Medical News Today: How aspirin and omega-3 may reduce cancer risk

Acetylsalicylic acid, best known as aspirin, and omega-3 fatty acids support various aspects of health, and scientists continue to uncover how these substances work. One recent study suggests that both could have an impact on colon cancer risk.
white and orange tablets
A new clinical trial looks into the effects of aspirin and fatty acids on key elements that determine colon cancer risk.

The National Cancer Institute estimate that doctors will diagnose around 140,250 new cases of cancer of the colon and rectum in 2018 in the United States.

Colon cancer develops from polyps or abnormal growths of tissue within the colon. Many of these polyps are benign, but some can lead to cancerous tumors.

Doctors identify precancerous polyps through colonoscopies that allow them to detect visible abnormalities in the large bowel.

In a new clinical trial, dubbed the seAFOod Trial, specialists from the universities of Leeds, Nottingham, Bradford, and Newcastle in the United Kingdom, in collaboration with researchers from other institutions, made an intriguing find.

They wanted to see if widely available drugs, such as aspirin and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) — one of the key fatty acids contained by omega-3 — would reduce the number of precancerous bowel polyps in people at high risk of colon cancer.

The researchers’ findings appear in the prestigious journal The Lancet.

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Aspirin and EPA therapy beneficial

The researchers recruited 709 participants via 53 hospitals across England. All the individuals were at high risk of colon cancer.

The team split the participants into four treatment groups. Of these, some were to receive an aspirin treatment only, others EPA only, the third group was to receive an aspirin and EPA combination, and the final group was to receive a placebo.

Those in the aspirin-only group took a 300 milligram aspirin tablet every day for a year. The participants in the EPA group took 2 grams of EPA in four capsules for the same period of time. This EPA dose was higher than the amount available in regular omega-3 supplements.

Participants who took aspirin for a year had 22 percent fewer polyps overall — including on the right side of the large bowel, which is more difficult to monitor through colonoscopy — than those who took a placebo.

Those who took EPA had 9 percent fewer polyps overall when compared to those in the placebo group, though this outcome was not statistically significant.

However, those in the EPA group did have 25 percent fewer polyps on the left side of the large bowel.

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“The seAFOod Trial demonstrates that both aspirin and EPA have preventative effects, which is particularly exciting given that they are both relatively cheap and safe compounds to give to patients,” notes the study’s lead author, Prof. Mark Hull, from the University of Leeds.

Given this new evidence, clinicians need to consider these agents for patients at elevated risk of bowel cancer, alongside regular colonoscopy surveillance.”

Prof. Mark Hull

The researchers also add that taking both aspirin and EPA proved to be safe, and the participants did not present an increased risk of bleeding. However, those who followed the EPA-only treatment reported a small increase in stomach problems.

Going forward, the specialists are aiming to conduct further research into the role that aspirin and EPA may play in lowering cancer risk.

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Medical News Today: Suicide: Study finds 4 genes that may raise risk

New research finds four genetic variants that may raise the risk of dying by suicide, regardless of environmental factors. The study also identifies hundreds of other genes that require further analysis and that may also raise the likelihood that a person dies by suicide.
middle aged man looking sad
Middle-aged men are at a higher risk of dying by suicide.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), almost 800,000 people die by suicide every year.

Among people aged 15–29, suicide is the second leading cause of death worldwide.

In the United States, almost 45,000 people die as a result of suicide every year, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death among individuals of all ages.

Men who are white and middle-aged, however, are at the highest risk of dying by suicide.

Although the environment has an effect on the incidence of suicide, some studies have pointed out that genetic factors also play a key role. In fact, older studies have estimated the heritability of suicide at 50 percent.

New research that appears in the journal Molecular Psychiatry uses modern genomic sequencing techniques to find specific genetic factors that may raise the risk of suicide.

Dr. Douglas Gray, who is a professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah (U of U) Health in Salt Lake City, is the senior author on the paper.

He explains the motivation for the study, saying, “Past studies of families and twins informed us that there is significant genetic risk associated with suicide.”

“Genes are like blueprints. The first step is to find the genes that increase risk. Identifying specific genes may lead to new treatments for those who [need them],” says Dr. Gray.

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4 genetic variants and 207 genes found

To identify these genes, Dr. Gray and colleagues zoomed in on 43 families that were at a higher risk of suicide.

By focusing on such a “genetically homogeneous group,” the researchers reduced the influence of environmental factors — such as stress due to a divorce, unemployment, or the loss of a loved one, or having easy access to means of taking one’s life, such as firearms.

Hilary Coon, Ph.D. — a professor of psychiatry at U of U Health and the first author of the paper — explains the methods used in the research. “In this study,” she says, “we began by looking for the low-hanging fruit, the genomic changes that could affect the structure or function of a gene.”

The researchers examined the cases of suicide among the very distant relatives of the 43 families. “We are using high-risk very extended families like a magnifying glass to get us to the right genes that increase the risk for this […] outcome,” Prof. Coon goes on.

Overall, Dr. Gray and team examined genetic variants in over 1,300 DNA samples from people who died by suicide in Utah. The researchers correlated the DNA results with the Utah Population database, which has genealogical data and the medical records of over 8 million people.

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The analysis revealed specific variations in four genes that may raise the risk of suicide-related death: SP110, AGBL2, SUCLA2, and APH1B.

Also, the researchers identified an additional 207 genes that may prove to be key in influencing suicide risk and that need further analysis.

Previous studies have linked 18 of these genes with suicide risk and 15 of them with inflammation, further strengthening the hypothesis that inflammation and mental health are connected.

All in all, “the current work has produced several important lines of evidence,” explain the authors.

