Medical News Today: Diabetes: Surprising new role of fat revealed

A new study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, challenges the current understanding of what causes diabetes. The findings may lead to new therapies.

fat cell
New research finds that the PKCɛ enzyme affects the health of fat cells, shown here.

More than two decades ago, researchers suggested that the action of an enzyme called protein kinase C epsilon (PKCɛ) in the liver may cause diabetes. This enzyme, the researchers posited, inhibits the activity of insulin by acting on insulin receptors.

Since then, other studies have shown that knocking out the PKCɛ gene in mice protected the rodents from glucose intolerance and insulin resistance when they ate a high-fat diet.

However, the precise location where this enzyme activated remained unclear. Now, a new study — led by Carsten Schmitz-Peiffer, an associate professor at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Darlinghurst, Australia — suggests that the liver is not responsible for activating the enzyme and spreading its harmful effects. Instead, fat tissue throughout the body is the culprit.

Obesity is a known risk factor for diabetes, and the current study adds to the mounting research that unravels the connection between body fat and the risk of developing the metabolic condition.

Additionally, the new study may lead to novel strategies of disrupting the activity of PKCɛ, ultimately leading to new treatments.

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‘Acting from fat tissue to worsen’ diabetes

Schmitz-Peiffer and colleagues fed mice a high-fat diet, thus inducing symptoms of type 2 diabetes, such as glucose intolerance and insulin resistance, in the animals. Insulin resistance occurs when the liver no longer reacts to insulin, the hormone secreted by the pancreas.

Then, the researchers knocked out the gene responsible for PKCɛ in the liver, or the gene responsible for PKCɛ in the entire adipose tissue of the mice, and compared the results.

Schmitz-Peiffer reports on the findings, saying: “The big surprise was that when we removed PKCε production specifically in the liver — the mice were not protected.”

“For over a decade,” continues the lead author, “it’s been assumed that PKCε is acting directly in the liver — by that logic, these mice should have been protected against diabetes.”

“We were so surprised by this, that we thought we had developed our mice incorrectly. We confirmed the removal and tested it in several different ways, but they still become glucose intolerant when given a [high-fat diet].”

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“What we found,” explains Schmitz-Peiffer, “is that if we removed PKCε production solely from fat tissue, the mice were protected from becoming glucose intolerant, similar to when we removed PKCε from the entire animal.”

So PKCε isn’t progressing diabetes from the liver, but in fact, it is acting from fat tissue to worsen the disease.”

Carsten Schmitz-Peiffer

How PKCɛ affects fat cells

To determine the precise way in which PKCε affects fat tissue, the researchers examined how the enzyme affected the shape and size of the fat cells.

“Under the microscope, the fat cells looked very different,” reports Schmitz-Peiffer. “In [high-fat diet]-fed mice with PKCε removed from the fat tissue, we saw mostly small, healthy fat cells.”

“And in [high-fat diet]-fed mice with PKCε intact — which are glucose intolerant — we saw more of the unhealthy, engorged fat cells, that tend to have less access to oxygen and become inflamed.”

This suggests to the researchers that adipose tissue may have a much more far-reaching effect on metabolic health than previously believed.

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“We know that fat tissue is a lot more than just an inert mass for storing fat,” says Schmitz-Peiffer.
“[I]t’s a very dynamic organ, it sends many messages and releases factors that communicate with the rest of the body, including the liver.”

“If PKCε is changing the nature of fat and affecting the overall health of fat cells, it’s changing the types of messages it sends and factors it releases — which could be acting on the liver and possibly other organs to interfere with glucose metabolism.”

The researchers plan to develop a drug which, when taken orally, might be able to interfere with PKCε.

These results give us an even better idea about how to target PKCε to develop the most effective treatments possible. And therapeutically targeting PKCε would be a new possible approach for diabetes treatment.”

Carsten Schmitz-Peiffer

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Medical News Today: Keto diet may protect against cognitive decline

Ketogenic, or keto, diets are low-carb and fat-rich, and many people who follow such regimens do it to shed excess weight. However, a keto diet may bring other benefits, too. In particular, it may help keep the brain healthy and young, as new research in mice seems to suggest.
keto spelt out with food
Can a keto diet protect brain health, and if so, how?

A keto diet is high in fat, low in carbohydrates, and has an adequate amount of protein.

This kind of diet is meant to trigger ketosis, which is a metabolic process through which the body breaks down fat and protein and transforms them into energy, leading to weight loss.

Besides triggering weight loss, a keto diet may also bring other health benefits, as studies have recently suggested. For instance, one such study argued that keto diets could help reduce the side effects of certain cancer therapies.

Now, researchers from the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, KY, are assessing evidence suggesting that keto diets may also help stave off cognitive decline.

The scientists conducted two studies, both in mice. The findings indicate that keto-type diets can protect neurovascular function, as well as metabolic function, in general, which may help the animals maintain healthy cognitive function.

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Keto diet clears out beta-amyloid

The first study, whose results appear in the journal Scientific Reports, looked at the effects of a keto diet on neurovascular function, which includes sensory and motor functions, as well as circulation.

The team worked with two groups of nine mice each, all of which were aged 12-14 weeks. The animals received either a ketogenic diet or a regular diet for 16 weeks.

After this period, the scientists found that the mice that had followed the keto regimen had not only improved blood flow to the brain, but also better bacterial balance in the gut, as well as lower blood glucose (sugar), and lower body weight.

