TIME Brain

Concussions Continue to Plague Retired NFL Players

A study shows that a concussion during their playing years may have lasting effects on NFL players’ memory years later

While there may be more questions than answers about how best to protect football players from the effects of concussions, there’s more data suggesting that the negative effects of head injuries can be long lasting.

In the latest report, one of the first to combine both anatomical screening of the brain with performance on standard memory and cognitive tests, researchers found that retired NFL players who suffered a concussion may continue to experience cognitive deficits many years later.

Munro Cullum, a professor of psychiatry and neurology at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and his colleagues report in JAMA Neurology that having a concussion, and in particular losing consciousness after a concussion, can have long-lasting effects on the brain. The team studied 28 former NFL players, all of whom had a history of concussion, who were compared to 21 matched volunteers who did not have a history of concussion. Eight of the retired players were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which meant they had some deficits in memory but weren’t prevented from living their daily lives by these changes, and they were compared to six participants with MCI who did not have a history of concussion.

MORE: How Concussions Can Lead to Poor Grades

Overall, the retired players performed worse on average on standard tests of memory than health controls, suggesting that their history of concussion affected their memory skills in some way. This was supported by imaging data of the hippocampus, the region in the brain responsible for coordinating memory. On average, the athletes showed smaller hippocampal volumes than the controls. (The scientists did not, however, collect data on the player’s hippocampal volume before the concussion, although the comparison to the non-athletes suggests that the concussions may have influenced shrinkage in this region.) The volumes of retired players who were knocked unconscious after a concussion were even smaller than those of healthy controls, and the same was true for the athletes with MCI when compared to non-athletes with MCI.

“We know that normal aging itself is associated with some declines in both hippocampal volume as well as memory function,” says Cullum, “but it seems that those declines are accentuated when there is a concussion, and when there is a concussion with loss of consciousness.”

MORE: Judge OKs 65-Year Deal Over NFL Concussions That Could Cost $1B

The findings don’t address another big question in the field, which is how best to treat people who have had a concussion. The data is conflicting on how much rest following a head injury is ideal; most experts recommend a day or two and then gradual return to normal activities, with a break if symptoms like headaches and dizziness return.

While Cullum says that most patients with concussions recover completely within weeks of the injury, football players may be at increased risk of longer lasting cognitive deficits because of their repeated exposure to the danger. And that risk increases if they lose consciousness following a concussion. Documenting concussions and any blacking out afterward is critical for helping future physicians to manage the care of someone with such head injuries, he says.

TIME

The Surprising Ways Americans Die in All 50 States

See where boating accidents, law enforcement intervention, firearms and other unexpected events caused deaths at abnormally high rates

Click or tap the arrows to see which cause of death is disproportionately high in your state compared to national mortality rates.

Accidental gunfire claimed 348 lives from 2001-2010 in Alabama, and gunshots of undetermined intent killed 147 in Arizona. And while both resulted in far fewer than 1 death per 100,000 people, the rates are unusually high compared to rates nationwide, according to a new study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). By comparing the mortality rate of 136 causes of death at state and national levels, the CDC found the most common atypical ways people died in every state.

In Michigan, for example, coronary artery disease killed 35 out of 100,000 people, while nationwide only 20 of 100,000 people perish from the condition. Because of the way these calculations are done, most of the diseases in the CDC report are obscure, from “unclassified lab findings” (Georgia) or highly associated with certain industries; “black lung disease” is the most disproportionate killer in coal-rich West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.

Head west and deaths from law-enforcement intervention were atypically high in three states. The CDC refers to law enforcement intervention as “deaths due to injuries inflicted by police or other law enforcement agents, including military on duty, in the course of arresting or attempting to arrest lawbreakers, suppressing disturbances, maintaining order, and performing other legal actions.” These interventions killed 0.12 people out of 100,000 nationwide from 2001 to 2010, but that rate tripled in Nevada and Oregon, and was nearly four times higher in New Mexico.

The flu mortality rate was abnormally high in colder states like Maine, Wyoming and the Dakotas, but the coldest state–Alaska–had atypically high deaths from boat and motor transportation accidents. In the District of Columbia, HIV killed 35 out of 100,000 people, over eight times the national rate of four. Other sexually transmitted diseases caused relatively high number of deaths in Florida, New York, Connecticut and Louisiana.

Included in the last category are thousands of deaths of unknown cause, listed by the CDC as “unspecified events of undetermined intent.” These were unusually common in six states, like Maryland with 6,588 mystery deaths.

TIME Research

Too Much Salt May Delay the Onset of Puberty, Suggests Study

Think twice before allowing kids unlimited access to salty condiments

Consuming too much sodium may stunt the commencement of puberty in humans, leading to reduced fertility and higher stress levels in affected individuals.