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Strengths and limitations of the study

Despite the significant findings, the authors point out some limitations to their study. For instance, most cases of suicide were from people of Northern European ancestry, which limits the results.

Also, the researchers did not have access to the mental health history of each and every person. Potential diagnoses of mental health issues that the researchers were not aware of may have influenced the results.

As with any complex human condition, cautions Prof. Coon, many environmental factors can still modify the genetic risk.

Clearly genetics is only one part of [the] risk when it comes to suicide […] But we are hoping these discoveries will lead us to highly susceptible individuals so we can develop better interventions to help them circumvent this risk.”

Prof. Hilary Coon, Ph.D.

“We think these results are just the tip of the iceberg. We will continue to search for additional gene changes that lead to risk,” Prof. Coon concludes.

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Medical News Today: Pregnancy trimesters: A guide

The typical pregnancy has three trimesters and lasts around 40 weeks from the first day of a woman’s last period. In each trimester, the fetus will meet specific developmental milestones.

While 40 weeks is the usual time frame, a full-term baby can be born as early as 37 weeks and as late as 42 weeks.

Read on for more information about what to expect during each pregnancy trimester.

Pregnancy trimester infographic <br>Image credit: Stephen Kelly, 2018</br>
Image credit: Stephen Kelly, 2018

The first trimester

The first trimester lasts for the first 12 weeks of the pregnancy and is crucial for the baby’s development. At conception, the egg and sperm combine to form a zygote, which will implant in the uterine wall.

The zygote becomes an embryo as the cells divide and grow. All of the major organs and structures begin to form.

At 4–5 weeks, the embryo is only 0.04 inches long but will grow to around 3 inches long by the end of the first trimester. The embryo is now looking a lot more like a human baby.

The fetus’s heart will start beating by the eighth week. The eyelids remain closed to protect its eyes. The fetus can also make a fist at this stage. Also, external genitalia will have formed and may be visible during an ultrasound, meaning that a doctor can tell someone whether the fetus is male or female.

A woman will experience many changes during the first trimester, too. Many women will start to feel morning sickness, or nausea and vomiting due to pregnancy, at 6–8 weeks.

Despite its name, this nausea does not just occur in the morning. Some pregnant women get sick at night, while others are sick all day.

A pregnant woman might also feel very tired and notice that she is more emotional than usual due to hormonal changes.

Many also report experiencing food cravings or aversions during early pregnancy, alongside a stronger sense of smell. Breast tenderness is also very common.

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The second trimester

The second trimester lasts between week 13 and 26 of pregnancy. The fetus will go through a lot of changes during this time and grow from approximately 4–5 inches long to around 12 inches long.

During the second trimester, the fetus will also go from weighing about 3 ounces to weighing 1 pound (lb) or more.

In addition to the major structures and organs, other important parts of the body will also form during the second trimester, including:

  • the skeleton
  • muscle tissue
  • skin
  • eyebrows
  • eyelashes
  • fingernails and toenails
  • blood cells
  • taste buds
  • footprints and fingerprints
  • hair

If the fetus is male, the testes begin to drop into the scrotum. If the fetus is female, the ovaries begin to form eggs.

The fetus now has regular sleeping and waking patterns. They can also hear sounds from outside the womb, and they will begin to practice swallowing, which is an important skill after delivery.

The woman will also likely begin to feel better. In most cases, morning sickness and fatigue start to go away at the beginning of the second trimester. Food cravings and aversions can continue, however.

A woman may notice that her belly is starting to grow and that she is beginning to “look pregnant.” She should also start to feel the baby moving, which is called “quickening.”

Braxton–Hicks contractions may start toward the end of the second trimester.

A woman may also begin to experience other symptoms in the second trimester, including:

  • round ligament pain
  • nipple changes, such as darkening
  • stretch marks

The third trimester

pregnant woman and partner on a sofa
During the third trimester, a growing fetus will move more regularly.

The third trimester lasts from week 27 until delivery, which is usually around week 40. During this trimester, a developing baby will grow from around 12 inches long and 1.5 lbs in weight to about 18–20 inches long and 7–8 lbs in weight.

Most of the organs and body systems have formed by now, but they will continue to grow and mature during the third trimester.

The fetus’s lungs are not fully formed at the beginning of this trimester, but they will be by the time of delivery.

A growing baby will start practicing breathing motions to help prepare for life after birth. Kicks and rolls become stronger, and a pregnant woman should feel the baby move regularly.

A pregnant woman may also begin to feel uncomfortable during this trimester, as her belly starts to grow. Most women start to feel Braxton–Hicks contractions getting stronger, and they may have back pain from carrying a heavy belly.

Other symptoms that a pregnant woman may experience during the third trimester include:

  • heartburn
  • swollen feet
  • insomnia
  • mood swings
  • leakage of milk from the breasts
  • other breast and nipple changes
  • frequent urination

As the woman gets closer to the delivery, the baby should turn in to a head-down position to make birth easier.

Anxiety about delivery and parenthood are also common toward the end of pregnancy.

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Postpartum, or the ‘fourth trimester’

Many people unofficially call the baby’s first 3 months of life the fourth trimester, or the time when the baby adjusts to life outside the womb.

Human babies are born very immature compared with most other mammals. Many baby mammals can stand up and walk within hours of birth.

Human babies have large brains, so they must be born at 9 months’ gestation. If the birth occurred any later, it would be very dangerous because their heads might not be able to pass through a woman’s pelvis safely.

Since they are still very immature, newborn babies need constant care during their first few months of life.