Moreover, and most importantly, the keto diet also seemed to boost the clearance of beta-amyloid protein in the brain — the “building blocks” that, in Alzheimer’s, stick together, forming toxic plaques which interfere with neuronal signaling.

“Neurovascular integrity, including cerebral blood flow and blood-brain barrier function, plays a major role in cognitive ability,” notes study author Ai-Ling Lin.

“Recent science has suggested that neurovascular integrity might be regulated by the bacteria in the gut,” she adds, “so we set out to see whether the ketogenic diet enhanced brain vascular function and reduced neurodegeneration risk in young healthy mice.”

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‘Using diet to mitigate risk’ of dementia

“While diet modifications, the ketogenic diet, in particular, has demonstrated effectiveness in treating certain diseases, we chose to test healthy young mice, using diet as a potential preventative measure,” she further explains.

We were delighted to see that we might indeed be able to use diet to mitigate risk for Alzheimer’s disease.”

Although it is unclear exactly which mechanisms are set in motion by the keto diet in this context, Lin speculates that the protective effects for the brain may be due the fact that this regimen essentially inhibits a nutrient sensor known as mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR).

Previous research has suggested that mTOR signaling has an important impact on aging processes and an individual’s lifespan.

Lin further notes that it is also possible to target mTOR through caloric restriction — a dietary regimen which, as the name suggests, restricts the intake of calories — or by administering the enzyme rapamycin.

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‘Tremendous implications for clinical trials’

In the second study — whose findings they published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience — the researchers scanned the brains of mice who received one of three interventions: a dose of rapamycin, exposure to the keto diet, or simple caloric restriction.

In this case, the researchers worked with both young and aging animals to understand the effects of these interventions on cognitive functioning.

“Our earlier work already demonstrated the positive effect rapamycin and caloric restriction had on neurovascular function,” notes Lin, adding that: “We speculated that neuroimaging might allow us to see those changes in the living brain.”

The researchers’ data indicated that caloric restriction could improve neurovascular and metabolic functioning in aging mice, thus protecting their brain health.

Lin notes that in this mouse model neurovascular and metabolic function appears to work better than in younger mice whose diets were not restricted.

“Ai-Ling’s lab was the first to use neuroimaging to see these changes in a living brain, and the potential link to changes in the gut microbiome,” notes Linda Van Eldik, Director of the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging.

“Her work has tremendous implications for future clinical trials of neurological disorders in aging populations,” says Van Eldik.

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Medical News Today: What can cause facial swelling?

Facial swelling is a common symptom with a range of possible causes, including injuries, allergic reactions, and infections. Rarely, facial swelling can be a sign of anaphylaxis, which is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment.

In this article, we look at common causes of swelling of the face and how to treat them. We also cover when to see a doctor and prevention tips.

Possible causes of face swelling

There are many potential causes of facial swelling. These include:


Doctor inspecting womans face
A doctor should assess any swelling in the face.

Actinomycosis is a rare and potentially severe long-term bacterial infection that causes swelling and abscesses in the soft tissues of the body. This condition typically affects a person’s mouth, nose, throat, stomach, and intestines.

Other symptoms of actinomycosis include:

  • chest pain
  • coughing
  • fever
  • lumps on the face
  • skin sores
  • weight loss

Doctors usually prescribe a high dose of the antibiotic penicillin to treat people with actinomycosis. Other antibiotics are available for those with a penicillin allergy. It may take many months of treatment to cure the infection, but it is not contagious.

Allergic conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis is a type of eye inflammation that occurs when a person experiences an allergic reaction. Triggers of allergic conjunctivitis are called allergens, and they can include:

  • dust
  • mold spores
  • pet dander
  • pollen

This condition causes red, itchy, watery, and burning eyes. The skin around the eyes may appear swollen or puffy, especially upon waking.

People can prevent allergic conjunctivitis by avoiding exposure to the allergen. To treat it, they can apply a cold compress to areas of inflammation or take medications, such as antihistamines and anti-inflammatory or steroid eye drops. It is essential not to rub the eyes as this can worsen the symptoms.


Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction to an allergen. It is a medical emergency and can be fatal. Symptoms tend to appear soon after exposure to the allergen and can quickly get worse. They may include:

  • breathing difficulties
  • diarrhea
  • facial swelling
  • hives, which is a red, itchy, and bumpy rash
  • itching
  • loss of consciousness
  • nausea and vomiting
  • rapid heart rate
  • a sudden drop in blood pressure

It is vital to call 911 if someone displays signs of anaphylaxis. If the person is carrying an epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen) and is unable to administer it themselves, use it on them as the packaging directs.

People who experience anaphylaxis for the first time are at risk of future reactions. They should avoid exposure to the allergen and carry self-injectable epinephrine at all times.


Angioedema is swelling that occurs deep within the skin and results from an allergic reaction to food, medication, or another allergen, such as an insect bite or sting. Along with facial swelling, other symptoms of angioedema may include:

  • hives
  • itching
  • rash
  • stomach cramps

Mild angioedema does not always require treatment, although people should continue to avoid the allergen responsible for their symptoms. Those with moderate-to-severe symptoms may need epinephrine, antihistamines, and other medications.

Home remedies to alleviate discomfort include using cold compresses and wearing loose clothing.

