In 1951 essayist Norman Cousins wrote: “The hand that is dealt you represents determinism. The way you play your hand represents free will.” He was writing about the nature of man, but it’s not unreasonable to extrapolate his thoughts to the part that our genes play in our health.
The genetic material we inherit from our parents may be a blueprint, an instruction book used to build our body and to keep it running, but – for most of us – it doesn’t determine our fate completely.
We often see the doctors as the faces of healthcare, but we forgot that there are others that work just as hard to make sure the patient goes home better than they came in. Nurses, lab folk, and techs.
That said, at the end of the day – people are fallible.
A surprising new genetic study shows that some people with naturally high levels of HDL cholesterol—the supposedly good kind of cholesterol—are at increased risk of a heart attack. Doctors are now further questioning the use of drugs to boost HDL levels while looking to new therapies to reduce heart risk.
For the people with this genetic defect, HDL (“good”) cholesterol is not good because the defect destroys their liver’s ability to absorb fat brought to it by HDL. In normal people, HDL still correlates with lower risk of heart disease.
“DRY January”, for many a welcome period of abstinence after the excesses of the holiday season, could be more than a rest for body and soul. New Scientist staff have generated the first evidence that giving up alcohol for a month might actually be good for you, at least in the short term.
Many people who drink alcohol choose to give up for short periods, but there is no scientific evidence that this has any health benefits. So we teamed up with Rajiv Jalan at the Institute for Liver and Digestive Health at University College London Medical School (UCLMS) to investigate.
The study is small and informal, but it fits with what we know about how alcohol works on our bodies. Rather than quitting for a month and then going back on your usual schedule, it’s probably better to use this as a lesson in how easy it is to reverse some of the effects of alcohol.
Congenital heart disease is one of several ailments, including pneumonia and sepsis, that kill eight babies every minute, every day. But a decades-old technology, combined with a smartphone app, can tell doctors in less than 60 seconds if a baby is at risk for any of these asymptomatic, hard-to-detect killers. And in developing nations like China, it costs less than a diaper change.
There’s some controversy in pediatrics about the utility of the oxygen saturation screening for congenital heart disease. There are a lot of false positives and a lot of the most common types of congenital heart defects don’t result in oxygen saturation problems. There are a lot of issues with doing this in places in the U.S. without easy access to pediatric cardiologists and echocardiography, where the false positives make it harder for kids with real issues to get seen and treated.
Expanding this into resource poor nations is a waste. What good is a positive screen if you don’t have available echo techs, cardiologists, and cardiothoracic surgeons? It’s only a chance at a long life if you can do something about a positive screen. For example hypoplastic left heart syndrome, one of the conditions we’re screening for, requires three complex surgeries over the first 3 years of life, months of cardiac ICU time, a really good multidisciplinary team, and is ultimately just palliative and usually ends up with a heart transplant in the teens or early twenties. So what’s the utility of screening for this in a country that is struggling to provide basic clean water and manage diseases that cost pennies to prevent or treat?
For a historically mistrusted drink, coffee is proving to be a healthy addiction. Scientific findings in support of coffee’s nutritional attributes have been arriving at a steady drip since the 1980s, when Norwegian researchers reported that coffee seemed to fend off liver disease. Since then, the dark brown beverage has shown value against liver cancer, too, as well as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Coffee even appears to protect against depression, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
It’s no secret that drinking coffee shortly before bedtime disrupts sleep, but a new study suggests that caffeine can actually affect our body’s internal clock, pushing back our natural rhythms by nearly an hour.