Medical News Today: How do cancer cells start to spread? Study sheds light

Metastatic cancer is responsible for the vast majority of cancer deaths, but our limited understanding of how metastasis begins makes finding ways to stop it hugely challenging. A new study may provide some insight, however.
a cancer cell
Researchers have found that a tumor’s surrounding environment influences the spread of cancer cells.

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) have discovered how the surrounding environment of a tumor can cause cancer cells to metastasize.

Put simply, metastatic cancer occurs when cancer cells break away from a primary tumor and move to other areas of the body — most commonly the bones, liver, and lungs.

Once cancer cells have metastasized, controlling them becomes much more difficult. While current treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy can help to slow the spread of cancer cells, they are not always successful.

It is estimated that around 90 percent of cancer-related deaths are a result of metastatic cancer, highlighting the need for more effective strategies to combat the disease.

But, as study leader Stephanie Fraley — a professor of bioengineering at UCSD — notes, “We are good at targeting tumor growth, but we do not know enough about metastasis.”

The new research, however, has uncovered further information about what triggers metastatic cancer, a discovery that could lead to more successful treatments.

The researchers recently reported their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

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Gene modules and vascular mimicry

For their study, Fraley and colleagues built a 3-D collagen matrix, which enabled them to get an in-depth look at the migration activity of various types of human cancer cell.

“It’s critical to have the cells surrounded by a 3-D environment that mimics what happens in the human body,” notes Fraley.

The researchers found that a condensed environment caused the cancer cells to activate a distinct set of genes, or a “gene module,” which the researchers named collagen-induced network phenotype (CINP).

The team found that the activation of this gene module prompted a phenomenon known as vascular mimicry, which is the formation of blood vessel-like structures.

These structures promote cancer metastasis; they supply the tumors with blood and help to provide cancer cells with the “nutrients” they need to survive.

“We thought that putting cells into this more constrained environment would prevent their spread,” says first study author Daniel Ortiz Velez, of the Department of Bioengineering at UCSD. “But the opposite happened.”

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Gene module predicts cancer metastasis

Next, the team searched for the CINP gene module across a range of cancer types.

They found that they were able to use the CINP to predict metastasis in nine different cancers, including breast cancer, lung cancer, and pancreatic cancer. They were also able to use the gene module to predict patient survival.

The researchers now plan to see whether they can replicate their findings in more cancer cell types and animal models, and they hope that their research will uncover a way to stop CINP activation and halt cancer metastasis.

“It is possible that gene expression analysis of additional cancer cell types induced into [vascular mimicry]-like behavior by our 3-D collagen system could help to further refine the conserved CINP gene module,” they say.

“This would facilitate prioritization of the genes for targeted functional studies to identify key regulators and potential therapeutic targets.”

“Validation of the prognostic value of this gene module could help patients avoid the long-term side effects of aggressive radiation and chemotherapy if the likelihood of metastasis is very low,” the researchers conclude.

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Medical News Today: How cinnamon can help you to burn holiday fat

As you make that pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, consider adding an extra pinch of cinnamon; a study shows that cinnamaldehyde, the organic compound that gives cinnamon its flavor, helps you to burn fat.
Cinnamon is a common holiday spice with surprising fat-burning properties, new research suggests.

Pumpkin pie, mulled wine, hot chocolate, and eggnog — these are just a handful of the foods and drinks that make the holidays such a truly delicious time.

But if you’re worried that such yummy treats could make you pack on the extra pounds, worry no more! These enticing foods also contain cinnamon, and new research bears some good news: the common holiday spice could help you to burn fat.

The new study comes from the University of Michigan (UM) Life Sciences Institute (LSI) in Ann Arbor, and the research was led by Jun Wu, a research assistant professor at the LSI and an assistant professor of molecular and integrative physiology at the UM Medical School.

Wu and colleagues set out to examine the effect of cinnamaldehyde on human fat cells. Speaking about the motivation for her study, Wu says, “Scientists were finding that this compound affected metabolism.”