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Broken nose

Antibiotics can help treat cellulitis.
Antibiotics can help treat cellulitis.

Injury to the face can cause the bone in the nose to break. The trauma can also cause facial swelling and other symptoms, such as:

  • a crooked nose
  • bruising
  • nosebleed
  • pain

Broken noses do not always require medical treatment, but a person should still see their doctor if they have experienced a facial injury. Treatment for a broken nose typically consists of pain relievers, splinting, and cold compresses. Some people may require surgery.


Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the skin that causes areas of redness and swelling that feel hot to the touch. It also tends to be painful. Without treatment, cellulitis may be life-threatening.

Signs of severe infection include:

  • fever
  • chills
  • streaks of red from the rash

Doctors usually prescribe oral antibiotics to treat cellulitis, which a person will need to take for a minimum of 5 days. Resting and taking pain-relieving medications can help reduce discomfort.

Cushing’s syndrome

Cushing’s syndrome is a disorder that occurs when the body makes too much of the hormone cortisol. People with Cushing’s syndrome tend to have a puffy, round face. They may also have skin that bruises easily and excess or thick body hair.

Taking high doses of glucocorticoids is a common cause of Cushing’s syndrome.

Some tumors may also cause the body to make too much cortisol. However, it is rare for the condition to be endogenous, meaning that it results from a problem within the body.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the endogenous form of the condition affects 40 to 70 people out of every million.

Treatment depends on the underlying cause. Options include cortisol-reducing medicines, surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Drug allergy

An allergic reaction to specific medications may be a medical emergency. Along with face swelling, drug allergies can cause:

  • breathing difficulties
  • fever
  • hives
  • an itchy, red rash
  • rapid heartbeat
  • stomach upset

It is important that people inform their doctors, dentists, and pharmacists if they have a known drug allergy and avoid using that medication. A healthcare professional can recommend alternative options.

Common causes of drug allergies can include:

  • certain antibiotics, such as penicillin
  • anticonvulsants
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen
  • chemotherapy drugs

It may also be necessary for people with drug allergies to wear a medical bracelet to alert others in an emergency situation.

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Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, is a condition in which the thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones. Thyroid hormones help the body regulate its energy use.

A puffy, swollen face is one of the symptoms of hypothyroidism. Other symptoms include:

People who are experiencing symptoms of an underactive thyroid should see their doctor for a diagnosis. According to the American Thyroid Association, up to 60 percent of people with thyroid disease are unaware that they have this condition.

There is no cure for hypothyroidism, but medications and lifestyle changes can help people manage their symptoms.


Preeclampsia is a condition that occurs in pregnancy and requires urgent medical treatment. The early signs include elevated blood pressure and a high level of protein in the urine. Complications include dangerously high blood pressure, kidney and liver damage, and seizures.

Symptoms include:

  • abdominal pain
  • a persistent headache
  • sudden weight gain
  • swelling of the face and hands
  • vision changes

Doctors may recommend early delivery of the baby to resolve preeclampsia. However, this will depend on the stage of the pregnancy and the severity of the condition.

If the condition develops earlier than 37 weeks into the pregnancy, a doctor may instead recommend medical monitoring and medications to lower blood pressure and prevent seizures.


Sinusitis is a common condition that occurs when there is inflammation of the nasal passages and sinuses. This condition can result from allergies or bacterial or viral infections.

Sinusitis can cause swelling and tenderness around the nose and eyes, along with:

  • a cough
  • fatigue
  • fever
  • a headache
  • a runny or stuffy nose
  • a sore throat

Home remedies for congestion include staying hydrated, applying warm compresses, and using steam therapy. Over-the-counter (OTC) decongestants may ease congestion while pain relievers can alleviate headache symptoms.

If the symptoms do not improve after a few weeks, this may suggest that a person has a bacterial infection that requires antibiotic treatment.

Tooth infection

An abscess or infection in a tooth or the gums can cause swelling around the jawline. Infection also causes pain and tenderness in the affected area.

A dentist will usually prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection, and they may perform a root canal procedure to remove the nerve and damaged pulp from the affected tooth. To reduce discomfort at home, a person can try saltwater mouth rinses and OTC pain relievers.

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Superior vena cava syndrome

Superior vena cava (SVC) syndrome is a serious condition that can cause swelling and discoloration in the face and neck.

The superior vena cava is a large vein that carries blood from the head, neck, and upper chest back to the heart. SVC syndrome occurs when this vein becomes obstructed.

The cause of this obstruction is often a tumor pressing against the vein, which can occur in someone with lung or breast cancer. However, there are other possible causes, including tuberculosis and a swollen thyroid.

Symptoms of SVC syndrome can develop gradually over time and may also include:

  • shortness of breath
  • coughing
  • swallowing difficulties
  • headaches
  • dizziness

People with symptoms of SVC syndrome should see a doctor immediately.


When to see a doctor

See a doctor if facial swelling persists for more than a few days, or if it occurs alongside symptoms such as pain, redness, or itching.

Call 911 or seek immediate medical assistance if a person displays signs of anaphylaxis, or if they come into contact with a known allergen or venomous insect.

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can be fatal. If the person is carrying an epinephrine autoinjector and is unable to administer it themselves, use it on them as the packaging directs.

Seek immediate medical assistance if a person displays symptoms of SVC syndrome. Be particularly aware of these symptoms if the person has a cancer diagnosis.