This period can be very difficult for both the baby and their caregiver. Keeping the baby calm means replicating life in the womb as closely as possible. This can be accomplished by:

  • holding the baby close
  • gently swaying or rocking the baby
  • making swishing or shushing noises
  • swaddling
  • giving the baby opportunities to suck, either during breastfeeding or by using a pacifier

The fourth trimester can be challenging for new parents. It is vital to rest as much as possible.

To make this time a little easier, try to accept help from family and friends. This help may be in the form of meals, babysitting older siblings, and cleaning or laundry as needed.

A woman will experience lochia, or bleeding and vaginal discharge, that continues for 4–6 weeks after birth. Her breasts may be sore and leak as she adjusts to breastfeeding.

Many women experience mood swings, or “baby blues,” after birth. This is usually due to the fluctuation in hormones.

Some women may experience postpartum depression after childbirth. This includes feelings of intense sadness, fatigue, anxiety, and hopelessness that can affect her ability to care for herself and the baby.

Postpartum depression is treatable, so anyone experiencing these symptoms should speak to a doctor as soon as possible.


Pregnancy, childbirth, and the first few months with a newborn are unlike any other time in life. They are full of new experiences, great uncertainty, and many new emotions.

Getting regular prenatal care is vital during each trimester. A doctor can help ensure the growing baby is meeting their developmental milestones, and that the woman is in good health.

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Medical News Today: What does autism look like in the brain?

People on the autism spectrum often dislike exposure to unexpected stimuli, but why is that? New research takes a look at what happens in the brain, and how that relates to a person’s ability to tolerate exposure to various stimuli.
brain connections concept illustration
What happens in the brains of people with autism?

“People with autism do not like unexpected stimuli, and it may be because brains are not as efficient at rapidly shifting between ideas or thoughts,” notes Dr. Jeff Anderson, a professor in Radiology at the University of Utah Health in Salt Lake City.

Recently, Dr. Anderson and colleagues decided to try and gain a better understanding as to why individuals with autism may experience some of their symptoms.

To do so, they directed their attention to the complex circuitry of the human brain. “We wondered if we could see how local circuits in the brain react in patients with autism,” explains the researcher.

The research team reports the findings of their study in the journal JAMA Network Open. The full study paper is available online.

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Overly persistent brain connections

First, the researchers conducted functional MRI (fMRI) scans on 90 male participants, of which 52 had a diagnosis of autism and 38 did not. The participants with autism were aged between 19 and 34, while the rest of the volunteers — who acted as the control group — had ages ranging between 20 and 34.

Then, to confirm the initial findings, the specialists compared their data with that collected from a further 1,402 people who participated in the Autism Brain Imaging Data Exchange (ABIDE) study. Of these, 579 participants (80 female and 499 male) had autism. The remaining 823 participants (211 female and 612 male) did not have autism and acted as the control group.

Dr. Anderson and team used a novel fMRI method to explore brain activity in the participants on the current study. More specifically, they looked at the duration of connections established across brain regions.

“We don’t have good methods for looking at the brain on these timescales. It’s been a blind spot because it falls in between typical MRI and [electroencephalogram] studies,” explains Dr. Anderson.

Thanks to the fMRI scans, the researchers were able to confirm that in the brains of people with autism, connections persist for more extended periods than they do in the brains of neurotypical individuals. In other words, in autism, the brain finds it harder to switch between processes.

In those with autism, brain connections remained synchronized for up 20 seconds, while they disappeared faster in individuals without this condition. Moreover, in those with autism, symptom severity appeared to increase with connectivity duration.

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‘A whole new perspective’

These findings, which were consistent with data from the ABIDE study, may explain why people with autism can experience distress when exposed to numerous stimuli at once, the research team believes.

“Individuals with autism who have greater social dysfunction have an increase in synched activity in their scans,” notes postdoctoral researcher Jace King, first author of the study paper.

“Now that we are looking at finer timescales, we’ve found a consistent story. It provides us with new tools to figure out the mechanisms that may underlie autism,” King adds.

Nevertheless, the researchers note that their study faced one fundamental limitation — namely that it worked with male participants only, which may not offer the full picture of what characterizes autism in the brain. Still, they will not stop at this study and hope to expand this research.

We want to compare the results from this analysis to more traditional methods. This is a whole new perspective into how autism works in the brain and can help us develop strategies for treatment and finding medications that might be more effective to ease the symptoms of the disorder.”

Dr. Jeff Anderson

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Medical News Today: How to protect your mental well-being this festive season

A perfect world sees the holiday season filled with love, warmth, and happiness. However, more often, it is crammed with stress, exhaustion, and panic. Here, we offer some advice on how to bring a little calm back to the festive season.
Stressed christmas
How can we avoid the stress of the festive season?

I know it seems hard to believe, but we are, once again, fast approaching the holiday season.

Although millions of people across the United States and beyond are looking forward to the festivities, it can sometimes leave people feeling jaded and exhausted.

There are gifts to buy, family to visit, meals to cook, and events to plan and attend. Time is limited, money is tight, and the children won’t stop crying.

Many people have stressful lives before the added pressures of the holiday season; sometimes, the extra cognitive weight can make them buckle.

A survey conducted by the American Psychological Association found that people in the U.S. are likely to feel more stressed around the holidays rather than less.

In this Spotlight, we cover seven simple tips that might help a person keep their mental well-being intact across this year’s festive season.

1. A family affair

If you find your family challenging to be around, you are not alone. Make sure you set boundaries early on — stay for 1 night instead of two or three, for instance.

Instead of busting a gut trying to visit every relative across multiple states, limit who you go to see. Make apologies in advance to those who you might miss, and save yourself that 12-hour round trip.

You can visit great uncle Gordon in Alaska in the Spring; the weather will be more clement then, anyway.