Previous studies in mice had already shown that cinnamaldehyde helps to fight off obesity and hyperglycemia. “So,” Wu continues, “we wanted to figure out how — what pathway might be involved, what it looked like in mice, and what it looked like in human cells.”

To do this, the researchers treated adipocytes, or fat cells, from both mice and humans with the compound. Their findings were published in the journal Metabolism.

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Cinnamon triggers fat-burning process

The experiments revealed that cinnamaldehyde has a direct effect on fat cells. In a process known as thermogenesis, the compound makes the adipocytes start burning the fat that they had been storing.

Adipocytes store lipids, which can then be burned for energy. The cells evolved to help our bodies use energy resources effectively during times when such resources might be scarce, such as through a cold winter or famine.

“It’s only been relatively recently that energy surplus has become a problem. Throughout evolution, the opposite — energy deficiency — has been the problem. So any energy-consuming process usually turns off the moment the body doesn’t need it,” Wu explains.

Getting the body to turn the energy-consuming process, or thermogenesis, back on has been the focus of recent research, especially in light of the so-called obesity epidemic.

The study authors think that cinnamon might be one such way to turn thermogenesis on. In their research, they found a higher expression of certain genes and enzymes that boost lipid metabolism in the adipocytes treated with cinnamaldehyde.

Additionally, they found a higher level of Ucp1 and Fgf21, which are regulatory proteins that help to induce thermogenesis.

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Cinnamon may be better than drugs

In the study paper, Wu and team conclude, “Given the wide usage of cinnamon in the food industry, the notion that this popular food additive, instead of a drug, may activate thermogenesis, could ultimately lead to therapeutic strategies against obesity that are much better adhered to by participants.”

The lead researcher emphasizes this conclusion.

Cinnamon has been part of our diets for thousands of years, and people generally enjoy it […] So if it can help protect against obesity, too, it may offer an approach to metabolic health that is easier for patients to adhere to.”

Jun Wu

So, this holiday season, we’re probably safe to add a bit more cinnamon — but not a massive amount — to our festive food.

The researchers caution that more research is needed to figure out the perfect way to use cinnamaldehyde to trigger thermogenesis without causing any side effects.

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Medical News Today: Blood blister in mouth: Pictures and treatment

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Medical News Today: Could vitamin D help to keep rheumatoid arthritis at bay?

After studying immune cells taken from the joints of people with rheumatoid arthritis, scientists have found that once the disease sets in, some types of cell lose their sensitivity to vitamin D.
old woman's hands
Researchers explore vitamin D’s role in rheumatoid arthritis.

The team — which comprised researchers from University College London and the University of Birmingham, both in the United Kingdom — reports the new findings in the Journal of Autoimmunity.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that arises because the immune system attacks healthy tissue — usually the joints — by mistake, leading to painful inflammation and swelling.

The disease often affects several joints at the same time, such as the knees, hands, and wrists. It inflames the lining of the joint and eventually damages the joint itself. This can lead to long-lasting pain, problems with balance, and deformity.

Estimates suggest that approximately 1 percent of the world’s population has rheumatoid arthritis, including around 1.3 million adults in the United States. It affects women more often than men, raising the question of whether hormonal factors may be involved.

Study examined cells from inflamed joints

In their journal paper, the researchers explain that previous studies have revealed that vitamin D has “potent anti-inflammatory effects,” including the ability to suppress activity in some types of immune system T cell that are known to be active in rheumatoid arthritis.

However, those studies have only used immune cells isolated from blood, and so the impact of vitamin D on immune cells “at the site of active disease is unclear.”

A significant feature of the new study is that it is the first to use immune cells taken from both the blood and from the inflamed joints of people with rheumatoid arthritis.

“Unlike previous studies,” explains senior study author Karim Raza, a professor in the Institution of Inflammation and Ageing at the University of Birmingham, “we isolated different immune cell types from the actual site of disease to determine whether specific subsets of immune cells (specific T cell groups) have equal sensitivity to vitamin D.”