Tips for prevention

It is difficult to prevent all cases of face swelling, but doing the following can help:

  • avoiding known allergens, including problematic foods and medications
  • practicing good oral hygiene by brushing and flossing the teeth regularly to reduce the risk of tooth infection
  • eating a healthful diet and reducing stress to boost immunity, which may help prevent some of the infections that cause facial swelling


There are many possible causes of facial swelling, including injuries, infections, and allergic reactions. While some causes are mild and easy to treat, others can be very serious and may require immediate medical attention.

See a doctor for facial swelling that lasts for more than a few days or occurs alongside other symptoms. Seek urgent medical attention for severe symptoms, such as breathing difficulties, low pulse, confusion, or slurred speech. These symptoms may indicate anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that can be fatal.

If these types of symptoms occur in someone with a known cancer diagnosis, it is also essential to seek medical attention immediately.

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Medical News Today: What tests are used to diagnose COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD is the medical name for a group of long-term lung conditions. Doctors use a number of tests to diagnose people with COPD.

Symptoms of COPD, such as wheezing, shortness of breath, and fatigue, can be similar to the signs of other lung conditions.

COPD often gets progressively worse over time. Getting an accurate and early diagnosis allows doctors to develop an effective treatment plan that can help slow the progression of a person’s disease.

Doctors begin diagnosing COPD by carrying out a physical exam and reviewing a person’s medical history. They will usually then order one or more tests to help them confirm a diagnosis.

Common tests doctors use to diagnose people with COPD include:

Pulmonary function tests

copd tests spirometry
Spirometry is a type of pulmonary function test and helps determine how well a person’s lungs are functioning.

Doctors consider pulmonary function tests to be one of the best diagnostic tools for diagnosing COPD. Spirometry is one of the main pulmonary function tests.

Spirometry helps determine how well a person’s lungs are functioning. The test measures the amount of air they can breathe in, and how much and how fast they can expel the air back out of their lungs.

Spirometry can also help a doctor determine if a person has a restrictive or obstructive lung disease.

People with restrictive lung disease have difficulty completely expanding their lungs when they inhale.

Individuals with obstructive lung disease, such as COPD, have trouble getting air completely out of their lungs when they exhale.

For the spirometry test:

  1. The person wears a clip on their nose to prevent breathing in or out through this.
  2. The individual puts their lips around a tube-like device that is attached to the spirometry machine.
  3. When ready, the technician will instruct the person to take a deep breath and then exhale, as quickly and forcefully as possible, until their lungs are empty.
  4. Usually, a person repeats this process three times, and the technician records the highest value of the test for the final results.

Sometimes, the doctor or technician will ask the person to inhale a bronchodilator before doing the test again.

A bronchodilator is a medication that relaxes the muscles of the airways and opens them up. This allows the doctor to determine if the bronchodilator affects how much air a person can get in and out of their lungs.

Although spirometry is the most common pulmonary function test, a doctor may recommend other types, such as lung diffusion capacity or body plethysmography.

What do the results mean?

The amount of air a person exhales is called the forced vital capacity (FVC). The percentage of air they exhale during the first second is called the forced expiratory volume (FEV1).

Doctors base the diagnosis of COPD on the ratio between FEV1 and FVC. They compare FEV1 and FVC measurements with a predicted value that they base on a person’s age, height, and weight.

An FEV1 and FVC ratio of less than 70 percent of the predicted value indicates that a person may have COPD.

Doctors can also use the FEV1 measurement to help determine the severity of COPD. According to a 2017 report from the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease, classification of COPD based on FEV1 is as follows:

  • FEV1 above 80 percent is mild
  • FEV1 of 50 to 79 percent is moderate
  • FEV1 of 30 to 49 percent is severe
  • FEV1 of 29 percent or less is very severe

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Arterial blood gas

copd tests blood
An arterial blood gas test allows doctors to measure oxygen levels in the blood.

An arterial blood gas test is a blood test that doctors use to measure:

  • oxygen levels in the blood
  • carbon dioxide levels in the blood
  • pH, or the acidity, of the blood
  • bicarbonate levels in the blood

During this test, a healthcare professional will draw a small sample of blood from the person’s artery. Typically, this will be the radial artery, which is on the inside of the wrist.

The doctor or nurse will then use a machine to analyze the blood sample.

What do the results mean?

The results of a blood gas test let the doctor know how efficiently a person is getting oxygen into their lungs and carbon dioxide out.

People with COPD often have problems getting all the air out of their lungs due to damage to the air sacs. When air becomes trapped, carbon dioxide levels can rise.

Lung damage can also impact oxygen levels, which may be lower than normal in someone with COPD. Different levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood can also affect pH and bicarbonate levels.

A doctor will not make a diagnosis of COPD based on arterial blood gas alone, but the results can be helpful in reaching a diagnosis.

Alpha-1 antitrypsin (ATT) deficiency screening

The most common cause of COPD is cigarette smoking.

Rarely, COPD can develop as a result of AAT deficiency, which is due to a faulty gene that can run in families.

The liver makes AAT, which is a protein that helps protect the lungs and other organs from damage. People with AAT deficiency lack this protein, which increases their risk of developing COPD and liver disease.

AAT deficiency can also cause COPD to develop at an earlier age than usual.

Doctors can determine if a person has AAT deficiency by taking a blood sample to measure the amount AAT in the blood.

What do the results mean?

