Smartwatches could interfere with pacemakers


SMARTWATCHES and fitness trackers can interfere with implantable cardiac devices. According to a US study published in the journal Heart Rhythm, electronic fitness gadgets such as smartwatches, rings and scales emit electrical currents that can interfere with cardiac implantable electronic devices such as pacemakers, implantable cardioverter defibrillators and cardiac resynchronisation therapy devices, and cause them to malfunction.

Many of these fitness gadgets use bioimpedance, a sensing technology that emits a very slight, imperceptible current of electricity into the body so a sensor can determine a person’s body composition, such as muscle mass or fat mass, or level of stress. Even slight electrical currents from these gadgets can interfere with the proper functioning of cardiac implantable devices. For instance, pacemakers send small electrical impulses to the heart when it is beating too slowly. “The bioimpedance's tiny electrical current could trick the heart into thinking it is beating fast enough, preventing the pacemaker from doing its job when it is supposed to. If the pacemaker gets confused by interference, it could stop working during the duration that it is confused. If that interference is for a prolonged time, the patient could pass out or worse,” said the study author.

The level of interference was greater with smartwatches than with smart rings and smart scales.

A pill to curb binge drinking?


TAKING A PILL before consuming alcohol can help curb binge drinking, according to findings of a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The drug, naltrexone, is already being used to treat people with severe alcohol disorders.

Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more drinks on an occasion for men and four or more for women. It is a risk factor for many major diseases and injuries, and it also increases the risk of alcohol use disorder. Hundred and twenty men who had a habit of bingeing but were not severely alcohol dependent were included in the study.

In the double-blinded, randomised control trial, half of the participants were asked to take a 50 mg naltrexone pill before drinking while the other half received a placebo. Neither the participants nor the scientists knew which pill they were taking.

Those given naltrexone reported significantly fewer binge drinking days, fewer weekly binge drinking episodes, fewer total drinks consumed and reduced alcohol cravings than those who had been given a placebo and the benefits lasted up to six months. “Targeted use of naltrexone, or taking it on an as-needed basis, can be an important tool for people interested in cutting down heavy alcohol use,” said the study author.

Best medication for lower back pain


LOWER BACK PAIN is a leading cause of disability worldwide. Which non-opioid medications are the most effective for treating lower back pain? To find out, German researchers analysed 18 randomised controlled trials that included 3,478 patients who had pain for less than 12 weeks. The trials examined the efficacy of muscle relaxants (myorelaxants), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and paracetamol.

Both muscle relaxants and NSAIDs, which included aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen, could effectively reduce pain and disability within a week. The combination of NSAIDs and paracetamol was associated with a greater improvement than the use of NSAIDs alone. But paracetamol alone did not provide any significant improvement.

The findings were published in the Journal of Orthopaedic Research. “This is a first step towards the optimisation of the management of acute lower back pain. However, specific patient characteristics such as having allergies and comorbidities must always be taken into consideration,” said the study author.

Did You Know?

Sleep irregularity, or sleeping and waking up at different times and irregular sleep durations, may increase the risk for atherosclerosis, or hardened arteries, a known risk factor for cardiovascular diseases.
Journal of the American Heart Association

Reducing social media usage improves teens’ body image

TEENS AND YOUNG adults who cut their social media usage for just a few weeks saw significant improvement in body image, according to a Canadian study published in the Psychology of Popular Media. Young adults spend about six to eight hours a day on screens, mostly social media, where they are exposed to thousands of images including those of celebrities, “which leads to an internalisation of beauty ideals that are unattainable for almost everyone, resulting in greater dissatisfaction with body weight and shape,” the lead author explained.

To find out if reducing social media use can improve body image, the researchers recruited 220 undergraduate students aged 17–25. About 76 per cent were women. All the participants regularly used social media for at least two hours a day and also had symptoms of depression or anxiety. During the first week, all the participants used social media as they normally would. For the next three weeks, half the participants were asked to reduce their social media usage to no more than 60 minutes a day. At the start and end of the experiment, participants responded to questions about their overall appearance and weight.

Participants who reduced their social media use had significant improvement in how they regarded both their overall appearance and body weight compared with the control group. The findings showed that reducing social media use reaps comparable benefits in body esteem for both males and females.

Focused ultrasound for Parkinson’s treatment


A MINIMALLY INVASIVE procedure called focused ultrasound ablation was effective in treating dyskinesia and motor impairment in patients with Parkinson's disease, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Some patients with Parkinson’s develop dyskinesia―a side effect of Parkinson's medications that can cause involuntary, erratic movements of the body. Motor impairment is a symptom of Parkinson’s.

Focused ultrasound is already being used for patients with essential tremor. The procedure is painless and does not involve incisions, thus eliminating risks such as infection or brain bleeding associated with surgery. “Using focused ultrasound, we can target a specific area of the brain and safely ablate the diseased tissue,” the study author explained.

The procedure offers an alternative to deep brain stimulation, which requires surgery to implant electrodes in specific areas of the brain to deliver electrical pulses that disrupt abnormal brain activity.

