Pop a Pill for Heartburn? Try Diet and Exercise Instead

Published by the New York Times March 20th, 2017

By Jane E. Brody

Many Americans would rather take a drug than change their habits to control a persistent ailment. Yet, every medication has side effects, some of which can be worse than the disease they are meant to treat. Drugs considered safe when first marketed can turn out to have hazards, both bothersome and severe, that become apparent only after millions of people take them for a long enough time.

Such is the case with a popular class of drugs called proton pump inhibitors, or P.P.I.s, now used by more than 15 million Americans and many more people worldwide to counter an increasingly common ailment: acid reflux, which many people refer to as heartburn or indigestion.

These medications are now linked to a growing number of complications, ranging in seriousness from nutrient deficiencies, joint pain and infections to bone fractures, heart attacks and dementia. While definitive evidence for most of the risks identified thus far is lacking, consumers plagued by acid reflux would be wise to consider an alternative approach, namely diet and lifestyle changes that can minimize symptoms and even heal damage already done.

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Eamonn Vitt
Running as the Thinking Person’s Sport

Published by the New York Times December 14, 2016

By Gretchen Reynolds

Running seems to require a greater amount of high-level thinking than most of us might imagine. The sport seems to change how the brain works in surprising ways, according to a new report.

The study, published this month in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, found that the brains of competitive distance runners had different connections in areas known to aid in sophisticated cognition than the brains of healthy but sedentary people. The discovery suggests that there is more to running than mindlessly placing one foot in front of another.

Scientists have known for some time that mastering certain activities demands considerable thought and consequently can alter the workings of the brain. Playing a musical instrument, for instance, requires refining a variety of fine motor skills, while also engaging memory, attention, forward planning and many other executive functions of the brain. So it’s not surprising that past brain-scanning studies have found that expert musicians tend to have greater coordination between areas of the brain associated with different kinds of thinking, as well as sensory processing and motor control, than do people who have never picked up a bassoon or other instrument.

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Eamonn Vitt
Insomniacs Are Helped by Online Therapy, Study Finds

Published by the New York Times November 30, 2016

By Benedict Carey

The same digital screens that have helped nurture a generation of insomniacs can also help restore regular sleep, researchers reported on Wednesday. In a new study, more than half of chronic insomniacs who used an automated online therapy program reported improvement within weeks and were sleeping normally a year later.

The new report, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, is the most comprehensive to date suggesting that many garden-variety insomniacs could benefit from the gold standard treatment — cognitive behavior therapy — without ever having to talk to a therapist. At least one in 10 adults has diagnosable insomnia, which is defined as broken, irregular, inadequate slumber at least three nights a week for three months running or longer.

“I’ve been an insomniac all my life, I’ve tried about everything,” said Dale Love-Callon, 70, a math tutor living in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., who recently used the software. “I don’t have it 100 percent conquered, but I’m sleeping much better now.”

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Eamonn Vitt
How Exercise Might Keep Depression at Bay

Published by the New York Times November 16, 2016

 By Gretchen Reynolds

Exercise may be an effective treatment for depression and might even help prevent us from becoming depressed in the first place, according to three timely new studies. The studies pool outcomes from past research involving more than a million men and women and, taken together, strongly suggest that regular exercise alters our bodies and brains in ways that make us resistant to despair.

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Eamonn Vitt
Really, Really Short Workouts

Published by the New York Times

By Tara Parker-Pope

Think you’re too busy to work out? We have the workout for you. In minutes, high-intensity interval training (H.I.I.T.) will have you sweating, breathing hard and maximizing the health benefits of exercise without the time commitment. Best of all, it’s scientifically proven to work.

What Is H.I.I.T.?

SHORT WORKOUTS 101

High-intensity interval training — referred to as H.I.I.T. — is based on the idea that short bursts of strenuous exercise can have a big impact on the body. If moderate exercise — like a 20-minute jog — is good for your heart, lungs and metabolism, H.I.I.T. packs the benefits of that workout and more into a few minutes. It may sound too good to be true, but learning this exercise technique and adapting it to your life can mean saving hours at the gym. If you think you don’t have time to exercise, H.I.I.T. may be the workout for you.

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Eamonn Vitt
Posture Affects Standing, and Not Just the Physical Kind

Published by the New York Times December 28, 2015

By Jane E. Brody

A distraught wife begged me to write about the importance of good posture. “My husband sits for many hours a day slouched over his computer,” she said. “I’ve told him repeatedly this is bad for his body — he should sit up straight — but he pays no attention to me. He reads you every week. Maybe he’ll listen to you.”

So here goes: Yes, dear sir, listen to your wife. Slouching is bad. It’s bad not only for your physical health, but also for your emotional and social well-being. More about this in a bit.