Low levels of AAT in the blood indicate that an individual may have AAT deficiency. Usually, the lower the AAT levels in the blood, the higher the risk of developing COPD.

Doctors can use AAT deficiency screening to help them confirm a diagnosis of COPD when there is no obvious cause.

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Imaging tests

Doctors sometimes also use imaging tests, such as a CT scan or chest X-ray, to help diagnose COPD.

These tests create an image of the inside of the lungs and chest. Often, a CT scan can provide a greater level of detail than an X-ray.

What do the results mean?

Imaging tests cannot aid a doctor in determining the severity of a person’s COPD. However, they can help confirm a diagnosis or rule out whether another condition is causing the symptoms.

As an example of this, these imaging tests allow a doctor to see if the lungs appear hyperinflated or if the diaphragm is flat, both of which are signs of COPD.

Differential diagnosis

copd tests struggle breathing
Coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath are common symptoms of COPD.

A differential diagnosis is important when confirming COPD. Symptoms of COPD can be variable but typically include:

  • wheezing
  • shortness of breath
  • coughing
  • increased mucus
  • fatigue
  • chest pain

Many of the symptoms are also present in other lung and heart diseases, including:

Making a diagnosis of COPD is sometimes a process of elimination. Doctors need to consider other conditions with similar symptoms and rule them out.

To complicate matters further, a person can have COPD along with another condition, making diagnosis more difficult. Identifying other conditions is also essential for developing the best treatment plan.


Along with carrying out a physical examination and checking a person’s medical history, doctors use several tests to diagnose people with COPD. These tests may include pulmonary functions tests, blood tests, and imaging tests. A doctor will typically order more than one test to help them reach a correct diagnosis.

Because COPD is a progressive condition with symptoms that can be similar to other illnesses, getting an accurate diagnosis is vital. Early detection and treatment can help slow the progression of COPD and significantly improve a person’s quality of life.

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Medical News Today: How to make a heating pad at home

Using a heating pad can help ease aches and pains, and reduce stiffness in the muscles and joints. This is one way to provide heat therapy, or thermotherapy.

Many people use heating pads to reduce neck pain, back pain, muscle aches, symptoms of arthritis, and menstrual cramps.

In this article, we describe three ways to make a heating pad at home. We also explore how heat can help relieve a variety of symptoms.

3 ways to make a homemade heating pad

Many stores sell heating pads, but they are easy to make at home.

To make a heating pad, use:

1. A wet dishcloth

Place a wet dishcloth in a freezer bag and heat it in a microwave. First, make sure that the bag is microwave safe.

Wrap the hot pack in a towel and place it on the affected area for 15–20 minutes at a time.

2. An oven-heated towel

Towels can be used for homemade heating pads.
A person can use a towel to make a homemade heating pad.

People can use this method to make a larger heating pad.

First, place a damp, folded towel in an oven set to 300°F (149°C). Leave the towel in the oven for 5–10 minutes. The right timing will depend on the thickness of the towel.

Once it is warm, wrap the towel in a thinner, dry cloth and place it on the affected area for 15–20 minutes.

3. An old sock

People can make reusable heating pads out of fabric or an old sock. It is also possible to use these as cold compresses by freezing rather than heating them.

Take an old, clean sock and fill it three-quarters full with uncooked rice, corn barley, or oatmeal. Tie or sew it shut and heat it in the microwave for 1–2 minutes.

To prevent burns, always test a heating pad on the inside of the arm before applying it to the affected area. It should feel comfortably warm, but not hot.

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How heating pads work

Applying a heating pad can help ease pain in joints, muscles, and soft tissues. This is a form of heat therapy, or thermotherapy.

Heat increases the blood flow to the affected area, relaxing the muscles and helping to reduce stiffness in the joints.

Thermotherapy can help ease:

  • back pain
  • neck pain
  • menstrual cramps
  • migraine symptoms
  • pain following an injury
  • arthritis pain

During the healing process, increased blood circulation brings more oxygen to the injured cells. Oxygen accelerates the healing of tissues.

Heating pads are a popular method of thermotherapy. A hot bath or shower may also help.


Heating pads can pose a burn risk for people with diabetes.
Heating pads can pose a burn risk for people with diabetes.

Do not use heat therapy in the immediate aftermath of an injury. This is the inflammatory phase of healing, and heat could cause more swelling and tissue injury. Immediately after an injury, a cold compress can help reduce swelling.

Young children and elderly adults should not use heating pads.

Also, people with heat sensitivity issues should not use any form of thermotherapy. This includes people with neuropathy that results from diabetes or other conditions. They may not be able to feel a burn right away.

Women who are pregnant should not apply heating pads to the abdomen or pelvic area. They should also avoid hot tubs and bathing or showering in very hot water.

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Heating pads can provide heat therapy, or thermotherapy. Many stores sell heating pads, but they are easy to make at home.

A homemade heating pad can ease pain from conditions such as arthritis, as well as back pain, neck pain, and menstrual cramps. Using a heating pad can also speed healing after a muscle injury.

Use any heating pad with caution, as it can burn the skin.

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Medical News Today: Could omega-3 supplements help reduce anxiety?

A recently published meta-analysis concludes that omega-3 oil supplements might reduce symptoms of anxiety for some people.
Omega 3 on a spoon
Omega-3 may be a safe, cost-effective intervention for anxiety.