This goes for all aspects of holiday planning: be realistic. Don’t take on more than is comfortable. Not even a super hero could plan the office party, a family party, and the school Christmas play; then cook Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas dinner, buy gifts for everyone, and still be smiling.

Don’t be afraid to say “no” to some people; they probably won’t mind — they might even be relieved.

If you do have to travel long distances, build in some wriggle room with the timings— if you expect delays, they won’t seem quite as stressful in the likely event that they crop up.

2. Planning cash flow

It is very difficult to avoid spending too much money during Thanksgiving and Christmas. Gifts, food, drink, outings, guests, more food, more gifts; it quickly mounts up.

Although many people know they are likely to overspend during the holiday period, very few make sensible plans in advance.

This year, try to set a reasonable budget that you think you can stick to. Wherever possible, only spend cash or use a debit card. Credit cards might seem like a good idea when you are in full festive flow, but we all know they can come back to haunt us in the doldrums of January.

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3. Alcohol overload

There are many opportunities to drink alcohol over the holidays. Before the festivities begin, remind yourself that you do not have to drink alcohol at every single event.

Selection of beers
Saying “no” can be tough but rewarding.

Try to make a plan before you arrive; decide what you will drink and when, and stick to it.

Perhaps decide to make every other drink a nonalcoholic drink. Pace yourself. This can be more difficult than it sounds, but it is worth it.

Excess alcohol often causes interpersonal problems that wouldn’t have arisen otherwise, especially when people are feeling more stressed than usual.

During the aftermath of a night out, dealing with relatives or making plans might be much more challenging and stressful than they would have been otherwise.

Alcohol feels like it reduces stress at the time but, in the long run, it might make things worse.

4. Calorie overload

There is no point pretending that we are going to stick to a pure and healthful eating regime for the entire holiday period. Anyone who can maintain dietary goals throughout the season receives a gold star but, for most people, it’s just not a reasonable ask.

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to eat healthfully for the duration of the holidays. At the same time, make solid attempts to moderate yourself. Choose the more healthful option now and again, and don’t go back for second helpings.

The guilt of falling off the wagon can really dent our happiness and confidence. Attempting to minimize this guilt will help your sense of mental well-being both during the holidays and well into the days and weeks that follow.

5. Don’t let it all slide

Exercise routines tend to go out of the window, too. This, to a certain extent, is both understandable and acceptable.

We all need to take our foot off of the gas at some point during the year, so it may as well be while the weather is awful and there are plenty of good movies on the television.

Walk in the woods
Just being in nature can lift your spirits.

That said, exercise is a great way to sharpen the mind and lift a person’s mood.

This is the time of year when we most need a boost, yet most of us cut out physical activities entirely.

Be sure to cut yourself some slack, but also make sure to get some exercise when you can. Even light exercise, such as walking, can be enough to stave off the festive blues.

If you can, get out into nature; so-called green exercise has been shown to boost self-esteem and improve mood.

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6. Approaching loneliness and loss

Not everyone struggles with an overly busy calendar during the holidays. For some people, it can be a lonely, isolated time.

To beat this, planning is necessary. There are plenty of things to do; it is just a matter of looking around and diving in. You could join a group, start a new hobby, or, even better, volunteer for a local charity.

For many of us, the holiday season can be a reminder of loved ones we have lost. Starting new traditions can be a useful way to turn this into a positive. Perhaps consider incorporating that particular loved ones’ interests into the new tradition to help keep their memory alive.

It’s also a good idea to seek out people who are going through a similar experience; they will understand and might be able to offer advice, or simply a listening ear.

7. Manage your expectations

When we daydream about the holiday season, we might picture a harmonious, well-dressed, gleeful family sitting at a beautiful oak table, a huge Christmas tree, and a roaring open fire. That, sadly, is unlikely to match reality.

Before the celebrations begin, be realistic. Mental well-being can take a substantial hit if the reality doesn’t match up with our preconceived ideas. However, if we have realistic expectations, we are much more likely to be happy with the results.

We do not live in a movie; we inhabit the real world — a messy, unpredictable world; expect less and roll with the punches.

The take-home message

Sadly, as is often the case, moderation is key. When approaching food and drink, exercise some reserve; when people expect too much from you, push back; if being with family stresses you out, limit the time you spend with them.

All of the above are simple in theory but can be difficult in practice. Setting yourself some guidelines ahead of time might do a world of good. Happy holidays!

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Medical News Today: ‘Breakthrough’ treatment for peanut allergy awaits FDA check

Peanut allergy makes life more difficult for the millions of people who live with it. “Possible traces” of peanuts in foods pose a constant hidden threat for them, but a newly developed treatment could soon help people with peanut allergy become more confident in their food choices.
paper bag with peanuts
Peanut allergy may soon become less of a concern thanks to an effective new treatment.

Information provided last year by specialists from the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI) indicates that almost 2.5 percent of all children in the United States may live with peanut allergy.

This number represents a 21 percent increase in the number of possible peanut allergies in childhood since 2010, the specialists also found.

A critical challenge for those living with peanut allergy is distinguishing between food products that are 100 percent safe to eat, and those that may trigger an allergy episode.

For some people, the allergy can be significant enough to lead to anaphylaxis, a severe, life-threatening reaction. Many food items may contain traces of peanuts because the factories that produce them also handle peanuts.

However, a new treatment developed by experts from research institutions across the world hopes to help individuals with this type of food allergy. The treatment aims to build up enough tolerance to peanuts so that people with a peanut allergy can handle accidental exposure without any problems.

“We’re excited about the potential to help children and adolescents with peanut allergy protect themselves against accidentally eating a food with peanut in it,” says study author Dr. Stephen Tilles, who is also past president of ACAAI, and consulting advisor for the biotech company Aimmune Therapeutics.