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Immune cells lost sensitivity to vitamin D

For the investigation, the scientists used samples of synovial fluid taken from the joints of 15 people with rheumatoid arthritis aged between 40 and 85. Synovial fluid is a thick, sticky liquid that acts as a lubricant to reduce friction between bones that meet at joints.

They also examined blood samples taken from those with rheumatoid arthritis, and from individuals without rheumatoid arthritis — matched for the same age and gender — who had donated to a blood bank (the controls).

When they tested how immune cells in the different samples reacted to vitamin D, they found that some types of immune cell responded differently.

In particular, they found that some types of T cell taken from inflamed joints were less sensitive to the anti-inflammatory effects of vitamin D than those taken from the blood of the same people.

Corresponding study author Martin Hewison, a professor in the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Metabolism and Systems Research, explains, “This appears to be because immune cells from the joints of rheumatoid arthritis patients are more committed to inflammation, and therefore less likely to change, even though they have all the machinery to respond to vitamin D.”

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Can vitamin D prevent rheumatoid arthritis?

Although the study was limited to investigating cells in the laboratory, the findings would appear to support the idea that maintaining vitamin D levels might help to prevent rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases.

However, they would also suggest that simply taking vitamin D supplements is unlikely to help people with rheumatoid arthritis because their immune cells are already desensitized.

“Instead,” notes study co-author Dr. Louisa Jeffery, also from the University of Birmingham, “much higher doses of vitamin D may be needed, or possibly a new treatment that bypasses or corrects the vitamin D insensitivity of immune cells within the joint.”

The researchers now want to take the research further and find out why rheumatoid arthritis causes immune cells to become insensitive to vitamin D, and how this might be prevented. They also want to find out if there are similar effects in other inflammatory conditions.

Our findings were unexpected as we initially thought that cells from the inflamed rheumatoid joint would respond just as well to vitamin D as cells from the blood.”

Prof. Karim Raza

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Medical News Today: What you need to know about PRP

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    Anitua, E., Pino, A., Martinez, N., Orive, G., & Berridi, D. (2017, May). The effect of plasma rich in growth factors on pattern hair loss: A pilot study [Abstract]. Dermatologic Surgery, 43(5), 658-670. Retrieved from

    Braun, H. J., Kim, H. J., Chu, C. R., & Dragoo, J. L., (2014, March 14). The effect of platelet-rich plasma formulations and blood products on human synoviocytes [Abstract]. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 42(5), 1204–1210. Retrieved from

    Charousset, C., Zaoui, A., Bellaiche, L., & Bouyer, B. (2014, April 1). Are multiple platelet-rich plasma injections useful for treatment of chronic patellar tendinopathy in athletes? A prospective study. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 42(4), 906–911. Retrieved from

    Filardo, G., Di Matteo, B., Di Martino, A., Merli, M. L., Cenacchi, A., Fornasari, P., … Kon, E. (2015, May 7). Platelet-rich plasma intra-articular knee injections show no superiority versus viscosupplementation. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 43(7), 1575–1582. Retrieved from

    Kang, J. S., Zheng, Z., Choi, M. J., Lee, S. H., Kim, D. Y., & Cho, S. B. (2014, January). The effect of CD34+ cell-containing autologous platelet-rich plasma injection on pattern hair loss: A preliminary study. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, 28(1), 72–79. Retrieved from

    Patel, S., Dhillon, M. S., Aggarwal, S., Marwaha, N., & Jain, A. (2013, February). Treatment with platelet-rich plasma is more effective than placebo for knee osteoarthritis: A prospective double-blind, randomized trial [Abstract]. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 41(2), 356–364. Retrieved from

    Gentile, P., Garcovich, S., Bielle, A., Scioli, M. G., Orlandi, A., & Cervelli, V. (2015, November). The effect of platelet-rich plasma in hair regrowth: A randomized placebo-controlled trial. Stem Cells Translational Medicine, 4(11), 1317–1323. Retrieved from

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    Storrs, C. (2009, December 18). Is platelet-rich plasma an effective healing therapy? Scientific American. Retrieved from

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Medical News Today: Cancer cell growth halted with cold and flu drug

“Feed a cold, starve a fever,” so the saying goes. The results of a new study, however, suggest that “treat a cold, starve cancer cells” might be a more appropriate motto.
illustration of a cancer cell
Researchers suggest that NAC could be used to halt cancer cell growth.

