Medical News Today: Melatonin: Is it safe for babies?

The body releases melatonin as part of the processes that support the circadian rhythm.

The hypothalamus is a small area at the base of the brain near the pituitary gland. This area contains the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which is the primary regulator of the circadian rhythm.

The SCN maintains this rhythm in response to changing sunlight levels in each 24-hour period. At dawn, for example, it stimulates the release of various hormones that prepare the body for waking.

When the sun sets and light levels begin to decrease, the SCN prepares the body for sleep by signaling the pineal gland to release melatonin.

Some people refer to melatonin as the “hormone of darkness” because the pineal gland releases it in the evening. Exposure to light inhibits this process.

Melatonin affects numerous bodily functions, such as:

  • blood pressure
  • immune function
  • metabolism
  • digestion
  • bone formation
  • reproduction

If a child’s pineal gland does not secrete enough melatonin at night, they may develop insomnia or delayed sleep phase disorder. This condition extends wakefulness at nighttime, even when a person feels tired, and it often appears during teenage years.

Here, find 21 evidence-based ways to help a person fall asleep.

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Medical News Today: What is the prognosis for hepatitis C?

For people with HCV who receive a diagnosis before any liver damage or scarring occurs, the prognosis will tend to be better than for people who receive a diagnosis after scarring or liver damage has already occurred.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that people undergo testing for HCV, especially if they were born between 1945 and 1965, have used injectable drugs, or have other potential risk factors.

Detecting and diagnosing the infection early may allow the person to treat it before liver damage or scarring can occur.


The majority of people with chronic HCV will display no symptoms until decades after infection, unless other complications develop.

Some potential complications of chronic HCV include:


Treatment will vary based on the genotype of the virus and the presence of any other health conditions a person has. Treatments are continually improving, making it possible for a person to live an active and normal life with HCV.

Following treatment, a person’s doctor will often check again for the viral load, or the amount of virus, in their blood. Treatment usually completely rids the body of the virus.

In other cases, a person may need to change their medications to better treat the virus.

In the United States, typical treatments for HCV used to include interferon, which is an injection, and ribavirin, which is an oral medication. However, newer medications called direct-acting antivirals (DAAs) are starting to make the treatment process shorter and more effective.

Certain DAAs can target specific genotypes of HCV. Targeted treatments can help improve the outcome for some people.


The prognosis of chronic HCV is typically very good, and as treatment continues to improve, it will only get better. Most people with chronic HCV can live a normal life, providing that doctors are able to diagnose it before any liver damage or other complications occur.

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Medical News Today: Can essential oils help lower hypertension?

People who use essential oils for high blood pressure often recommend:


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A person with hypertension should talk to a doctor before including essential oils in a treatment plan.

In a small study including 52 participants, researchers tested whether inhaling an oil blend containing bergamot could help reduce hypertension.

The blend also included lavender and ylang-ylang.

Based on their results, the team concluded that essential oils may help reduce high blood pressure.


People traditionally use citronella oil as a mosquito repellent, but it may benefit the health of the heart.

A small 2012 study, published in the Journal of Health Research, reports that inhaling citronella vapors may significantly reduce a person’s blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate.

Clary sage

A 2013 study, involving 34 female participants who were experiencing urinary incontinence, suggests that clary sage is effective at reducing blood pressure.

In the study, clary sage oil reduced the participants’ heart rates while they were undergoing urodynamic examination.

It is important to note that sage oil — as opposed to clary sage oil — contains a compound called thujone, which may increase high blood pressure.


Frankincense essential oil is a popular component of Eastern medicine. In addition to having anti-inflammatory properties, it may also help combat anxiety and similar issues.

These effects may help reduce high blood pressure. However, it is possible for people to have high blood pressure even when they feel relaxed.


Lavender is one of the most popular essential oils for enhancing relaxation and reducing stress and anxiety.

Various scientists behind a 2006 study and a 2012 study found that a blend of oils, including lavender, could reduce high blood pressure in participants who inhaled it.


Researchers have found that neroli essential oil, blended with lavender, ylang-ylang, and marjoram could reduce stress and blood pressure in people with prehypertension and hypertension.


Rose oil may have calming effects.

One study has reported that applying rose oil to the skin can reduce blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, blood oxygen saturation levels, and skin temperature.

Sweet marjoram

Researchers behind a small 2017 study observed “remarkable changes” in the blood pressure and heart rates of participants who inhaled sweet marjoram essential oil.

