Medical News Today: What you should know about hairy tongue

Hairy tongue is a medical condition where the surface of the tongue takes on a discolored and furry appearance.

Although it may seem unpleasant, hairy tongue is a relatively harmless condition that can be easily dealt with in most cases.

Here, we will discuss what hairy tongue is, how it can be triggered and how it may be treated or prevented.

What is hairy tongue

Dentist looking at patient's tongue and mouth.
Hairy tongue is when a buildup of filiform papillae forms on the tongue, creating a layer of ‘hair’.

The upper surface of the tongue is rough in texture because it is covered in tiny, processes or protrusions called papillae. There are several types of papillae, the most numerous of which are called filiform papillae.

Filiform papillae are elongated, cone-shaped protrusions responsible for the gripping of food on the surface of the tongue. These structures usually grow to about 1 millimeter in length before they are shed from the tongue, allowing new ones to grow.

Hairy tongue occurs when these filiform papillae do not shed properly, and there is a buildup of the skin protein known as keratin. When this happens, food, bacteria, or yeast can accumulate in the over-keratinized filiform papillae network and cause odd discoloration.

When shedding is delayed, filiform papillae continue to build up in the keratin and resemble the hair-like protrusions from which the condition takes its name.

How common is hairy tongue?

According to the American Academy of Oral Medicine, hairy tongue is thought to affect around 13 percent of the population, but its prevalence varies in some groups. For example, hairy tongue is much more common in individuals with certain drug addictions.

The chances of hairy tongue developing increase with age, as the effects of risk factors, such as tobacco use, have more time to accumulate.

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Black hairy tongue. Image credit: Com4, (2007, February 22)
Black hairy tongue may be caused by tobacco, tea, or coffee.
Image credit: Com4, (2007, February 22)

Different factors can trigger the onset of hairy tongue. These include:

  • A soft diet: A lack of stimulation for abrasion to the surface of the tongue can prevent sufficient shedding of the papillae.
  • Poor oral hygiene: This can cause a buildup of bacteria or yeast, contributing to hairy tongue.
  • Certain substances: Tobacco use, as well as excessive consumption of alcohol, coffee or tea, for example.
  • Dehydration or dry mouth: Lack of moisture in the mouth can make a person more prone to having hairy tongue.
  • Certain medications: These include some treatments for stomach acid reflux.
  • Oral hygiene products: Certain types of mouthwash, such as those containing peroxide.

Hairy tongue can take on a number of different colors, but some triggers will cause specific colors to develop. An example of this is black hairy tongue, which is associated with the consumption of tobacco, coffee, tea, or use of some mouthwashes.

A tongue with the condition called oral hairy leukoplakia is usually caused by a viral infection, such as human Immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), weakening a person’s immune system.

The microscopic appearance of a tongue with oral hairy leukoplakia differs from that of hairy tongue, as the two conditions are different. However, oral hairy leukoplakia can cause the tongue to have white patches that look hairy in appearance upon close inspection.


Appearance aside, it is possible for other symptoms of hairy tongue to develop, including:

  • a burning sensation on the tongue
  • a tickling on the roof of the mouth when swallowing
  • a gagging sensation
  • bad breath, otherwise known as halitosis
  • a metallic taste in the mouth
  • nausea

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Treatment and prevention

Young man brushing his tongue in the bathroom mirror
Practicing good oral hygiene, and gently brushing the tongue, may help to prevent and treat hairy tongue.

Medical treatment is often not necessary for hairy tongue, as it is typically a transient condition, which poses no serious health risk.

Treatment and prevention are typically achieved through changes to a person’s lifestyle that may have trigger the onset of hairy tongue. Oral hygiene and regular visits to the dentist are the best ways to stop hairy tongue from occurring.

It is also essential to maintain a nutritious and well-balanced diet, containing a good balance of fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, and minimal sugar to promote oral health.

Consuming a sufficient amount of water throughout the day will also help to keep the mouth clean.

Other approaches may include:

  • Avoiding or limiting the consumption of substances that are associated with hairy tongue, such as coffee, tea, alcohol, or tobacco.
  • Brushing the tongue or using a specialized tongue scraper to help with oral hygiene.
  • Switching medications, if this is a suspected trigger of hairy tongue. However, this should only be attempted in consultation with a doctor.

In rare cases, the condition can be more persistent, and medical help should be sought from a doctor or a dentist.

If lifestyle changes have not been successful in treating the condition, a doctor or dentist may recommend further evaluation and a more focused treatment. For example, an antibiotic or antifungal medication may be prescribed to remove bacteria or yeast.

It is also possible in some cases to have the filiform papillae surgically removed.


The unpleasant appearance of hairy tongue may cause some psychological discomfort or embarrassment, but it is usually a harmless condition with no other symptoms.

Maintaining good oral hygiene is important in preventing and treating incidences of hairy tongue. However, in rare cases, medicine or surgery may be needed to treat the condition.