Without delay, get that computer on a proper surface (laps can encourage slouching) and get a supportive chair that enables you to sit up straight with your head aligned directly over your shoulders and hips when your eyes are on the screen.

As a short person who is prone to back pain, I have long been aware of the value of good posture, and seating that minimizes the stress on my spine and the muscles and ligaments that support it.

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Eamonn Vitt
A New Therapy for Insomnia: No More Negative Thoughts

Published by the New York Times August 16, 2016

By Roni Caryn Rabin

We’ve all heard about the power of positive thinking. But will it help me sleep?

My problem isn’t falling asleep – it’s staying asleep. This particular form of torture has been dubbed “sleep-maintenance” insomnia. Call me a high-functioning sufferer: I’m usually O.K. once I’ve had my morning coffee. But I worry about the long-term health ramifications of losing sleep.

Now several medical organizations have endorsed a treatment known as cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia or C.B.T.-I. In May the American College of Physicians advised its members that C.B.T.-I. was the first treatment they should offer patients with insomnia.

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Eamonn Vitt
Closest Thing to a Wonder Drug? Try Exercise

Published by the New York Times June 20, 2016

By Aaron E. Carroll

After I wrote last year that diet, not exercise, was the key to weight loss, I was troubled by how some readers took this to mean that exercise therefore had no value.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Of all the things we as physicians can recommend for health, few provide as much benefit as physical activity.

In 2015, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges put out a report calling exercise a “miracle cure.” This isn’t a conclusion based simply on some cohort or case-control studies. There are many, many randomized controlled trials. A huge meta-analysis examined the effect of exercise therapy on outcomes in people with chronic diseases.

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Eamonn Vitt
Why Swearing Off the Snooze Button Is the Secret to Better Sleep

Published by Vogue January 22nd 2016

By Laura Regensdorf

For as long as I can remember, I have said the same three words upon waking: “Five more minutes.” No matter if it was Christmas morning and Santa had come. Eyes closed, I told my older sister the presents would still be there when we woke up—at a kinder, later hour. That the habit carried over into the sluggish teenage years and the sleep-deprived working ones is not much of a surprise. I’m at my most optimistic when I setthe alarm each night (morning yoga? A civilized breakfast?). Yet in reality, it plays out as more of a suggested wake-up time, like pay-what-you-wish admission at the Met. Maybe an hour slides by, the electronic cacophony punctuating the fog every nine minutes.

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Eamonn Vitt
Running 5 Minutes a Day Has Long-Lasting Benefits

Published by The New York Times July 30, 2014

By Gretchen Reynolds

Running for as little as five minutes a day could significantly lower a person’s risk of dying prematurely, according to a large-scale new study of exercise and mortality. The findings suggest that the benefits of even small amounts of vigorous exercise may be much greater than experts had assumed.

In recent years, moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, has been the focus of a great deal of exercise science and most exercise recommendations. The government’s formal 2008 exercise guidelines, for instance, suggest that people should engage in about 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week. Almost as an afterthought, the recommendations point out that half as much, or about 15 minutes a day of vigorous exercise, should be equally beneficial.

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Eamonn Vitt
How Exercise May Lower Cancer Risk

Published by The New York Times February 24, 2016

By Gretchen Reynolds

The relationship between exercise and cancer has long both intrigued and puzzled oncologists and exercise physiologists.

Exercise is strongly associated with lowered risks for many types of cancer. In epidemiological studies, people who regularly exercise generally prove to be much less likely to develop or die from the disease than people who do not. At the same time, exercise involves biological stress, which typically leads to a short-term increase in inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation can contribute toelevated risks for many cancers.

Now, a new study in mice may offer some clues into the exercise-cancer paradox. It suggests that exercise may change how the immune system deals with cancer by boosting adrenaline, certain immune cells and other chemicals that, together, can reduce the severity of cancer or fight it off altogether.

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Eamonn Vitt
Dietary Supplements Lead to 20,000 E.R. Visits Yearly, Study Finds

Published by The New York Times October 14, 2015

By Anahad O'Connor

A large new study by the federal government found that injuries caused by dietary supplements lead to more than 20,000 emergency room visits a year, many involving young adults with cardiovascular problems after taking supplements marketed for weight loss and energy enhancement.

The study is the first to document the extent of severe injuries and hospitalizations tied to dietary supplements, a rapidly growing $32 billion a year industry that has attracted increased scrutiny in the past year and prompted calls for tougher regulation of herbal products.

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Eamonn Vitt
Inuit Study Adds Twist to Omega-3 Fatty Acids’ Health Story

Published by the New York Times September 17, 2015

By Carl Zimmer

As the Inuit people spread across the Arctic, they developed one of the most extreme diets on Earth. They didn’t farm fruits, vegetables or grains. There weren’t many wild plants to forage, aside from the occasional patch of berries on the tundra.