Anxiety is one of the most common psychiatric symptoms in the United States.

It can appear as a standalone anxiety disorder or as part of another mental disorder, such as depression.

Pharmaceutical interventions such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors can treat anxiety.

However, people with anxiety disorders are often concerned about side effects and dependence.

Other options include talking therapies, but these are time-consuming and can be costly.

An estimated 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. develop an anxiety disorder each year, so finding a safe, cost-effective way to manage anxiety would be of great benefit to millions of people.

Fish oils and anxiety

Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are present in fish oils. Over the years, researchers have ascribed a wide range of health benefits to them, but not all are supported by evidence.

In recent years, some scientists have tested omega-3’s potential to help in the treatment of psychiatric conditions, including mood and anxiety disorders.

Studies investigating the anti-anxiety effects of omega-3 PUFAs in animal models have seen some success; for instance, a study in rats found that a diet rich in a PUFA called eicosapentaenoic acid reduced anxiety-like behaviors.

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In humans, research has shown a relationship between PUFA levels and anxiety. For instance, one study found that people with anxiety disorders have lower levels of circulating omega-3 PUFAs.

Another showed that omega-3 supplements reduced inflammation and anxiety in medical students during exams.

These studies and others, though, have been limited by their small size. To rectify this, researchers recently carried out the first systematic review on this topic. They explain their aim:

“[W]e examined,” they point out, “the anxiolytic effects of omega-3 PUFAs in participants with elevated anxiety symptoms in the results of clinical trials to determine the overall efficacy of omega-3 PUFAs for anxiety symptoms irrespective of diagnosis.”

The researchers took data from 19 clinical trials including a total of 1,203 participants. After analysis, their findings supported their initial theory. Although the studies varied significantly in the type of participants that were involved and the ways that anxiety was measured, they saw a significant reduction in anxiety in the groups treated with omega-3s compared with the placebo groups.

Most of the studies demonstrated a positive effect of omega-3 PUFAs on anxiety, even though not all effect sizes were significant. However, when the data were pooled, the combined effect was statistically significant.

This review indicates that omega-3 PUFAs might help to reduce the symptoms of clinical anxiety. Further well-designed studies are needed in populations in whom anxiety is the main symptom.”

Interestingly, the positive effects of omega-3s were particularly pronounced for people who had clinical diagnoses of psychiatric conditions.

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More work is now needed

Before omega-3s are brought into wider use, the authors suggest that more large-scale studies will be needed. Exactly how they these fatty acids might impart their beneficial effects is another question that will need to be answered.

Omega-3 PUFAs are present in brain membranes and, as the authors write, they may “interfere with and possibly control several neurobiological processes, such as neurotransmitter systems, neuroplasticity, and inflammation.”

This could help explain why they have an impact on psychiatric symptoms, but a lot more research will be needed to unpick the exact mechanisms involved.

The study authors are clear that their analysis has some limitations; in particular, the relatively small sample size. They warn that “the results should not be extrapolated without careful consideration.”

More research is sure to follow. If an intervention as simple as omega-3 supplementation could reduce levels of anxiety, it would have the potential to ease suffering for a great many people.

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Medical News Today: Aspirin may reduce liver cancer risk

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have found that regular aspirin use can reduce the risk of developing liver cancer.
Liver and doctor
Scientists reinvestigate aspirin and its impact on liver cancer.

The findings — which appear in JAMA Oncology support the results of prior studies on the same topic.

Data from this report show that taking aspirin on a regular basis can lower the risk of developing liver cancer, or hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).

The scientists defined “a regular basis” as taking two or more 325-milligram tablets per week for 5 years or more.

The study’s results are promising. “Regular use of aspirin led to significantly lower risk of developing HCC, compared to infrequent or no aspirin use, and we also found that the risk declined progressively with increasing aspirin dose and duration of use,” says lead author Dr. Tracey Simon, who is a research fellow from the Massachusetts General Hospital Division of Gastroenterology in Boston.

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Reopening the data

The researchers looked over data, including health information on more than 170,000 people, that were collected for over 3 decades.

One part of the questionnaire these patients filled out was whether they took aspirin, how often they took it, and for how long. Another part of the data included liver cancer diagnosis.

When the scientists had analyzed the numbers, they revealed that people who took two (or more) 325-milligram doses of aspirin each week had a 49 percent reduction in their risk of developing liver cancer.

For those who took aspirin for 5 years (or more), that risk was reduced by 59 percent.

Also, the team saw that the risk reduction decreased if the participant stopped taking aspirin and disappeared entirely 8 years after they stopped taking aspirin. There was no decrease in risk of liver cancer when participants took acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

The facts on liver cancer

Liver cancer is not a particularly common type of cancer, but it has been on the rise over the past few decades. Someone’s risk of developing liver cancer is elevated if they already have liver disease, such as hepatitis B or hepatitis C.

If somebody has cirrhosis of the liver — which is when scar tissue replaces normal liver cells and prevents the liver from working as it should — their risk of liver cancer is also elevated.

Liver cancer is now the third leading cause of cancer deaths around the world. Some signs and symptoms include:

  • a hard lump just below the rib cage on the right side
  • discomfort in that same area
  • a swollen abdomen
  • pain in the right shoulder blade or back
  • jaundice (a yellow discoloration of the skin and whites of the eyes)
  • bruising or bleeding more easily

If a person experiences unintentional weight loss, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, and unusual tiredness or weakness, they should contact their doctor.