Researchers found that a medication used to ease symptoms of the common cold — called N-Acetylcysteine (NAC) — could also help to prevent the growth of cancer cells by depriving them of proteins that are important for their survival.

Study co-author Prof. Federica Sotgia, of the School of Environment and Life Sciences at the University of Salford in the United Kingdom, and colleagues recently reported their findings in the journal Seminars in Oncology.

Cancer remains one of the biggest health challenges of our time. In the United States, more than 1.6 million new cancer cases were diagnosed last year.

In terms of cancer treatment, we have come a long way over recent years. This is reflected in death rates from the disease, which fell by 13 percent between 2004 and 2013.

Still, cancer continues to the take the lives of more than half a million people in the U.S. every year, highlighting the need for new, more effective therapies.

Prof. Sotgia and colleagues hope that their new research will bring us closer to such treatments, after discovering how NAC could help to halt the spread of cancer cells.

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NAC, oxidative stress, and cancer cells

NAC — sometimes referred to as acetylcysteine — is an over-the-counter medication and dietary supplement commonly used to help alleviate some cold and flu symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing, and thick mucus.

NAC may also be used in the treatment of acetaminophen overdose, cystic fibrosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The medication also has antioxidant properties. This means that it has the ability to reduce cell damage caused by oxidative stress, which is an imbalance between potentially harmful reactive oxygen species and levels of detoxifying molecules.

Prof. Sotgia and team note that previous research has identified high levels of oxidative stress in the stromal cells of tumors, particularly breast cancer tumors. Stromal cells are cells that comprise connective tissue.

The researchers explain that when the stromal cells of tumors are exposed to oxidative stress, they release lactate and other “nutrients” that the cancer cells need to thrive.

With this in mind, the team hypothesized that the antioxidant properties of NAC might help to “starve” cancer cells of these nutrients.

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‘Encouraging results’

To test their theory, the researchers conducted a trial on 12 women who had recently received a diagnosis of stage 0 or stage 1 breast cancer, and who were awaiting surgery for the disease.

For 3 weeks between their breast cancer diagnosis and surgery, each woman received NAC. The medication was administered intravenously at a dose of 150 milligrams per kilogram once weekly. On days when the subjects did not receive NAC intravenously, they received a twice-daily oral dose of 600 milligrams.

Biopsies of each woman’s breast cancer tumor were taken both prior to and during surgery, and the researchers analyzed them for levels of three biomarkers of cancer aggressiveness: MCT4, CAV1, and Ki67.

The study revealed that levels of Ki67 in the tumors had reduced by 25 percent, while levels of MCT4 were reduced by a whopping 80 percent.

These findings indicate that treatment with NAC could be an inexpensive, non-toxic way to stop cancer cell growth and division.

“High levels of stromal MCT4 are extremely worrying,” notes study co-author Prof. Michael Lisanti, also of the School of Environment and Life Sciences at the University of Salford, “as they are linked to aggressive cancer behavior and poor overall survival, so this is very encouraging result.”

Our idea was to repurpose an inexpensive FDA-approved drug, to examine if its antioxidant properties could target the feeding behavior of cancer cells. To be able to inhibit MCT4 protein expression, in a non-toxic way, is huge step forward.”

Prof. Michael Lisanti

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Medical News Today: Cancer: 42 percent of cases down to risk factors you can change

A large new study from the American Cancer Society inventories the risk factors for various types of cancer. Those findings shed much-needed light on the proportion of cancers that could be prevented by making the necessary lifestyle changes.
man breaking cigarette in half
Smoking is the top risk factor for all cancer cases, according to new research.

The new research examined a total of 1,570,975 cancer cases, 587,521 of which resulted in death. During the analysis, 26 cancer types and 17 risk factors were analyzed.