A new study published by researchers from the University of Wyoming found that rats that consumed a sodium-rich diet had a “significant delay in reaching puberty” compared to fellow rodents that imbibed normal levels of salt, reports Science Daily.

“Current salt-loading in Western populations has the potential to drastically affect reproductive health, and warrants further attention,” said Dori Pitynski from the University of Wyoming.

But don’t give up on salt completely, researchers claim. According to the study, too little sodium may also delay the onset of puberty as well.

The World Health Organization says adults should “consume less than 2,000 mg of sodium, or 5 grams of salt” daily, according to revised guidelines published in 2013.

[Science Daily]

TIME Research

4 Weird Health Effects of E-Cigarettes

TIME.com stock photos E-Cig Electronic Cigarette Smoke
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Banana pudding-flavored ecigs disturbed the lungs, one study found

E-cigarette research is heating up, and scientists are starting to show that using e-cigarettes can have some surprising health effects, according to new findings presented at the meeting of the American Thoracic Society.

“Millions of people around the world that are puffing e-cigs,” says Peter Dicpinigaitis, professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and one of the authors of new e-cigarette research, “but when you look at the scientific literature about the effects of e-cigs, there’s nothing out there.”

Here are some of the newest findings:

Using e-cigarettes suppresses your ability to cough

Smoking an e-cigarette makes you less likely to cough, even when coughing would benefit your health, according to research by Dicpinigaitis. Researchers asked 30 nonsmokers to puff an e-cigarette 30 times in a 15-minute period. After puffing, people in the study were less sensitive to capsaicin, a component of chili peppers that induces coughing. You might think stopping a cough would be a positive side effect, but coughing keeps you from choking and removes agents that may cause infection, says Dicpinigaitis. He presumes that those the effects would continue throughout the day for someone who uses an e-cigarette frequently.

E-cigarette temperature may affect how many chemicals you’re exposed to

People tend to think about the effects of cigarette smoke or e-cigarette vapor when they consider how the products harm their health. But the mechanics of e-cigarettes may also contribute to how much smoking harms your health, according to new research from University of Alabama School of Medicine professor Daniel Sullivan. His research found a correlation between coil temperature and the creation of harmful chemicals like acrolein, acetaldehyde and formaldehyde in the e-cigarette. There are no configuration standards for e-cigarettes, and Sullivan’s research suggests that the lack of consistency makes it hard to assess uniformly the health effects of smoking e-cigarettes.

E-cigarette flavors may have different effects

Researchers tested the effects of flavored e-cigarette liquid on calcium in the lungs and found that not all flavors had the same effect. Five of 13 flavors tested caused changes to calcium signaling in the lungs, according to a study by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researcher Temperance Rowell. Hot cinnamon candies, banana pudding and menthol tobacco were among the flavors that disturbed the lungs.

Evidence is growing that e-cigarettes probably aren’t an effective way to quit smoking

E-cigarettes are a popular tool people use to stop smoking, but they may not be the best way, suggests one research review. Using e-cigarettes improved the likelihood that a smoker would quit smoking cigarettes for the first month on the new technology, but the effect dissipated at 3 and 6-month followups, according to a meta-analysis of four studies by University of Toronto researcher Riyad al-Lehebi. He recommended that people who want to quit smoking consider “other more well-established options.”

TIME Research

The Connection Between Peanut Allergies and Asthma

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New study suggests benefit from testing kids with asthma for peanut allergies

A new study suggests that kids with asthma may have a peanut allergy, or be sensitive to peanuts, and not know it.

Dr. Robert Cohn, medical director of Pulmonary Medicine at Dayton Children’s Hospital and his team studied 1,517 children who went to a pulmonary clinic at Mercy Children’s Hospital in Toledo, Ohio, for respiratory problems and left with a confirmed diagnosis of asthma. Interestingly, among these children, about 11% knew they had a peanut allergy. Many of the children in the study came back to the clinic and had a blood test to screen them for peanut allergies, and of that group, 22% tested positive.

The researchers then found that more than half of the 22% of kids who came back positive did not suspect that they had any allergy or sensitivity to peanuts, suggesting it may be something that those who work with children with asthma may want to be more cognizant of.

“I don’t think children with peanut allergies would be misdiagnosed with asthma. It is most likely the other way around. Children with asthma might not be recognized as having a peanut sensitivity,” says Cohn in an email to TIME. “Parents of children with asthma should understand that there may be asthma medicines that are not advised in children with peanut allergies.”

Cohn says that since allergies can act as a trigger for an allergy attack, it may be useful for a child to be screened for peanut sensitivity if they have been diagnosed with asthma, especially if they have an uncontrolled cough or wheezing.

The study will be presented Sunday at the ATS 2015 International Conference.