The researchers presented their results today at the ACAAI Annual Scientific Meeting in Seattle, WA. These findings also appear in The New England Journal of Medicine.

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Participants see increase in tolerance

“Because there is no approved treatment for peanut allergy, the standard of care has been a strict elimination diet and the timely administration of rescue medications in case of an allergic reaction on accidental exposure,” the study authors write.

“However, despite vigilance, accidental exposures may occur and cause reactions of unpredictable severity, even with small amounts of allergen, leading to a lifelong risk of severe reactions,” they continue.

The recent study tested the effectiveness of a new oral immunotherapy for peanut allergy called AR101, which is “a […] peanut-derived, oral biologic drug that delivers a target daily maintenance dose of 300 [milligrams] of peanut protein,” as the researchers explain in the study paper.

The research team worked with participants aged from 4 to 55 years old, though most of these fell in the 4 to 17 age range. All of the participants lived with peanut allergy.

At the beginning and the end of the study, the volunteers undertook an oral food challenge so that the scientists could establish the severity of their allergic reactions.

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Of the total number of participants, two-thirds received AR101, while a third received a placebo. Each person received their assigned substance in increasing doses until they reached the maintenance dose — they continued to take this amount tor the duration of the study.

The researchers found that by the end of the study, 80 percent of the participants successfully reached the daily maintenance dose, which was the equivalent of about one peanut.

As Dr. Tilles explains, many participants saw a significant increase in their tolerance to peanuts. “Our hope when we started the study was that by treating patients with the equivalent of one peanut per day, many would tolerate as much as two peanuts,” the study author says.

We were pleased to find that two-thirds of the people in the study were able to tolerate the equivalent of two peanuts per day after 9 to 12 months of treatment, and half the patients tolerated the equivalent of four peanuts.”

Dr. Stephen Tilles

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Treatment may soon become available

Moreover, participants reported far fewer side effects throughout the trial than the researchers had predicted. No more than 6 percent of the participants experienced gastrointestinal side effects that caused them to leave the trial, while as many as one-third of the volunteers only experienced mild side effects.

As Dr. Tilles points out, “Reactions from the oral challenges at the end of the study were much milder than prior to treatment.”

“On average, the participants were able to tolerate a 100-fold higher dose of peanut at the end of the study than they did at the beginning. In addition, the symptoms caused by the 100-fold higher dose at the end of [the] study were milder than the symptoms on the lower dose at the beginning of the study,” he adds.

However, “This is not a quick fix, and it doesn’t mean people with peanut allergy will be able to eat peanuts whenever they want,” notes another one of the study’s authors, Dr. Jay Lieberman, who is vice chair of the ACAAI Food Allergy Committee.

“But,” he says, “it is definitely a breakthrough.” He also expresses the hope that very soon, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will review the treatment, and that it may be more widely available “in the second half of 2019.”

“If that happens,” Dr. Lieberman adds, “people who receive and are able to tolerate this treatment should be protected from accidental exposures.”

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Medical News Today: How do you make mosquito bites go away faster?

Mosquito bites often result in a small bump that can be itchy and uncomfortable. Home remedies include applying ice, honey, or aloe vera to reduce irritation. Methods of prevention include using mosquito repellent and covering exposed skin.

In some parts of the world, mosquitoes can carry diseases. In the United States, it is unlikely that a mosquito bite will cause a disease. However, more disease-carrying mosquitoes are spreading to the U.S. due to factors, such as climate change. This means that the climate in some areas of the U.S. has become a suitable environment for some mosquitoes to live.

Female mosquitoes bite animals and humans to drink tiny amounts of their blood, which they need to produce their eggs. The itch that develops occurs because mosquitoes leave a small amount of saliva behind, and a person’s immune system responds by triggering inflammation in the area. This often causes an itchy, uncomfortable bump to develop.

Home remedies can help reduce the itchiness and discomfort of a mosquito bite. In this article, we examine six treatments that could bring quick relief.

1. Ice

Cold temperatures slow the rate of inflammation.

Applying an ice pack to the area as soon after a bite as possible will reduce inflammation, itching, and discomfort. Avoid putting ice directly on the skin, wrap it in a cloth or towel first.

2. Antihistamines

Person putting antihistamine cream on a bite on ankle
Applying a topical antihistamine to a bite may help treat itching.

One study suggested that some antihistamines might be an effective treatment for mosquito bites.

Histamine is a chemical that the body releases as part of the inflammatory response to a mosquito bite.

It is histamine that causes itching, and antihistamines help to prevent histamine from taking effect.

People can take antihistamines in pill form, but other options include topical creams that a person can apply directly to the bite.

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3. Hydrocortisone

Hydrocortisone cream is a topical medication that can reduce inflammation and itching. Hydrocortisone is available over the counter and on prescription but may not be suitable for everyone. Children, pregnant women, or those with skin infections should not use hydrocortisone cream.

People should use these creams in moderation and only over short periods, or for as long as a doctor recommends in the case of prescription hydrocortisone.

4. Concentrated heat

Concentrated forms of heat might be useful for treating mosquito bites. One study from 2011 in Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology looked at the effectiveness of a device that emits concentrated heat. In most cases, the device was able to reduce the discomfort resulting from insect bites within 10 minutes of its application.

The study took place at beaches and bathing lakes in Germany. It is important to note, however, that of the 146 people in the study, only 33 had mosquito bites, with the majority having wasp stings.

5. Aloe vera

There is some evidence that aloe vera can treat skin conditions, including psoriasis. It has a wide range of potential uses and people usually apply the gel to the skin to relieve burns, frostbite, and cold sores.