These 17 risk factors are called “modifiable” because people can take active measures to change them. In the new study, such factors included:

  • alcohol intake
  • smoking (both first- and second-hand)
  • excess body weight
  • a low content of fiber in one’s diet
  • the consumption of processed red meat
  • a low intake of fruit and vegetables
  • ultraviolet (UV) radiation
  • low calcium
  • a lack of physical activity

Six infections that have already been linked with cancer were also included among the risk factors.

Dr. Farhad Islami, of the American Cancer Society (ACS), led the research, and the findings were published in the journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

In their analysis, Dr. Islami and his team used not only the prevalence of the risk factors, but also their “associated relative risk” — that is, the probability that said factors actually result in cancer. This information was obtained from “large-scale pooled analyses or meta-analyses.”

Data on the number of cancer cases and cancer-related deaths were gathered from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Study co-author Dr. Otis W. Brawley, ACS chief medical officer, comments on the magnitude of the study, saying, “In 1981, Doll and Peto published what has become a classic paper on the causes of cancer.”

“Since then,” he explains, “volumes of data have been published that have clarified the association between several important risk factors and cancer. In this new report, ACS scientists provide a 21st-century calculation that will guide us in the years ahead.”

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Top risk factors: Smoking, weight, alcohol

The study revealed that 42 percent of all cancers and over 45 percent of all cancer deaths were down to modifiable risk factors. The top three risk factors were smoking, excessive weight, and alcohol use.

Nineteen percent of all cancer cases and almost 29 percent of related deaths were attributable to cigarette smoking. Excess body weight accounted for 7.8 percent of cases and 6.5 percent of deaths, while 5.6 percent of cases and 4 percent of deaths were down to alcohol intake.

UV radiation was attributable to 4.7 percent of cancer cases and 1.5 percent of deaths, and lack of physical activity accounted for 2.9 percent of cancer cases and 2.2 percent of deaths.

Certain major cancers had a high portion of cases attributable to modifiable risk factors. Lung cancer was at the top, with 85.8 percent of cases down to such factors, 81.7 percent of which were attributable to smoking alone.

Over 70 percent of liver cancer cases, almost 55 percent of colorectal cancer cases, and nearly 29 percent of breast cancer cases could be attributed to modifiable risk factors.

Additional findings include the fact that UV radiation was linked to 96 percent of skin melanoma cases, and excess body weight to over 60 percent of uterine cancers.

Fifty percent of esophageal cancers were tied to smoking. Cigarettes were also associated with nearly 47 percent of bladder cancer cases. Finally, over 10 percent of colorectal cancers were associated with a low intake of dietary fiber.

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‘Knowing about preventive measures’ is key

“[T]hese findings underscore the vast potential for reducing cancer morbidity and mortality through broad and equitable implementation of known preventive measures,” conclude the authors.

The study authors remind the public of the four key factors that everyone can keep in check: body weight, alcohol consumption, diet, and physical activity.

The combined influence of these four factors made up nearly 14 percent of cancer risk in women and over 22 percent in men.

Dr. Islami and colleagues write:

Our findings emphasize the continued need for widespread implementation of known preventive measures in the country to reduce the morbidity and premature mortality from cancers associated with potentially modifiable risk factors.”

“Increasing access to preventive healthcare and awareness about preventive measures,” the authors conclude, “should be part of any comprehensive strategy for broad and equitable implementation of known interventions to accelerate progress against cancer.”

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Medical News Today: What is precordial catch syndrome?

Precordial catch syndrome is a common cause of chest pain in older children and young adults. Precordial means “in front of the heart,” which is where a person feels the pain. It is also known as Texidor’s twitch.

While it can be painful, it will usually go away on its own, and it leaves no lasting impact.

In this article, we look at the symptoms of precordial catch syndrome, along with why it occurs and what can be done to treat it.


Man in business clothes at desk clutching chest in pain.
Precordial catch syndrome causes pain in the chest, and usually occurs when a person is in a resting position.

Precordial catch syndrome normally occurs when a person is at rest, particularly if they are in a slouched position or if they are bending over.