A 2012 study mentioned above also used a blend containing marjoram oil and found similar results.


Valerian is a potent relaxing agent and a common ingredient in many natural products that claim to enhance sleep and promote calmness in humans and pets.

The European Medicines Agency points to a long history of valerian as a sleep aid before noting that the essential oil can be used to treat mild mental stress and promote sleep.

Because of these benefits, valerian essential oil may help reduce hypertension in some people.


Researchers have used ylang-ylang essential oil in combination with other oils to effectively lower blood pressure.

A small study from 2013 reported that the aroma of ylang-ylang may have a sedative effect that significantly decreases blood pressure.

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Medical News Today: 16 myths about depression

Many women experience the “baby blues” for a week or two after giving birth, the effects of which usually include mild anxiety, fatigue, and a relatively reduced mood.

Around 15% of all U.S. women experience a type of depression called postpartum depression, or major depressive disorder with peripartum onset, after giving birth. This condition can cause significant depressive episodes.

Researchers believe that postpartum depression develops for a number of reasons, including sudden changes to estrogen and progesterone levels, a lack of sleep, and having a history of depression.

Women with postpartum depression may feel exhaustion and extreme sadness to the extent that it makes it hard for them to care for themselves and their babies.

They may need treatment to prevent long-term complications. In extreme cases, without proper treatment, postpartum depression can lead some women toward harming themselves or their babies.

Learn about how to deal with postpartum depression here.

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Medical News Today: Study reveals how diabetes drug promotes healthy aging

Doctors commonly prescribe metformin to help people with type 2 diabetes lower their blood sugar levels. The drug increases insulin sensitivity through its effects on glucose metabolism.

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Metformin may hold surprising benefits in the fight against age-related illness.

However, although there is clear evidence of metformin’s effectiveness, scientists do not fully understand how it interacts with cells and tissues at the molecular level.

Now, a new Cell Reports study has mapped metformin activity in the liver and yielded some surprising results.

Using cell cultures and mice, the researchers identified numerous biochemical switches for turning various cell and molecular processes on and off.

The findings shed light not only on metformin’s mechanism of glucose control, but also on a surprising number of other reactions and pathways.

The researchers suggest, for instance, that the new findings could help explain recent revelations about metformin’s apparent ability to promote healthy aging.

Large-scale clinical trials of metformin are already under way to test the drug’s effectiveness in extending life span and health span — that is, the proportion of a person’s life span that they spend in good health. However, the underlying biochemistry has been unclear.

Teams from three research centers worked on the study: the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the Scripps Research Institute — both in La Jolla, CA — and Weill Cornell Medical College in New York.

“These results,” says Reuben J. Shaw, one of the study’s corresponding authors, “provide us with new avenues to explore in order to understand how metformin works as a diabetes drug, along with its health-span-extending effects.”

“These are pathways that neither we, nor anyone else, would have imagined,” he adds.

Shaw is a professor of molecular and cell biology at the Salk Institute and director of the Salk Cancer Center.

An old drug with many potential uses

Humans first started using metformin as a glucose-lowering drug more than 60 years ago. Researchers have shown that the treatment reduces premature deaths among people with type 2 diabetes.

More recently, scientists have found that metformin may be effective in a number of other conditions, including obesity, cancer, metabolic syndrome, polycystic ovary syndrome, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

Other recent research has also suggested that metformin may have anti-aging effects and an ability to protect bone, especially during the early phases of rheumatoid arthritis.

Until the new study, scientists’ understanding of the biochemical effects of metformin was limited to knowing that the drug activates a signaling pathway called AMPK. This pathway plays a key role in balancing energy levels in cells.

Prof. Shaw had also discovered that when nutrients levels are low, the AMPK pathway holds back cell growth and alters metabolism. Researchers have seen this effect in cancer. Knowing this led Prof. Shaw and colleagues to wonder if metformin might also work through other pathways.

New pathways may explain anti-aging effects

For the new study, the teams used a “quantitative proteomics platform” to screen kinases. These are signaling proteins that can switch cell processes on and off.

The researchers found hundreds of kinases whose switching activity responds rapidly to metformin with potential impact on healthy aging. Many of the signaling pathways work independently of AMPK.

Scientists were already aware of two of the pathways — protein kinase D and MAPKAPK2 — and that they concern cellular stress. This could explain the link with healthy aging and the impacts on extending life span and health span.