TIME public health

Outbreak of Norovirus Linked to a Popular Oregon Lake

15,400 people visited the lake that weekend

Flu season is over, but with the summer comes health concerns of a different pathogenic sort. An outbreak of the stomach bug norovirus last summer was linked to a popular lake destination in Oregon, found a new study released in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

After the weekend of July 12, 2014, the Multnomah County Health Department received word of 13 cases of acute gastrointestinal illness from people who’d visited Blue Lake Regional Park, a popular lake near Portland, Ore., the weekend prior. The investigation identified 70 likely cases of norovirus, which causes stomach flu and is most famously known for striking cruise ship passengers, from the weekend of July 11-13. About 15,400 people visited the park that weekend, and the lake was closed for 10 days to control the outbreak. People who went swimming in the lake were 2.3 times more likely to get sick than those who visited but didn’t go in the water.

Though the authors weren’t able to say for sure, the most likely cause of the outbreak was “a swimmer’s vomit or fecal incident in the lake,” the report reads. Lakes are especially vulnerable, the authors write, since they tend to attract small children and are not chemically treated.

This isn’t the first time the lake has caught a nasty virus. In 1991, Blue Lake was linked to an outbreak of E. coli and Shigella, and in 2004, it had an outbreak of norovirus that affected more than 100 people.

TIME Addiction

Your Fingerprint Can Reveal Cocaine Use

A new way to accurately test for drugs may be through your fingerprint

Scientists can already tell from people’s fingerprints if they’ve touched cocaine, but a new study goes one step further, showing that fingerprints can now also reveal whether a person has ingested the drug. The study, published in Analyst, may pave the way for simpler drug testing that doesn’t require urine or blood.

In a small study, a team of researchers analyzed the fingerprints of a handful of patients in drug treatment centers using a process called mass spectrometry. Someone who uses cocaine excretes components of metabolized cocaine called benzoylecgonine and methylecgonine. The study authors showed they were able to detect the cocaine components in the residue left by the patients’ fingerprints on glass through the mass spectormetry chemical analysis technique.

“These results provide exciting opportunities for the use of fingerprints as a new sampling medium for secure, non-invasive drug detection,” the researchers write in their study. “The mass spectrometry techniques used here offer a high level of selectivity and consume only a small area of a single fingerprint, allowing repeat and high throughput analyses of a single sample.”

If such a technique could be made portable, the researchers believe it could possibly provide a simpler and less invasive alternative to current drug testing.

TIME medicine

Many Probiotics Contain Traces of Gluten, Study Says

TIME.com stock photos Health Pills
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

55% of the samples tested had gluten—sometimes even when labeled gluten-free

A new study reveals that many popular probiotics contain traces of gluten, which is worrying for people who may have allergies.

Researchers at the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University Medical Center analyzed 22 popular, high-selling probiotics and found that more than half of them (55%) contained gluten, according to research that will be presented on May 16 at Digestive and Disease Week in Washington DC.

“We see a lot of patients [with celiac] and we have a lot of patients who have it and don’t feel better,” says Dr. Peter Green, professor of medicine and director of the Celiac Disease Center. “We found previously that about 25% of celiac patients use supplements or non-traditional medical products, and probiotics were the largest and most frequently consumed. Those people [who used probiotics] had more symptoms compared to people who weren’t taking these supplements.”

Green says that data and the recent news revealing many supplements do not contain what they list on their labels prompted his team to look into the ingredients of probiotics. Using a detection technique called liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry, the researchers measured the quantity of gluten in the probiotics.

In general, for a product to be labeled “gluten-free,” the study authors note that gluten needs to be less than 20 parts per million. Their data show that most of the probiotics that contained gluten had less than that, but four brands contained more than the threshold. More than half of the probiotic brands tested by the researchers claimed to be gluten-free on their label.

Green says it’s unclear whether trace levels of gluten could be harmful for someone with celiac disease. “It hasn’t been very well studied how much gluten will cause symptoms,” he says. “But why is there any gluten in these products, and why aren’t these better regulated? People have great faith in natural products, and that’s why a lot of people eat probiotics. They should be studied and they should be regulated.”

If you have celiac disease, approach probiotics with caution, Green says. In addition to possible gluten contamination, we still don’t definitively know the benefits or harms of taking probiotics, he says. “Probiotics may turn out to be beneficial to individuals with different conditions, but to my mind, that has not be shown,” he says—and for someone with a gluten allergy, a probiotic with the ingredient could potentially be harmful.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Healthy Party Hacks for Your Next Summer Barbecue

Toss the fried beans for guacamole

Don’t let calorie-dense party foods get in the way of your healthy lifestyle. Stay fit, and on track with these delicious, yet healthy party swaps from the Cooking Light Diet.

This article originally appeared on CookingLight.com.