People report feeling a sharp, stabbing or needle-like pain in the chest when breathing in. A person often feels the pain below the left nipple.

The pain, which has nothing to do with eating, usually only lasts for a short time. This can be between a couple of seconds and 3 minutes. It can happen just once or multiple times throughout the day.

Precordial catch syndrome is often made worse by deep breathing, but there is no tenderness in the area. It does not spread out to other areas of the chest, as pain caused by a heart attack would.

The severity of the pain varies between individuals. Some people experience a dull, annoying pain. Other people experience such intense pain that it can cause momentary vision loss or blurriness.

The pain, which tends to cover an area no bigger than one or two fingertips, completely goes away suddenly.

People with precordial catch syndrome experience no other symptoms or physical changes. They will not experience any paleness, flushing, or wheezing but may feel lightheaded from prolonged shallow breathing. Their pulse rate and rhythm remain normal.

Are there any complications?

Because it can hurt to breathe deeply, people with precordial catch syndrome tend to take shallow breaths, which can lead to light-headedness.

The nature of the pain can sometimes lead to anxiety, as people may think that it is a sign of a more serious cardiac condition, such as a heart attack. This can be made worse by unnecessary, extensive tests or referrals to cardiac specialists.

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Woman with bad slouching posture at desk in front of laptop.
Bad posture, such as slouching, may cause precordial catch syndrome.

There is no obvious trigger for precordial catch syndrome. While the sudden onset of the pain may be scary, it is not caused by a heart attack or lung disease.

Experts think that the pain caused by precordial catch syndrome is caused by nerves getting pinched or irritated in the inner lining of the chest wall.

The symptoms come and go very suddenly, and they may start in the chest wall, ribs, or connective tissue.

Precordial catch syndrome can occur due to a growth spurt, bad posture, or an injury, such as a blow to the chest.

Who is at risk?

Precordial catch syndrome is most common in teenagers and young adults, but children as young as 6 years old can also experience it.

In rare cases, adults can also experience precordial catch syndrome.

Can it be prevented?

Precordial catch syndrome is sometimes caused by a growth spurt, which is not preventable.

Other causes, such as injury to the chest, can be avoided. Bad posture, including slouching, is a contributory factor, so standing or sitting straight may help prevent future episodes.


A doctor will rule out other, more serious causes of chest pain by taking a full medical history, assessing symptoms, and asking about any other health problems.

They will usually carry out a physical examination of the chest, looking for tenderness and listening to the heart and lungs.

Precordial catch syndrome is harmless and very common. In most cases, a doctor will not need to do any tests to diagnose it.

When should I see a doctor?

Someone who thinks they have precordial catch syndrome should seek medical attention if they have any underlying heart conditions, or if they develop other symptoms.

Anyone who experiences changes in the nature or frequency of the pain should visit a healthcare professional.

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Woman taking deep breaths outside, inhaling fresh air.
Improving posture and practising breathing exercises may help to treat precordial catch syndrome symptoms.

The pain associated with precordial catch syndrome will go away on its own, so specific treatment is not usually needed.

Doctors may recommend an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory to help relieve the pain.

Relaxing and taking slow breaths might help, as may changing posture from slouching or being bent over to sitting upright.

Some people have found that taking a deep breath makes precordial catch syndrome go away, but it may do so at the cost of a sharp, brief stab of pain. Most people who experience precordial catch syndrome advise taking shallow breaths until the pain goes away.

People may also benefit from being reassured that the condition is harmless.


Precordial catch syndrome usually affects just children and teenagers, and most will outgrow it by the time they reach their 20s.

It is a harmless condition, and there are no significant side effects as a result of it occurring.

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Medical News Today: Study shows how gut bacteria may trigger MS

Alterations in gut bacteria at a young age could help to trigger and progress multiple sclerosis in people who are genetically predisposed to the autoimmune disease.
blue gut bacteria
Could changes to gut bacteria give rise to MS?

A team of researchers from Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway, NJ, came to this conclusion after studying the effect of altered gut bacteria in mice genetically engineered to have a high risk of multiple sclerosis (MS). They report their findings in the journal PNAS.