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Next steps

Liver cancer is a serious disease with a 5-year survival rate of just 17.7 percent, so any news on how to cut our risk is welcome.

“While it’s still too early know whether starting aspirin therapy might be an effective strategy to prevent HCC, efforts to understand the mechanisms behind these beneficial effects could help identify,” claims Dr. Simon, “urgently needed prevention strategies or biomarkers for a cancer that is a growing public health problem.”

The scientists’ next steps include conducting a study on how aspirin therapy works in a population with established liver disease, says Dr. Simon, since that group is already at risk of liver cancer.

Doctors already recommend aspirin to some patients to help prevent heart disease and colorectal cancer, so it is not a stretch to see how it may eventually become protocol for those at risk of liver cancer.

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Medical News Today: Do cannabinoids ease multiple sclerosis symptoms?

Using cannabinoids to treat the symptoms of multiple sclerosis is controversial. This week, JAMA Network Open has published a systematic review and meta-analysis that might help settle the debate.
Cannabis multiple sclerosis
Do cannabinoids reduce MS symptoms? A new analysis investigates.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) involves an autoimmune response, in which a person’s immune system attacks the myelin sheaths that coat and insulate nerves.

Globally, this degenerative condition affects an estimated 2.5 million people.

Symptoms include bladder dysfunction, pain, and spasticity, wherein muscles are stiff and tight, making movement and speech more difficult.

To date, there is no cure for MS. Current treatments focus on relieving symptoms and reducing the risk of relapse.

Researchers have studied cannabinoids, a class of drugs that act on cannabinoid receptors in the body, for their potential use in MS.

Because cannabinoid receptors are involved in the immune responses, some believe that they could help reduce the autoimmune attack that MS causes.

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Cannabinoids and MS

In some countries, people use cannabinoids in order to treat MS-associated spasticity and pain. For instance, nabiximols — an extract of cannabis — is marketed in the United Kingdom, Spain, Canada, and elsewhere for individuals who have tried other MS drugs without success.

Despite this, evidence that cannabinoids might reduce MS symptoms is not particularly strong.

Recently, investigators dipped into the findings of previous studies; they combined the data in an attempt to draw a more solid conclusion. They set out “to evaluate the therapeutic efficacy and tolerability of medicinal cannabinoids to treat the symptoms of spasticity, pain, and bladder dysfunction in patients with MS.”

The analysis used 17 trials including a total of 3,161 patients. All studies that the experts re-analyzed compared cannabinoids against placebo and were double-blind, randomized trials.

The studies used four cannabinoids: cannabis extracts, nabiximols, dronabinol, and nabilone. Once they had completed the analysis, the scientists came to the following conclusion:

The results suggest a limited efficacy of cannabinoids for the treatment of spasticity, pain, and bladder dysfunction in patients with MS.”

They noted some side effects, including dry mouth, fatigue, feeling drunk, and dizziness. In all, they documented 325 serious adverse events. Though they attributed more of these adverse events to cannabinoid treatment than placebo, the difference was not statistically significant; so, overall, the researchers concluded that “[t]herapy using these drugs can be considered as safe.”

The scientists believe that this study is the “most complete systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of cannabinoids on MS.”

The authors are confident that the analysis is robust. They point out that the largest study included in their analysis, which involved more than 500 patients, found that placebo had a greater effect than cannabinoids.

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Are these findings conclusive?

Their paper appears alongside an editorial by Drs. Marissa Slaven and Oren Levine. In it, they point out some concerns with the analysis. One major issue is the heterogeneity of the studies that they analyzed. In other words, the studies were very different and, therefore, difficult to compare.

The authors write that “if the trials that are pooled are very different […] the validity of the final results of the meta-analysis can be of concern.”

In the recent meta-analysis, the study designs varied, they used different types of cannabinoids at different doses, and patient demographics also differed between studies.

Drs. Slaven and Levine write that, because there are few effective drugs to treat MS and because cannabinoids are relatively safe, it is no surprise that they have drawn interest from researchers.

They think that focusing on “different cannabis components” would be a sensible approach, and that they might find a more effective intervention once they understand which cannabinoids are most potent at treating MS.

The editorial concludes that the researchers “have conducted a methodologically sound meta-analysis; however, this does not overcome the limitation of the relatively weak trials that were included.”

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Medical News Today: Could it be possible to eliminate clogged arteries?

A new clinical trial to study a potential way of reducing the risk of early-onset atherosclerosis may be on the way.
Atherosclerosis clogged artery
Atherosclerosis can lead to a range of cardiovascular problems.

After evaluating previous research, a report published in the Journal of the American Heart Association concludes that a clinical trial might pave the way for a new treatment to help reduce the early onset of atherosclerosis.

According to lead author Dr. Jennifer G. Robinson, a professor of epidemiology and director of the Prevention Intervention Center at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, the key may be targeting B lipoproteins in young and middle-aged adults.

These blood proteins (also called apolipoprotein B) include low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or the “bad,” cholesterol. Scientists think that LDL and other B lipoproteins are among the leading causes of atherosclerosis.

Preventing atherosclerosis

“Lowering them may have a big impact on making atherosclerosis go away,” says Dr. Robinson. “If this works, you could completely eliminate heart attacks and strokes within a generation, because you can’t have a heart attack or stroke unless you have atherosclerosis.”