The new findings suggest that metformin’s benefits to healthy aging could be through its interaction with protein kinase D and MAPKAPK2.

“We never imagined these two kinases would have anything to do with metformin,” Prof. Shaw remarks.

The researchers also identified new targets and cell mechanisms that the AMPK pathway controls that may also be crucial to metformin’s success.

The teams plan to continue studying the new signaling pathways to deepen their understanding of the many effects of metformin.

They are keen to find out how all individuals, not just those with type 2 diabetes, might benefit from metformin and which targets might be involved.

The results broaden our understanding of how metformin induces a mild stress that triggers sensors to restore metabolic balance, explaining some of the benefits previously reported, such as extended healthy aging in model organisms taking metformin.”

Prof. Reuben J. Shaw

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Medical News Today: Can figs be beneficial to our health?

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Figs may reduce stomach pain in a person with constipation.

Practitioners of Indian systems of medicine have long used figs to treat conditions affecting the following bodily systems:

Some researchers believe that figs have the following properties:

  • antioxidant
  • anticancer
  • anti-inflammatory
  • fat-lowering
  • cell-protective

These properties may be responsible for the therapeutic effects of figs. The sections below discuss these potential benefits in more detail:

Diabetes and glucose control

The World Health Organization (WHO) have suggested that people can use traditional plants to help treat diabetes. Researchers have noted the fig’s liver-protecting and glucose-lowering effects.

Research on this subject is very limited. However, one small study from 1998 found that in eight participants, there was a decrease in after-meal glucose levels when they took fig leaf extracts.

The study participants also needed lower doses of insulin when they supplemented with fig leaf extract.

In a study that used rats with type 2 diabetes, the researchers found that fig leaf extract could improve insulin levels and lower blood glucose levels.

In a different study using mice with diabetes, the researchers revealed that fig leaf extract could stop or slow down the production of glucose in the liver.

Erectile dysfunction

Some people consider certain plants to be aphrodisiacs due to their potential ability to stimulate sexual arousal. Indeed, some people use figs for their alleged aphrodisiac properties.

A study in rats tested the aphrodisiac abilities of three plants: earth smoke, Chinese cinnamon, and figs.

The researchers measured the effectiveness of a mixture of these plants by studying the increase in mounting behavior. The rats that received this mixture had increased sexual activity, compared with the control group.

However, it is difficult to determine which of the three plants was responsible for the increased sexual activity.

Researchers have not yet examined the aphrodisiac effects of figs in humans. Further studies are necessary before doctors can recommend using figs for erectile dysfunction.

Skin health

An older study in the International Journal of Dermatology compared the effects of fig tree latex with those of cryotherapy on common warts.

In the study, 25 participants with common warts on both sides of their body applied fig tree latex on one side. On the other side, doctors used cryotherapy.

The researchers found that in 44% of the participants, the fig tree latex completely resolved the warts. Cryotherapy was more effective, however, resulting in a complete reversal in 56% of the participants.

Researchers do not yet understand why figs can help resolve warts, but fig tree latex could offer a safe and easy-to-use treatment option that presents little or no side effects.

Hair health

Very few studies have looked at the connection between figs and hair health. However, figs are very high in iron, which is an important mineral for helping maintain healthy hair.

Before a person starts taking extracts or supplements for hair health, they should speak with their doctor to ensure that it is safe for them.


More research is necessary to test the effect of figs on fever. However, a study in rats showed that a dose of a fig alcohol extract reduced body temperature for up to 5 hours.

Further studies are needed to confirm these findings, however, as researchers are still unsure how to explain the body temperature-lowering effect of figs.

Digestive health

Due to the fruit’s laxative properties, people commonly use fig syrup to help treat constipation. However, only a few studies have ever provided evidence of figs helping with constipation.

In one study, the researchers gave rats loperamide (Imodium) to cause constipation. The rats that received fig paste had fewer episodes of constipation than the control group.

Another study compared the effects of figs and fiber supplements in people with functional constipation. Figs improved the majority of constipation symptoms, including:

  • bowel movement time
  • number of bowel movements
  • stomach pain and discomfort

Figs also decreased the effort necessary to pass a stool and improved the sense of incomplete evacuation.

The researchers did not note any differences in constipation relief between fiber supplements and figs.

Fig syrup is available for purchase online.

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Medical News Today: Baby poop color: Causes and when to see a doctor

a color wheel infographic showing the colours of baby poop

Various factors can cause changes in the color of a baby’s stools. Common colors and their causes include:


In newborns younger than 1 week, black is a healthy color for stool. After this time, however, it could indicate a health problem.