A significant feature of the new study is that it suggests a mechanism through which altered gut bacteria and MS risk genes — acting during young adulthood — may collaborate to trigger the disease. Another is that the researchers engineered a unique mouse model to study MS.

MS is a lifelong autoimmune disease wherein the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue in the central nervous system (CNS), which comprises the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves.

The immune attacks disrupt the nerve signals between the brain and the body that carry messages and help us to move our limbs and use our senses.

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Clues on causes of MS increasing

There are many different symptoms of MS, depending both on which parts of the CNS come under attack and the extent of the damage.

These include: blurring and loss of vision; poor coordination and balance; tremors; extreme fatigue; numbness; slurred speech; paralysis; and difficulty concentrating and remembering. The symptoms can flare up and subside or they can stay and gradually get worse.

While MS can strike any person any age, most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50 and it is more common in women than in men.

In the United States, there is currently no formal consistent reporting of MS, but estimates suggest that there could be as many as 1 million people living with MS.

The exact causes of MS are still somewhat of a mystery, although scientists studying animal models of the disease have discovered many clues as to how the immune system and its inflammatory processes attack the myelin sheath and the nerve fibers inside.

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‘Gut dysbiosis’ linked to MS

One area that researchers are homing in on is the role that gut microbes, or gut microbiota, might play in MS.

Alterations in the composition of the gut microbiota — termed “gut dysbiosis” — are often observed in people with MS, but the mechanisms through which they might be contributing to the disease are yet to be described.

To explore the role of gut dysbiosis in MS further, the Rutgers researchers genetically engineered a unique breed of mice so that they had a high risk of developing MS. They did this by inserting human genes known to be linked to MS into the mice.

The team — including Prof. Suhayl Dhib-Jalbut, director of Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson Center for Multiple Sclerosis — found that if the genetically engineered mice were raised in a germ-free, sterile environment, “they did not develop MS.”

However, when they moved the mice to a normal environment — that is, one that contains many types of bacteria — they found that the animals did develop symptoms that were very similar to human MS.

The mice also developed bowel inflammation, which suggested to the team that something to do with the gut bacteria might have triggered the MS-like disease.

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Age, gut dysbiosis, and risk genes

The team also found that the younger mice were more likely to develop MS than the older mice, suggesting that there was an age-related window of opportunity for the altered gut bacteria and MS risk genes to collaborate and trigger the disease.

During that period in young adulthood of the mice, the researchers observed a reduction in the “development of Foxp3+ Treg cells and expression of E3 ubiquitin ligase genes involved in protection from autoimmune diseases.”

The scientists therefore suggest that a direction for future study could be how to eliminate the harmful strains of bacteria or increase the beneficial strains to slow progression of MS. In their study, they identified some of these.

The team is already in receipt of funding to carry on their investigation in people with MS.

The findings could have therapeutic implications on slowing down MS progression by manipulating gut bacteria.”

Prof. Suhayl Dhib-Jalbut

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Medical News Today: Can you overdose on melatonin?

Melatonin is a popular supplement that many people use to help them fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. Melatonin varies in effectiveness from person to person, which may lead to an accidental overdose.

A melatonin overdose can cause unwanted and irritating side effects. It is important for people using melatonin to be mindful of side effects and always begin with the lowest dose possible.

What is melatonin?

Melatonin tablets piled on stone surface.
Melatonin supplements are used to resolve sleep-based problems, such as insomnia or a disrupted sleeping pattern.

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in the body that helps regulate the sleep cycle. It is produced by the pineal gland in the brain.

Melatonin levels increase and decrease throughout the day. Typically, melatonin levels rise through the evening and stay elevated overnight, allowing a person to sleep. In the morning, the levels drop back, allowing a person to wake up.

Melatonin is produced in the body, but a person can also acquire minimal amounts of melatonin from food. Some vegetables and fruit contain small amounts of melatonin, and it is also available as an over-the-counter supplement.

Taking a melatonin supplement may help alleviate insomnia and sleep-related problems. Some people take melatonin supplements while traveling to reduce jet lag.