For the most part, the Inuit ate what they could hunt, and they mostly hunted at sea, catching whales, seals and fish. Western scientists have long been fascinated by their distinctly un-Western diet. Despite eating so much fatty meat and fish, the Inuit didn’t have a lot of heart attacks.

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Eamonn Vitt
Music Appears to Reduce Postoperative Pain, Anxiety

Published in NEJM Journal August 13, 2015

By Amy Orciari Herman

Edited by Jaye Elizabeth Hefner, MD

Patients who listen to music around the time of surgery — even while under general anesthesia — reap substantial postoperative benefits, a Lancet systematic review finds.

The analysis included over 70 randomized trials in which music before, during, or after surgery was compared with usual care or non-pharmacologic interventions (e.g., white noise, bed rest). Roughly 20 to 460 adults were enrolled in each trial.

 

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Eamonn Vitt
Choosing The Right Running Shoes

Published by the New York Times on August 5th 2015

Many runners may be wearing the wrong shoes for their particular stride or the right shoes that were chosen for the wrong reasons, according to a new scientific review about running shoes and injury risks.

The study helpfully concludes that there is a reliable, scientifically valid way for each of us to pick the right running shoes, but it’s so simple that most of us ignore it

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Eamonn Vitt
The Evidence Points to a Better Way to Fight Insomnia

Published by the New York Times - June 8th 2015

One weekend afternoon a couple of years ago, while turning a page of the book I was reading to my daughters, I fell asleep. That’s when I knew it was time to do something about my insomnia.

Data, not pills, was my path to relief.

Insomnia is common. About 30 percent of adults report some symptoms of it, though less than half that figure have all symptoms. Not all insomniacs are severely debilitated zombies. Consistent sleeplessness that causes some daytime problems is all it takes to be considered an insomniac. Most function quite well, and the vast majority go untreated.

I was one of the high-functioning insomniacs. In fact, part of my problem was that I relished the extra time awake to work. My résumé is full of accomplishments I owe, in part, to my insomnia. But it took a toll on my mood, as well as my ability to make it through a children’s book.

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Eamonn Vitt
One Twin Exercises, the Other Doesn’t

Published by the New York Times - March 4th 2015

Identical twins in Finland who shared the same sports and other physical activities as youngsters but different exercise habits as adults soon developed quite different bodies and brains, according to a fascinating new study that highlights the extent to which exercise shapes our health, even in people who have identical genes and nurturing.

Determining the precise, long-term effects of exercise is surprisingly difficult. Most large-scale exercise studies rely on questionnaires or interviews and medical records to establish the role of exercise. But these epidemiological studies, while important and persuasive, cannot prove that exercise causes health changes, only that people who exercise tend to be healthier than those who do not.

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Eamonn Vitt
Chains Pull Dietary Aids Off Shelves After Inquiry

By Anahad O'Connor

Published by the New York Times - February 12th 2015

The New York State attorney general’s office issued subpoenas to four major retailers on Wednesday demanding that they provide evidence for a variety of health claims printed on the labels of the dietary supplements sold in their New York stores. The subpoenas were sent as part of an investigation into store-brand herbal supplements carried at Walgreens, Walmart, GNC and Target.

The attorney general’s office announced last week that it had conducted tests on 78 bottles of top-selling medicinal herbs at the four retailers and discovered that four out of five did not contain the ingredients advertised on their labels.

The office said that the products appeared in many cases to contain powdered rice, wheat and ground-up houseplants.

After a threat of legal action from the attorney general, the four retailers agreed to remove the products from New York shelves.

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Eamonn Vitt
Are Vitamin Drinks a Bad Idea?

By Anahad O'Connor

Published by the New York Times - January 30th 2015 

Companies are increasingly adding vitamins and minerals to juices, sports drinks and bottled water, responding to a growing consumer demand for these products. Even though the amounts of added nutrients in these drinks are typically small, some nutrition scientists are concerned that through their overall diets, many people may be ingesting levels of vitamins and other nutrients that are not only unnecessary, but potentially harmful.

“You have vitamins and minerals that occur naturally in foods, and then you have people taking supplements, and then you have all these fortified foods,” said Mridul Datta, an assistant professor in the department of nutrition science at Purdue University. “It adds up to quite an excess. There’s the potential for people to get a lot more of these vitamins than they need.”

Today more than ever, studies show, the average person is exposed to unusually high levels of vitamins and minerals. Already, more than half of all adults in the United States take a multivitamin or dietary supplement. Bread, milk and other foods are often fortified with folic acid, niacin and vitamins A and D. . .

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Eamonn Vitt