During the first 24 hours of life, a newborn will pass meconium. This is thick, black stool. It is made up of cells, amniotic fluid, bile, and mucus ingested while in the womb. Meconium is sterile, so it usually does not smell.

Over the first few days of life, a newborn will continue to pass meconium. The color should gradually change from black to dark green, then yellow.

After 1 week of life, stool should no longer be black. If a black color persists, seek medical advice. It could mean that there is some bleeding in the digestive system.


This is a normal color of poop from a breastfed baby. Their poop tends to be dark yellow

and may have small flecks in it.

These flecks come from breastmilk and are harmless. Poop from breastfed babies is often described as “seedy.” The so-called seeds may resemble curds in cottage cheese but are yellow.

Brown or orange

This is a normal color of poop from a formula-fed baby.

When a baby drinks formula, their poop tends to light brown or orange. It may be slightly darker and firmer than stool from a breastfed baby.


Many babies occasionally have green poop. Some possible causes include:

  • slow digestion, usually because the baby has eaten more than usual
  • green foods in the diet of the breastfeeding mother
  • a cold or stomach bug
  • a food allergy or intolerance
  • antibiotics, either in the baby or the breastfeeding mother
  • treatment for jaundice

Some infants’ poop is naturally slightly green. If the baby is putting on weight and seems content, green poop is not necessarily a cause for concern.

Learn more about green poop in children here.


This is not a healthy poop color.

Poop is usually red because there is blood in it. Seek medical advice.

The baby may have a health problem, or they may have swallowed a small amount of blood. This could happen if a breastfeeding mother has cracked or bleeding nipples. Another cause of red poop is bleeding from the baby’s bottom.


This is not a healthy color for stool.

White poop is uncommon and could indicate a liver problem.

Jaundice, for example, is highly common in newborns, affecting as many as 80% of these babies in their first few days of life. It usually goes away within the first 2 weeks.

Anyone who suspects that their baby still has jaundice after 14 days should check the color of their poop. Pale or white poop may suggest liver disease. Another sign to look for is yellow pee.

If the baby has white or pale stool, the doctor may test their bilirubin levels. Bilirubin is a compound that helps the body get rid of waste. There are two types of bilirubin, and if levels of one type are too high, it can cause health problems.

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Medical News Today: What to know about neck tension

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Poor posture is a common cause of tension in the neck.

The brain sends electrical signals, or nerve impulses, to trigger muscle movement. Muscles can either contract or relax, depending on the message that they receive from the brain.

Muscle tension occurs when a muscle stays contracted despite receiving signals from the brain that tell it to relax. If a muscle remains contracted for too long, it can cause pain.

People can develop neck tension for numerous reasons. Common causes of neck tension include:

Poor posture

Poor posture can affect the neck muscles. People who find themselves hunching over their computer or slouching in their chair all day may notice some neck tension after a while.

The authors of a 2016 study involving 126 college students found a correlation between a forward head position and increased neck pain and disability.

Poor posture can cause the weight of the head to shift forward and away from the center of the body, forcing the neck muscles to work harder to support the head.

Hunching over a computer or looking down at a phone not only moves the head forward but also forces the neck to bend with it. This bending can overextend the muscles in the back of the neck, resulting in pain and inflammation.

Sleeping in the wrong position

Posture affects the body at all times, even during sleep. People who sleep on their stomachs tend to rest one side of their face on the pillow. Doing this can overextend the muscles on that side of the neck.

Sleeping with large pillows can elevate the head too high, forcing the neck to bend forward. Staying in this position throughout the night may result in neck tension the following morning.

Repetitive neck movements

People who perform repetitive movements throughout the day can develop repetitive motion disorders.

While these disorders usually occur in the hands, wrists, and shoulders, they can also affect the neck, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Without treatment, repetitive motion disorders can lead to pain, swelling, and even permanent tissue damage.

Teeth grinding

Bruxism is a condition in which people grind or clench their teeth while they sleep. Grinding or clenching the teeth puts pressure on the muscles in the jaw and neck, which can cause neck tension, pain, and headaches.

Learn more about bruxism here.


A person can injure the muscles in their neck if they lift heavy weights, play impact sports, or experience whiplash from a car accident.

These types of injuries can cause mild-to-severe muscle strains, which may require medical treatment or physical therapy.

