dried papaya leaves in four strengths, exposing ten different cancers to the extract and measuring the effect after 24 hours.

They found that papaya leaf extract boosts the production of important signaling molecules known as Th1-type cytokines (important in the regulation of the immune system) and slowed the growth of tumors in all the cultures. Included were cancers of the cervix, breast, liver, lung and pancreas.

The effects of the papaya leaf extract had the strongest effect on cancer cells at the higher doses.

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Is This Fruit the Next Cancer Fighter..? Continued…

This may suggest that papaya leaf extract (or tea) could one day lead to treatments where the immune system itself is used to battle cancers. It may also prove to be effective in treating immune related problems like inflammation and autoimmune conditions.

Though not involved in the research, professor Bharat B. Aggarwal from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston enjoys a serving of the tasty fruit every day. He says, “We have always known that papaya has a lot of interesting things in there.” One of papaya’s major benefits is an agent known as papain, papaya’s signature enzyme, found in both the fruit and leaves.

Dang and a colleague have applied for a patent for the process of distilling the papaya extract. Next steps will be to identify the specific compounds in the extract that are active against cancer cell lines. The study was published in the February 17, 2010 issue of Journal of Ethnopharmacology.

Why All Men Should Want to Go Bald

Finally, some good news for balding men. Receding hairlines may just be good for you according to U.S. researchers out of the University of Washington School of Medicine who have found that men who lose their hair by age 30 seem less likely to develop prostate cancer.

The results of the work suggest that having high levels of testosterone (the hormone blamed for baldness) from a young age might protect against prostate cancer.

The findings appear in the journal Cancer Epidemiology.

The work was a population based, case control study that involved 2,000 men between the ages of 40 and 47, half of whom had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

The team compared the rate of tumors in the subjects who reported their hair had thinned by 30 with those who didn’t lose their hair at this age. Men who had started their thirties with bald spots on top or receding hairlines had a 29-45% reduction in the risk of prostate cancer.

Earlier work has been inconclusive in terms of a link between male pattern baldness and prostate cancer. Some had suggested that bald men are more likely to get prostate cancer, which makes the new finding quite interesting. The work certainly shed some light on how the hormone behaves in the body. It is possible that both prostate cancer and male pattern baldness are problems that are influenced by the male sex hormone.

By the ripe old age of thirty, about 25-30% of men will have some hair loss, with half of all men suffering significant hair loss by the half century mark.

Baldness comes when hair follicles are exposed to too much dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a chemical produced by testosterone. Those who have high levels of this hormone are more likely to lose their hair, even more so if baldness runs in the family.

Prostate cancer is the third most common cause of cancer deaths in men of all ages. No one knows what causes this form of cancer that starts in the small, walnut sized structure that’s part of the male reproductive system.

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Why All Men Should Want to Go Bald… Continued…

Previous research has shown a link between high fat diets and increased testosterone levels. The good news is that as a result of PSA testing, most prostate cancers are found before they cause any symptoms.

Interestingly, prostate cancer patients are often given medications to reduce their testosterone levels. If these hormone levels are too high they are thought to accelerate the growth of certain tumors once they’ve developed.

Dr. Helen Rippon, head of research management at The Prostate Cancer Charity, says: “Clearly, the age at which a man begins to lose his hair is unfortunately not a risk factor for prostate cancer over which he has any control. However, if these results are correct, they could be useful in providing us with a greater understanding of how testosterone behaves in the body and how it can affect different tissues.”

The research does have limitations. The biggest of which is that the men were relied upon to remember what their hair looked like at least ten years before, and there were no photos to confirm the state of their hair. More work is sure to come.

Warning H1N1 Flu Hasn’t Gone Away

It may have dropped from the headlines and nightly news, but H1N1 (swine) flu is still out there.

In fact, from mid January to mid February, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that 2 million new cases of H1N1 flu were diagnosed. That sounds like a large number, but experts are taking heart in the fact that cumulative estimates of disease are going up much more slowly than before.

Many state and local health departments are now reporting only sporadic cases, while the Deep South and Maine continue to report regional outbreaks of the illness. The H1N1 virus was quick to spread worldwide, leading organizations like the CDC and WHO to move away from keeping counts, and redirect attention toward unique outbreaks.

Since the illness was first seen in April 2009, the CDC estimates…

- 42 million to 86 million H1N1 swine flu cases. Mid-range estimate: 59 million.

- 188,000 to 389,000 H1N1 swine flu hospitalizations. Mid-range estimate: 265,000 hospitalizations.

- 8,520 to 17,620 H1N1 swine flu deaths. Mid-range estimate: 12,000 deaths.

The CDC surveillance data are showing that H1N1 was at its worst in October 2009, and by January 2010 cases had declined to below baseline levels. Incidence dipped further in February.

The worry is that since we know that flu pandemics come in waves, there is every reason to be prepared for a third wave of infections.

This is the reason the CDC is still advising anyone who hasn’t yet been vaccinated to get an H1N1 vaccine. In fact, one possible explanation for a delay in another wave of infections could lie with the fact that as of February 2010, 86 million of us have been vaccinated.

Experts caution that while flu activity might be low, people are still getting sick. And serious cases are still sending patients to the hospital. Patients are still dying as a result of this illness.

Also key, assuming that 59 million Americans have had a natural case of swine flu and another 86 million have been vaccinated, this still leaves nearly half the nation vulnerable to the disease.

“There are still uncertainties surrounding the rest of this flu season,” the CDC warns. “Flu activity — caused either by 2009 H1N1 or seasonal flu viruses — may rise and fall, but is expected to continue for several more weeks.” There have been years when flu season has extended into May.

Continues below…


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Warning: H1N1 Flu Hasn’t Gone Away… Continued…

Of course no expert is willing to make any type of forecast beyond this, though everyone’s got an eye on the numbers. The challenge with the flu, any flu, is that it is known for its unpredictability. Experts can make educated guesses, but no one can say more.

The good news is that since its appearance the H1N1 organism hasn’t changed much; the bad news is that there is always the potential the organism will develop into one that is more deadly.

And since H1N1 can spread just like the regular seasonal flu, you can pick up the germ directly from an infected person, or by touching something they just handled and then touching your face, transferring the organism to your own body.

Now more than ever… keeping up those flu precautions (hand washing, covering sneezes and coughs, not touching your face, and staying away from those who are obviously sick) is a smart idea as we move toward the anniversary of H1N1′s appearance.