Some research on rats showed that Aloe littoralis, which is a close relative to aloe vera, might have anti-inflammatory and wound-healing properties. The scientists concluded that A. littoralis might help reduce the inflammation from mosquito bites and applying a gel may soothe the area, too.

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6. Honey

Honey may have properties that make it useful for healing wounds. Applying honey to a bite may help reduce inflammation and prevent infection, and in a similar way to aloe, applying it to the skin may also help soothe the area.

When to see a doctor

A person should see a doctor if bites last longer than a week, or show signs of infection.
A person should see a doctor if a bite lasts longer than a week or shows signs of infection.

Sometimes, mosquito bites and other insect stings can cause allergic reactions. This can lead to an anaphylactic shock in extreme cases.

Anyone who experiences any of the following symptoms will require immediate medical attention:

  • breathing problems
  • hives or swelling
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • dizziness

It is also possible for mosquito bites to cause an infection. If the bite lasts longer than a week or causes significant discomfort, consult a doctor.

Prevention and takeaway

Although it is difficult to avoid mosquito bites completely, people can reduce their chances of being bitten by:

  • using insect repellent
  • covering exposed skin as much as possible
  • using mosquito nets at night
  • installing mosquito screens on windows and doors
  • being aware of visiting places with a high density of mosquitoes or other insects

Avoiding all mosquito bites can be difficult. However, home remedies can help reduce itchiness or irritation and provide comfort until a bite fully heals.

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Medical News Today: How do you get COPD?

COPD is a progressive disease. It is not contagious. The causes include smoking, lung irritants, and genetics. Treatment depends on the severity of the condition, and some lifestyle changes may help relieve symptoms.

COPD is a disease that affects the lungs. It includes several progressive lung diseases all relating to breathlessness:

Smoking is the leading cause of COPD. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), up to 9 out of 10 COPD-related deaths are caused by smoking.

Causes of COPD

While it is not contagious, there are direct causes of COPD, including some that people can avoid:


Business woman smoking cigarette
Smoking significantly increases a person’s risk of developing COPD.

Inhaling smoke leads to inflammation in the bronchi, which are tubes that connect the windpipe to the lungs. This inflammation destroys the cilia (minute hairs that line the bronchi).

These hairs are essential for preventing infection as they trap germs, dust, and other particles before they reach the lungs. If cilia are missing or damaged, a person is at a higher risk of developing infections in the lungs.

Lung irritants

While smoking or being a former smoker are the main reasons for developing COPD, some people also develop it as the result of exposure to other lung irritants including:

  • second-hand smoke
  • workplace dust or other pollutants
  • smoke from burning fuel for cooking or heating
  • fumes
  • air pollution
  • specific chemicals
  • frequent chest or lung infections as a child


Some people have a rare genetic version of COPD called alpha-1-deficiency-related emphysema.

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What are the main symptoms of COPD?

View of man coughing
A persistent cough is a potential symptom of COPD.

People with COPD experience a gradual loss of lung function and an increase in breathlessness.

However, they may not notice this slow decrease in lung function or recognize COPD symptoms until the disease has reached a severe stage.

COPD ranges in severity from mild to very severe.

People with mild COPD may experience the following symptoms:

  • a cough, sometimes known as a “smoker’s cough”
  • phlegm, mucus in the throat
  • slight breathing limitations

In moderate COPD people may experience:

  • more phlegm or mucus
  • a cough
  • increased difficulty breathing

People with severe COPD often have difficulty carrying out day-to-day activities. One study looking at the frequency of common symptoms in people with severe COPD found the following:

  • 72.5 percent had dyspnea, shortness of breath
  • 63.6 percent had mucus or phlegm
  • 58.7 percent had a cough
  • 41.7 percent had wheezing
  • 28.3 percent had tightness in the chest

Some people with very severe COPD have trouble getting enough oxygen all the time. They may require oxygen therapy, which involves getting supplemental oxygen from an oxygen tank.

Risk factors to avoid

  1. Smoking: Smoking is the leading risk factor for COPD and may cause other health issues. COPD is not reversible, but quitting smoking at any stage can help to reduce symptoms, slow progression, and improve quality of life.
  2. Lung irritants: Staying away from pollution, smoke, and chemicals where possible can help lessen symptoms.
  3. Viruses and colds: As people with COPD have a weaker resistance to infections, taking steps to remain healthy, such as practicing regular hand-washing and getting enough sleep, may help prevent infections from viruses and bacteria. The NHLBI recommend getting a flu shot each year.

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Treatments for COPD

Doctors will suggest different treatment plans according to the stage of a person’s COPD, but they may recommend the following:

Lifestyle changes

The first course of action for anyone with COPD is to limit exposure to anything that might make the disease worse, such as smoke and other airborne irritants.


Medication being tipped out of pot into palm
A doctor may recommend antibiotics to help prevent infection.

There are a variety of medications that can treat COPD symptoms. COPD medication cannot reverse the damage to the lungs and air tubes but can help with symptoms.

Common medications include:

  • bronchodilators, which relax the muscles in the lungs making it easier to breathe
  • anti-inflammatories, including corticosteroids or steroids, can reduce swelling, inflammation, and mucus
  • antibiotics or vaccinations, which help to manage bacterial and viral infections

Lung rehabilitation

Lung rehabilitation centers around exercises and education to help people with COPD be more active. Doctors typically offer this treatment to people who have moderate to severe COPD that interferes with daily activities. Doctors sometimes call it pulmonary rehabilitation.

Oxygen use

Supplemental oxygen may be beneficial in some cases. Doctors prescribe oxygen to those who experience severe breathlessness.