Untreated muscle strains can lead to persistent neck pain and even permanent damage that reduces the range of motion and flexibility in the neck.


Stress has a powerful effect on the entire body. When the brain senses stress, it signals the release of several hormones, such as cortisol and epinephrine. These hormones increase the heart rate and blood pressure, as well as tightening the muscles.

When a person experiences stress regularly, their muscles remain tense and contracted for longer periods, which can result in neck and shoulder tension.

According to a 2017 study involving 148 people with migraine, nearly 67% of the participants also experienced tension-type headaches and neck pain.

These individuals also reported higher levels of stress, engaged in less physical activity, and rated their health poorly in comparison with the participants who had migraine without tension headaches and neck pain.

Learn more about the difference between a migraine and a headache here.

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Medical News Today: What to know about bleeding after a Pap smear

In the majority of cases, there is no underlying health issue responsible for bleeding after a Pap smear. Therefore, people who experience temporary light bleeding with no other symptoms do not generally need to worry.

The most likely causes of bleeding after a Pap smear include:

Cervical irritation

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Light bleeding, or spotting, is common after a Pap smear.

During a Pap smear, a healthcare professional takes a small sample of cervical cells to screen for cervical cancer.

Collecting cells from the cervix can cause light bleeding or spotting that may last for 1–2 days.

Bleeding usually happens because the test irritates the cervix rather than because there is anything wrong. For most people, the bleeding stops and does not reoccur.


During pregnancy, the cervix has more blood vessels and increased blood flow. As a result, it bleeds more easily from irritation, even very early in a pregnancy.

As pregnancy progresses, and the weight of the uterus puts pressure on the cervix, the cervix becomes even more prone to bleeding.

A Pap smear may irritate delicate blood vessels and trigger bleeding.

A Pap smear will not cause pregnancy loss, and light bleeding after a Pap smear does not mean that a person is going to have a miscarriage. However, a person should see their doctor if the bleeding gets progressively heavier or causes cramps.


A person who has a Pap smear a few days before their period may notice light spotting after the test, with heavy bleeding following a few days later. This type of bleeding may be coincidental and not a sign of a serious problem.

The typical signs that bleeding after the test is due to the timing of menstruation include:

  • spotting a few days before the period is due
  • bleeding around the time when the period would usually appear
  • the blood flow following the person’s usual bleeding pattern

Less likely reasons for bleeding after a Pap smear include:

Cervical cancer

Early cervical cancer tends to have few symptoms. However, there may be some abnormal vaginal bleeding between menstrual periods in the early stages of cervical cancer and severe vaginal bleeding in the advanced stages.

Although a Pap smear will not trigger this type of bleeding, it may cause additional bleeding.

People with cervical cancer may experience bleeding:

  • between periods
  • during or after sex
  • during or after exercise

Some people notice bleeding for the first time not because it is new but because they pay closer attention to vaginal symptoms after the Pap smear.

Anyone who develops vaginal bleeding that is inconsistent with their usual pattern or notices any bleeding after menopause should contact a doctor.

Friable cervix

A friable cervix means that the cervix is unusually sensitive and prone to irritation.

Many people have a friable cervix with no other symptoms, and they have often not received a diagnosis. Sometimes, a friable cervix happens because of a disease that irritates the blood vessels in the cervix.

Some medical conditions that can cause a friable cervix include:

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Medical News Today: Chest pain in women: What causes it, and how do doctors diagnose it?

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A person should seek immediate medical attention if they experience symptoms of a heart attack.

According to the Centers for Disease Control And Prevention (CDC), 1 in 4 male deaths and 1 in 5 female deaths are due to heart disease. Heart disease refers to several conditions that affect this organ, including heart attack.

Men and women tend to show different signs of a heart attack.

Women are less likely than males to feel an overwhelming amount of pressure in their chest. Instead, they are more likely to experience dizziness, fatigue, or nausea. They may also have pain in both arms, rather than just the left arm.

Any woman who experiences any of these symptoms should call 911 or seek emergency medical care immediately.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the typical symptoms of heart attacks in women include:

  • chest pain or discomfort
  • shortness of breath
  • cold sweat, lightheadedness, or nausea
  • discomfort, numbness, or pain in one or both arms, the neck, stomach, jaw, or back
  • a squeezing sensation, pain, uncomfortable pressure, or fullness in the center of the chest

The sensations affecting the chest tend to last for more than a few minutes or stop before starting again.

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