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TIME Diet/Nutrition

3 Things You Should Know About Natural Sugar

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How to enjoy sweets without disrupting your appetite

As a nutritionist, I advise my clients to avoid soda, eat fruits and veggies, and sweeten recipes conservatively with natural options, like organic honey or maple syrup. They’re less processed than refined sugar and they contain other beneficial substances, including antioxidants. Some new research, however, has left people wondering if these better-for-you sweet foods are actually okay to consume, particularly for weight loss.

Here’s a summary of the study and my bottom-line tips on how to sweeten up your life a little, without wreaking havoc on your waistline.

University of Southern California researchers looked at the responses of 24 volunteers who consumed flavored beverages that were sweetened with fructose one day, and glucose another. Brain scans revealed that when subjects looked at images of food after consuming fructose, there was greater activity in the area of the brain tied to reward. The participants were also asked if they’d rather eat the food immediately, or forgo it for a monetary bonus. When drinking fructose, more of the men and women chose the immediate food reward. The researchers said the results indicate that, relative to glucose, fructose has less of an appetite-suppressing effect, and may be more likely to trigger eating.

Why the difference between the two sweeteners? When you consume glucose, your pancreas secretes insulin, which allows cells to use it for energy. Insulin also tells your brain that you’ve received fuel, which curbs appetite. Since fructose doesn’t stimulate insulin secretion, you brain may not be getting an “I’m good, stop eating now” message.

So how does all of this relate to honey and produce? Well, honey, maple syrup, molasses, fresh fruit, and even some veggies (like sugar snap peas), all contain fructose. But in my opinion the aforementioned study doesn’t mean you should eliminate the lot.

To reap the rewards without disrupting your appetite—or derailing your weight—follow these three tips.

With fruit, fresh is best

While fruit is a natural source of fructose, the sweetener is also bundled with fiber, water, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. And in fresh fruit the fructose isn’t concentrated. For example, one cup of blueberries naturally contains about 7 grams of fructose, along with 3.5 grams of fiber and several key nutrients. By contrast, a 12-ounce can of soda sweetened with high fructose corn syrup contains about 22.5 grams of fructose, with no fiber or nutrients. The fluid and fiber in fresh fruit (in addition to the volume and chewing involved) also positively impact fullness and satiety.

In other words, the amount and form of the fructose you consume matter. If you’re concerned about fructose and appetite, stick with fresh fruit. If you eat dried fruit, remember that the portion shrinks by about three quarters, so you should eat a serving no larger than the size of a golf ball. The same holds true for juice. Some of my clients love fresh-squeezed orange or grapefruit juice at breakfast, but I advise them to drink a shot, not a tall glass, and capture as much pulp as possible.

Don’t drink your sugar

The USC study was done with beverages. Previous research has shown that sugar in the form of a thin liquid isn’t as filling as solid forms, so you won’t compensate by eating less food when you drink a soda, lemonade, or sweet tea. That means the extra calories just add to your overall intake, and if you don’t burn them off, you’ll either prevent weight loss or further fill up your fat cells. For this reason, I advise clients to choose solid sweet treats, preferably made with ingredients that offer some nutritional value (check out my dark chocolate superfood pudding, which can also be made into a smoothie).

Other studies have shown that thickness also prompts eaters to perceive foods as more filling. In a University of Sussex study, researchers asked volunteers to rate how filling they expected various thick, creamy drinks to be. The subjects did this by identifying how much solid food they thought they would need to eat to experience the same level of fullness. The conclusion: thickness, not creaminess, impacted the expectation that a drink would better suppress hunger. In two additional studies, thicker drinks were found to suppress actual hunger (not just anticipated hunger, as in the Sussex study) more than thinner versions of beverages with the same calorie levels. This is one reason I’m a big fan of chia seeds—they soak up water to form a thick, gel-like texture, which adds a satisfaction factor to sweetened puddings, smoothies, and parfaits.

Limit sweets overall, from all sources

I’ve had many clients over the years who have tried to eliminate sugar completely only to experience intense cravings, and eventually break down, and binge eat sweets. If all or nothing doesn’t work for you, you’ll be happy to know that even the strictest recommendations on sugar, from organizations like the American Heart Association (AHA), don’t recommend banishing it completely.

According to the AHA, the daily target for added sugar (e.g. forms like honey and sweetened foods) should be no more than the equivalent of 6 level teaspoons for women, and 9 for men. That means adding a teaspoon of organic honey or maple syrup to Greek yogurt, having a few squares of dark chocolate each day, or enjoying an occasional dessert is well within the limits. It’s also far less the 22 daily teaspoons the average American takes in each day.

For more about sugar, including where it may be hiding, and how to limit your intake sanely and sustainably, check out my article The 4 Most Confusing Things About Sugar.

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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