Lung surgery

In rare cases, doctors might recommend surgery to help treat people who have very severe COPD.

When to see a doctor

Anyone who experiences any symptoms of COPD should see a doctor immediately. Getting a diagnosis for COPD means that a doctor can recommend a suitable treatment to slow the progression of the disease.

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COPD is not contagious.

Treating COPD starts with reducing exposure to lung irritants. Quitting smoking and avoiding exposure to smoke and other irritants help the lungs stay healthy. This reduces symptoms and can likely improve a person’s quality of life.

Talking to a doctor about COPD is a good idea for anyone who has symptoms.

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Medical News Today: Blood pressure medications: Everything you need to know

Medications for high blood pressure are vital for helping to prevent a range of complications, including heart disease and stroke.

This article outlines the various blood pressure medications along with their associated side effects and risks.


blood pressure medication
Blood pressure medications may cause different side effects.

Excess salt can cause a buildup of fluid within the blood vessels, which raises blood pressure. Diuretics help the body eliminate excess salt and water by increasing urine output.

Possible side effects of diuretics include:

  • weakness
  • dizziness or light-headedness
  • heightened sensitivity to sunlight
  • rashes
  • muscle cramps
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • low blood pressure
  • electrolyte imbalances

People taking diuretics may also experience a decreased libido, though this is less common.

Some medications can interact with diuretics, so a person should speak to a doctor about all of the drugs they are taking. Drugs that may interact with diuretics include:

Diuretics may not be suitable for people who tend to become dehydrated quickly. They can also make the following conditions worse:


Beta-blockers reduce blood pressure by blocking the effects of certain stress hormones, such as epinephrine.

Blocking these hormones slows down the nerve impulses traveling through the heart. As a result, the heart rate slows down and pumps blood less forcefully around the body.

Some side effects of beta-blockers may include:

  • tiredness or fatigue
  • weakness or dizziness
  • cold hands and feet
  • dry mouth, eyes, and skin

Less common side effects include:

  • slow heartbeat
  • wheezing or difficulty breathing
  • swelling of the hands or feet
  • rash or itchy skin
  • insomnia
  • depression
  • low blood pressure

Some drugs and medications can change the effectiveness of beta-blockers. These include:

  • alcohol
  • caffeine
  • other blood pressure medications
  • cough and cold medications, including antihistamines and decongestants
  • insulin and some oral medications for diabetes
  • allergy shots
  • medicines to treat asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • some antidepressants

Beta-blockers may not be suitable for people with the following conditions or problems:

ACE inhibitors

woman outdoors with flu or cold infection coughing
A side effect of ACE inhibitors is a dry cough.

ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme) is an enzyme that causes the body’s blood vessels to narrow, which leads to an increase in a person’s blood pressure.

ACE inhibitors lower blood pressure by blocking ACE, thereby relaxing the blood vessels and allowing blood to flow more freely.

A dry cough is the most common side effect of ACE inhibitors.

Less common side effects include:

  • loss of taste
  • a metallic taste in the mouth
  • loss of appetite
  • an upset stomach
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • headaches
  • tiredness and fatigue
  • feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • skin that is sensitive to sunlight
  • low blood pressure

Medications that may interact with ACE inhibitors include:

  • diuretics
  • other blood pressure medications
  • medications and supplements containing potassium

People who have any of the following medical conditions should speak to a doctor before taking ACE inhibitors:

  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • lupus
  • kidney disease
  • allergies to other medications

ACE inhibitors may also be unsuitable for people who have had a heart attack, and those who have received a kidney transplant.

Angiotensin II receptor blockers

Angiotensin II is an enzyme that narrows the blood vessels. Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) block the enzyme’s path to specific receptors, which allows the blood vessels to remain open.

Headaches and dizziness are the most common side effects of ARBs. Less common side effects include:

The following medications can increase or decrease the effect of ARBs:

  • diuretics
  • medications and supplements containing potassium
  • other blood pressure medications
  • some heart medications
  • over the counter medicines for allergies, colds, and flu

ARBs may not be suitable for people who have previously had a bad reaction to ACE inhibitors. They may also not be suitable for people with the following conditions:

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Calcium channel blockers

Calcium causes the smooth muscles of the heart and arteries to contract more strongly.

Calcium channel blockers slow the entry of calcium into these muscles, which reduces the strength of the contractions and lowers the blood pressure.

Common side effects of calcium channel blockers include:

  • tiredness
  • flushing
  • swollen feet or ankles

Less common side effects include:

  • palpitations
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • shortness of breath
  • upset stomach
  • constipation
  • rash or itchy skin

Drinking grapefruit juice while taking some calcium channel blockers can increase the risk of side effects.

Calcium channel blockers may interact with the following medications and supplements:

  • diuretics
  • other blood pressure medications
  • some heart medications, such as antiarrhythmics and digitalis
  • some eye medications

People taking more than 60 milligrams per day of some calcium channel blockers may experience low blood sugar levels.

Also, calcium channel blockers may not be suitable for people with the following conditions:

  • very low blood pressure
  • heart failure or other conditions affecting the heart or blood vessels
  • kidney or liver disease
  • depression


man with a headache sat on his sofa
Headaches are a possible side effect of alpha-blockers.

Certain hormones in the body, such as norepinephrine, can bind to chemical receptors called alpha-receptors. When this happens, the blood vessels narrow and the heart pumps blood faster, causing a rise in blood pressure.

Alpha-blockers reduce blood pressure by preventing norepinephrine from binding to alpha-receptors. This relaxes the blood vessels, which allows blood to flow more freely.