Shift workers may also take it to help them fall asleep during the day or at irregular hours.

Due to potential side effects, it is essential that anyone starting to take melatonin supplements talk to a doctor first.

Symptoms of a melatonin overdose

The symptoms of a melatonin overdose will vary from person to person. Some people may find that too much melatonin may actually cause them to be more awake, which is the opposite of its intended purpose.

Others find that taking too much melatonin causes them to feel extremely sleepy during unintended times or cause intense dreams or nightmares.

Some additional symptoms of a melatonin overdose may include:

People with high blood pressure or who are taking medications that lower blood pressure should speak to a doctor before using melatonin.

Blood pressure medications may decrease a person’s natural production of melatonin, which may prompt them to take melatonin to help offset the imbalance. However, melatonin can cause changes in blood pressure, including unsafe and unexpected spikes.

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Correct dosage

Pharmacist discussing medicine prescription with customer.
A doctor or pharmacist can advise on the correct melatonin dose to take.

According to, an adult typically begins with a dose of between two-tenths of a milligram (mg) and 5 mg. If this dose is well-tolerated but not effective, the person can slowly increase the dose until they get the desired results.

The same dose may cause unwanted side effects in one individual while not making a noticeable difference in another adult. Age, weight, and overall sensitivity to the supplement affect how much melatonin a person should take.

Melatonin is not recommended for children unless they have a neurodevelopmental disorder that makes it difficult for them to sleep. If a doctor prescribes melatonin for a child, it is important to follow the exact dosage prescribed. Even small amounts of melatonin can cause seizures or other serious side effects.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not regulate melatonin. Supplements may vary in strength between manufacturers, so a person should research consumer reports before choosing a brand of melatonin.

Medications that interact with melatonin

Melatonin can have a direct effect on a person’s sleep cycle. A person should avoid taking melatonin alongside products containing caffeine or alcohol, as both of these can affect a person’s ability to fall asleep.

Anyone who is taking other medications should discuss possible side effects with their prescribing doctor. Prescription and over-the-counter drugs can interact with melatonin supplements.

Some medications, such as birth control, can cause the body to produce more melatonin. Taking a supplement may cause levels of melatonin to increase too much, producing unwanted side effects.

Immune suppressors and some blood thinners may also react with melatonin. For example, melatonin may intensify the effects of some blood thinners, causing a risk of excessive bleeding.

When to see a doctor

Woman clutching her chest because of heart pain.
Sudden, unexplained pain in the chest may require immediate medical attention.

A person should speak to a doctor if they are considering taking melatonin for trouble sleeping. A doctor can recommend the correct dose and tell a person whether their medication is likely to cause unsafe side effects.

People should also report any unwanted side effects from melatonin to a doctor as soon as possible.

A person using melatonin should contact poison control, 911, or their local emergency number if they experience any of the following side effects:

  • extremely high blood pressure
  • shortness of breath
  • sudden chest pain

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Treating an overdose

Treatment for a melatonin overdose will depend on the severity of the symptoms. In an emergency situation, a doctor will focus on stabilizing the person’s condition. A person experiencing chest pain or trouble breathing may require additional medical interventions.

In most cases, the best treatment is to reduce or eliminate melatonin use. There is no research indicating that it is unsafe to stop using melatonin suddenly.

If a person has to stop using melatonin because of side effects, a doctor or sleep specialist may be able to recommend other methods to help the person fall asleep.


Some people may find melatonin far more effective to help them fall and stay asleep throughout the night than others. Some people may not tolerate even small doses of melatonin and others may not experience any benefits from taking melatonin.

For some people struggling with insomnia or having trouble sleeping, a sleep specialist may be able to give additional suggestions. A sleep specialist may recommend cutting out caffeine or reducing alcohol consumption.

It is not likely that an adult taking melatonin will experience a medical emergency. On the other hand, children are far more likely to experience severe medical issues when they take melatonin supplements.

All people should start with the smallest dose of melatonin possible to avoid potential overdose, and consult a doctor before they begin.

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