The potential study aims to determine whether it is possible to reverse atherosclerosis in high-risk adults aged 25–55 using medications known as statins and PCSK9 inhibitors over a 3-year period. Both statins and PCSK9 inhibitors work to lower LDL cholesterol in the blood.

“The idea is to get the cholesterol very low for a short period of time, let all the early cholesterol buildup dissolve, and let the arteries heal,” says Dr. Robinson, confirming that this method has been successful in animal studies. “Then patients might need to be re-treated every decade or two if the atherosclerosis begins to develop again.”

Once you know what causes something, you can come up with a hammer for it and eliminate it. We’re not the first ones to think of this idea. This would be the culminating study of decades of research by thousands of people.”

Dr. Jennifer G. Robinson

Dr. Robinson continues, “But I’m excited about this, and I think it’s really time to pursue this hypothesis.”

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How atherosclerosis affects your health

Atherosclerosis, wherein plaque builds up in the arteries, can prevent oxygen-rich blood from traveling through the blood vessels to supply the rest of the body.

Plaque is made up of different substances in the blood, such as fat, cholesterol, and calcium. Over time, this plaque begins to harden, and when it does, it narrows the arteries.

This means that a person does not get as much oxygen-rich blood as they need, which can have serious consequences, including heart attacks and strokes. It can also lead to death.

There are some risk factors for atherosclerosis that people can try to control themselves, including unhealthy blood cholesterol levels. High levels of LDL and low levels of high-density lipoprotein, or “good,” cholesterol are among the leading causes of the disease.

Other risk factors include high blood pressure, smoking, insulin resistance, diabetes, being overweight, and a lack of physical activity. An unhealthful diet can also be a factor, particularly for people who eat a lot of foods that are high in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar.

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Potential study limitations

A new way to combat early-onset atherosclerosis would be welcome, especially as heart disease is so widespread and a leading cause of death for people in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that about 1 in 4 deaths are a result of heart disease.

However, Dr. John Wilkins, a cardiologist and assistant professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, IL — who has conducted studies on B lipoproteins but was not involved in this study — thinks that it might be difficult to convince healthy adults to take medications to keep atherosclerosis at bay.

He also notes that this type of clinical trial may be hard to do as it would involve tracking people for 20 or 30 years, which could prove difficult.

Overall, the study is promising, and as Dr. Robinson says, it could lead to big changes in how doctors and their patients fight heart disease in the future. Reducing or eliminating atherosclerosis in people is an excellent goal, and while a clinical trial has not started yet, it is definitely a good place to start.

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Medical News Today: Intermittent fasting may help fight type 2 diabetes

Lifestyle changes are key in the management of type 2 diabetes. Scientists believe that intermittent fasting could play an essential role.
Intermittent fasting
Lately, intermittent fasting has become incredibly popular.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type. The condition affects the body’s ability to produce insulin, which regulates blood sugar levels.

Diabetes is widespread in both Canada and the United States, and in the U.S., it is one of the leading causes of death.

The American Diabetes Association report that the total estimated cost of treating diabetes is now over $200 billion per year.

Lifestyle changes are crucial to managing the disease, and eating habits play a key role. Doctors normally recommend that people with diabetes follow specific diets.

The effects of a specific diet may differ from person to person, but in general, those with diabetes should avoid processed foods, artificial sweeteners, and refined carbohydrates.

Intermittent fasting could be a way to manage diabetes through diet.

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What is intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting is a type of diet in which people cycle between periods of eating and fasting. It does not specify the foods that are allowed during the eating window.

The most common type of fasting is known as the 16:8 method, which involves fasting for 16 hours and reducing the eating window to just 8 hours. For example, a person can have dinner at approximately 7 p.m., skip breakfast the day after, and eat lunch at around 11 a.m.

Other forms involve fasting for 2 days per week, 24-hour fasting once or twice each week, and fasting every other day.

Researchers used intermittent fasting as a method to reduce the symptoms of type 2 diabetes in a new observational study conducted in Canada and published in the journal BMJ Case Reports.

The study included three men, aged 40–67, who were taking both drugs and daily doses of insulin to manage the disease. They all had high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

“The use of a therapeutic fasting regimen for treatment of [type 2 diabetes] is virtually unheard of,” the authors of the study write.

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Intermittent fasting’s effects on diabetes

Before the study, the men attended nutrition seminars, which gave them information regarding the development of the condition, its effects on the body, and how to use diet to manage diabetes.

Then, scientists asked two of them to fast for 24 hours every other day, while the third fasted for 3 days each week. During fasting days, the men could drink low-calorie beverages such as water, tea, or coffee. In addition, they could eat a low-calorie meal in the evening.

The trial lasted 10 months in total, and the three men stuck to their schedule without encountering any difficulties. After the fasting period, the team measured their weight and blood glucose.

The results revealed significant improvement: all three lost weight, blood glucose was lower, and they were able to stop using insulin after a month from the beginning of the trial. In one case, the person stopped after only 5 days.

Two of the men also discontinued all diabetic drugs, while the third participant stopped 3 out of 4 drugs.

The authors concluded that intermittent fasting may help people with diabetes, but the study was limited to three participants. More research is needed to confirm these findings, but they are encouraging.

“This present case series showed that 24-hour fasting regimens can significantly reverse or eliminate the need for diabetic medication,” conclude the authors.

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