Possible side effects of alpha-blockers include:

  • rapid heart rate
  • a drop in blood pressure when standing up
  • dizziness
  • headaches
  • nausea
  • feeling tired, weak, or lethargic
  • disturbed sleep
  • skin rash or itchiness
  • loss of bladder control in women
  • erectile dysfunction in men

Other substances that lower blood pressure may cause a dangerous drop in blood pressure when taken alongside alpha-blockers. These substances include:

  • alcohol
  • medications containing benzodiazepine or barbiturates
  • other blood pressure medications

Alpha-blockers may make the following medical conditions worse:

Alpha-2 receptor agonists

Similar to alpha-blockers, these drugs lower blood pressure by preventing the release of norepinephrine.

Alpha-2 receptor agonists may cause the following side effects:

  • tiredness
  • feeling faint or dizzy after standing up
  • slow heart rate
  • anxiety
  • a headache
  • dry mouth
  • nausea
  • upset stomach
  • constipation
  • fluid retention
  • erectile dysfunction

Alpha-2 receptor agonists may react with some anesthetics and other blood pressure medications.

Combined alpha- and beta-blockers

A doctor may prescribe a drug that has both alpha- and beta-blocker activity. The alpha-blocker activity decreases the narrowing of blood vessels, while the beta-blocker activity slows the heart rate, causing it to pump blood less forcefully.

Doctors usually give combined alpha- and beta-blockers in an intravenous (IV) drip to people experiencing a hypertensive crisis. This is when blood pressure rises rapidly to a dangerously high level.

Doctors may also prescribe combined alpha- and beta-blockers for people who are at high risk of heart failure.

People may experience the side effects of both alpha- and beta-blockers.

Some types of combined alpha- and beta-blockers may interact with the following medications:

  • insulin
  • digoxin
  • some general anesthetics

They may also not be suitable for people with the following conditions:

  • asthma
  • severe bradycardia (slow heart rate)
  • liver disease
  • decompensated heart failure
  • diabetes
  • allergies to other medications
  • pheochromocytoma

Central agonists

Central agonists lower blood pressure by preventing the brain from sending signals to the nervous system to increase heart rate and constrict blood vessels.

As a result, the heart pumps blood less forcefully, and blood vessels remain open.

Central agonists can cause the following side effects:

  • feeling faint or weak when standing
  • slow heart rate
  • drowsiness or lethargy
  • anemia
  • dizziness
  • headaches
  • sleep disturbances
  • fever
  • dry mouth
  • an upset stomach or nausea
  • constipation
  • swollen legs or feet

The following side effects may also occur, but are less common:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • erectile dysfunction

The following substances can cause a person’s blood pressure to drop too low when combined with central antagonists:

  • alcohol
  • sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medications containing benzodiazepines and barbiturates

Central agonists may make the symptoms of the following medical conditions worse:

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Peripheral adrenergic inhibitors

doctor speaking with patient
If another blood pressure medication is ineffective, a doctor may prescribe PAIs.

Peripheral adrenergic inhibitors (PAIs) block the neurotransmitters in the brain that cause blood vessels to constrict.

Blocking these receptors allows the blood vessels to stay relaxed and open, lowering a person’s blood pressure.

Doctors usually prescribe PAIs only if other blood pressure medications have been ineffective.

There are several types of PAI, and the side effects differ between types. Possible side effects include:

  • nasal congestion
  • dry mouth
  • a headache
  • heartburn
  • diarrhea
  • lightheadedness, dizziness, or weakness when standing
  • fainting
  • erectile dysfunction

Some PAIs may interact with the following substances:

  • alcohol
  • asthma medications
  • diuretics
  • other blood pressure medications

Additionally, people who are taking tricyclic antidepressants and intend to come off these medications should speak to a doctor. Stopping these medications too quickly while taking certain PAIs can cause a dangerous drop in blood pressure.

Some types of PAIs may not be suitable for people with certain medical conditions, including:

  • congestive heart failure
  • diseases of the vascular system
  • asthma
  • peptic ulcers
  • fluid retention
  • pheochromocytoma
  • depression
  • ulcerative colitis

Direct-acting vasodilators

Vasodilators, or blood vessel dilators, relax and widen the walls of the blood vessels, allowing blood to flow through them more easily. Direct-acting vasodilators specifically target the arteries.

The two main types of direct-acting vasodilator are hydralazine hydrochloride and minoxidil.

Minoxidil is the more potent of the two drugs. Doctors usually prescribe it to people with persistent and severe high blood pressure.

Hydralazine hydrochloride may cause the following side effects, which usually subside within a few weeks of beginning treatment:

  • heart palpitations
  • headaches
  • swelling around the eyes
  • joint pain

Possible side effects of minoxidil include:

  • weight gain due to fluid retention
  • excessive hair growth, in rare cases

The following drugs may enhance the effects of vasodilators:

  • diuretics and other blood pressure medications
  • medications for erectile dysfunction, such as sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), or vardenafil (Levitra)

Taking erectile dysfunction medications in combination with a vasodilator can cause a life-threatening drop in blood pressure.

Some types of vasodilators may not be suitable for people with the following conditions:

Risks during pregnancy

Some blood pressure medications are not safe to take during pregnancy due to the risk to the pregnant woman or unborn child. Some medications may be suitable during specific trimesters, while others pose risks throughout pregnancy.

Women who are pregnant or planning on getting pregnant should talk to their doctor about treatment options for high blood pressure.


There are many types of blood pressure medications. Which one a doctor prescribes will depend on the underlying cause of a person’s high blood pressure, as well as their existing conditions and other regular medications.

Anyone experiencing long-term or intolerable side effects from a blood pressure medication should speak to a doctor, who may be able to prescribe an alternative.

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