Ninety-four Parkinson’s disease patients with dyskinesia or motor impairment were randomly assigned to undergo either focused ultrasound ablation (69 patients) or a sham procedure (25 patients). Over three months, 69 per cent of the patients in the focused ultrasound group achieved improved motor function or reduced dyskinesia compared to 31 per cent in the control group. Additionally, 75 per cent of patients in the focused ultrasound group who responded to treatment maintained their results for up to one year. Adverse effects were infrequent and included speech difficulty, loss of taste, visual disturbance, gait difficulty and facial weakness.

Did You Know?

People with depression and anxiety who engaged in acts of kindness experienced greater improvement for social connection, life satisfaction and depression/anxiety symptoms compared to standard cognitive behavioural therapy.
The Journal of Positive Psychology

Exercise more effective than drugs to treat depression, anxiety


EXERCISE SHOULD BE the first line of treatment for depression and anxiety. According to an Australian study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, physical activity is 1.5 times more effective than counselling or the leading medications to manage depression, anxiety and psychological distress.

The researchers examined the impact of physical activity on mental health by evaluating data from 1,039 trials that included 1,28,119 participants. The greatest benefits of exercise on mental health were seen among people with depression, pregnant and postpartum women, and people diagnosed with HIV or kidney disease. Higher intensity exercise had greater improvements for depression and anxiety. Longer durations had smaller effects when compared to short and mid-duration bursts.

All types of exercise were found to be beneficial. But resistance training was found to be more effective for depression, while yoga and other mind–body exercises were more effective for reducing anxiety. “We hope this review will underscore the need for physical activity, including structured exercise interventions, as a mainstay approach for managing depression and anxiety,” said the study author.

Can ED drugs boost men’s heart health?


ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION (ED) medications like Viagra may have cardioprotective benefits, according to a US study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine.

To analyse the cardiovascular health benefits of ED drugs that contain phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors (PDE-5i), the researchers studied health records of 72,498 relatively healthy men with ED. Some 24,000 of them were taking PDE-5i drugs which include sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra), tadalafil (Cialis) and avanafil (Stendra).

Men who took ED drugs experienced significantly lower rates of major adverse cardiovascular events and death compared to men with ED who did not take these drugs. Specifically, they had a 39 per cent lower rate of death from heart disease and a 25 per cent lower rate of death from all causes. They also had a 22 per cent lower rate of unstable angina, 17 per cent lower rate of heart failure, 15 per cent lower rate in the need for revascularisation procedures such as angioplasty, stenting and bypass surgery, and a 13 per cent lower rate of a major cardiovascular event such as heart attack or stroke.

Among men who took ED drugs, cardiac events were lowest in men who took the largest amount of these drugs over the study period. They had a 55 per cent reduced rate of a major cardiac event and a 49 per cent reduced rate of overall mortality.

Did You Know?

Breast MRI is superior to standard methods at detecting breast cancer in women with dense breasts and negative mammogram who have an average risk or intermediate risk for breast cancer.

Spinal cord stimulation helps stroke patients regain arm mobility

ELECTRICALLY STIMULATING the spinal cord instantly improved arm function and hand mobility in patients affected by moderate to severe stroke, report researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University in the journal Nature Medicine.

Stroke is a leading cause of paralysis. About 25 per cent of the global population over the age of 25 will suffer a stroke in their lifetime. About 75 per cent of them will suffer lasting impairments in motor control of their arm and hand. Spinal cord stimulation technology is already being used to treat chronic pain as well as to restore movement to the legs after spinal cord injury. The innovative technology was tested on two stroke patients who lost hand and arm movement.

A set of thin metal electrodes were placed on the surface of the spinal cord to deliver pulses of electricity that activate nerve cells inside the spinal cord. The stimulation immediately improved strength, range of movement and function of the arm and hand. “The sensory nerves from the arm and hand send signals to motor neurons in the spinal cord that control the muscles of the limb,” the study co-senior author explained. “By stimulating these sensory nerves, we can amplify the activity of muscles that have been weakened by stroke. Importantly, the patient retains full control of their movements: The stimulation is assistive and strengthens muscle activation only when patients are trying to move.”

The stimulation enabled participants to perform tasks of different complexity, like opening and closing their fist, lifting their arm above their head and grasping common household objects.

Keto diet may double the risk of heart attack, stroke


THE KETO DIET involves consuming very low amounts of carbohydrates and higher intake of fat, which helps the body burn fat for energy. A study presented at the American College of Cardiology’s annual meeting included 305 people who followed a low-carbohydrate, high-fat (LCHF) diet, like a keto diet. They were matched by age and sex with 1,220 people who ate a standard diet. About 73 per cent of the participants were women and the average age was 54.

During 11.8 years of follow up, 9.8 per cent of keto dieters experienced a new heart event, compared to 4.3 per cent of people on a standard diet. People who followed the LCHF diet had more than double the risk of major cardiovascular events, such as chest pain (angina), blocked arteries requiring stenting, heart attack, stroke and peripheral arterial disease. They also had significantly higher levels of both LDL cholesterol and apolipoprotein B (apoB), which could increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

“Our study found that regular consumption of a self-reported diet low in carbohydrates and high in fat was associated with increased levels of LDL cholesterol―or 'bad cholesterol'―and a higher risk of heart disease,” said the lead author.