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Medical News Today: Heart disease risk increased fivefold for bald and graying men

New findings show that male pattern baldness and getting gray hair prematurely puts men under 40 at risk of heart disease. In fact, these men are five times likelier to develop the condition, representing a risk higher than the one posed by obesity.
bald man
Young men with hair loss may need to be screened for heart disease, suggests new research.

High blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, smoking, and physical inactivity are just a few of the “traditional” risk factors for developing heart disease, which is the leading cause of death among people in the United States.

But new research suggests that two further risk factors should be added to this list: male pattern baldness and prematurely gray hair.

Results of the study — led by Dr. Kamal Sharma, who is an associate professor in the Department of Cardiology at the U.N. Mehta Institute of Cardiology and Research Centre in Ahmedabad, India — were presented at the 69th Annual Conference of the Cardiological Society of India, held in Kolkata, India.

The first author of the study is Dr. Dhammdeep Humane, who is a senior cardiology resident at the U.N. Mehta Institute of Cardiology and Research Centre.

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Studying baldness and heart disease risk

Dr. Sharma and colleagues investigated 790 men younger than 40 years old who had coronary artery disease, as well as 1,270 age-matched healthy controls.

The team assessed the participants’ health using an electrocardiogram, an echocardiogram, blood tests, and a coronary angiogram.

Male pattern baldness was evaluated using a score ranging from 0 (no baldness) to 1 (mild), 2 (moderate), or 3 (severe). Participants were given a score after 24 views of their scalp were analyzed.

A percentage of gray and white hairs was determined and used to give a “hair whitening score” for the participants. The researchers also examined their angiographic lesions, which are a marker of coronary artery disease.

Dr. Sharma and colleagues analyzed the link between baldness, gray hair, and the severity of the lesions in both the heart disease group and the control one.

The results show that half of the men with coronary heart disease had gray hair, compared with only 30 percent of the healthy men. And, almost half of the men (49 percent) had male pattern baldness, compared with 27 percent in the healthy group.

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Extra monitoring for heart disease needed

Male pattern baldness increased the risk of coronary artery disease by 5.6 times, and premature graying by 5.3 times. By comparison, obesity increased heart disease risk by little over 4 times.

Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, a family history of heart disease, a high body mass index (BMI), high triglycerides, and smoking also predicted coronary artery disease.

“The incidence of coronary artery disease in young men,” explains study co-author Dr. Sachin Patil, a third-year resident at the U.N. Mehta Institute of Cardiology and Research Centre, “is increasing but cannot be explained by traditional risk factors.”

“Premature graying and [male pattern baldness],” he adds, “correlate well with vascular age irrespective of chronological age and are plausible risk factors for coronary artery disease.”

Dr. Sharma echoes these thoughts, saying, “Baldness and premature graying should be considered risk factors for coronary artery disease. These factors may indicate biological, rather than chronological, age which may be important in determining total cardiovascular risk.”

“Currently physicians use common sense to estimate biological age, but a validated scale is needed,” he adds.

Men with premature graying and androgenic alopecia should receive extra monitoring for coronary artery disease and advice on lifestyle changes such as healthy diet, exercise, and stress management.”

Dr. Dhammdeep Humane

“Our study found associations,” Dr. Humane continues, “but a causal relationship needs to be established before statins can be recommended for men with baldness or premature graying.”

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Medical News Today: Can apple cider vinegar treat erectile dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction can be a frustrating and demoralizing condition, particularly when standard treatments do not work. There is little scientific evidence that apple cider vinegar can treat erectile dysfunction.

Apple cider vinegar may, however, treat some of the medical conditions that can lead to erectile dysfunction (ED). Anecdotal evidence and folk medical tradition both suggest that ED may improve with apple cider vinegar.

Most men experience few or no side effects associated with apple cider vinegar, making it a possible alternative for men concerned about the health effects of ED drugs.

What is apple cider vinegar?

Apple cider vinegar in glass and bowl, next to large apple on table.
Apple cider vinegar has long been popular, as a natural treatment for a range of conditions.

Apple cider is fermented apple juice. Apple cider vinegar is made from apple cider. Apple cider commonly contains alcohol, so apple cider vinegar may, too.

The specific content and concentrations of alcohol and apples in apple cider vinegar vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.

Like all vinegar, apple cider vinegar must contain at least 4 grams (g) per 100 milliliters (ml) of acetic acid to be classified as vinegar.

Proponents say it can cure hiccups, sore throats, congestion, and stomach pain. It might also lower cholesterol, treat minor skin problems, such as dandruff and acne, help with leg cramps, and eliminate bad breath.

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Apple cider vinegar for ED

For some men, ED means being completely unable to get an erection. In others, an erection does not last long enough or takes a lot of effort to sustain.

No studies have directly tested the effects of apple cider vinegar on ED. This means that a man should not use the vinegar as the only treatment for his ED, particularly when he does not know what is causing the problem.

The most common problems that lead to ED include:

Apple cider vinegar can treat some, but not all, causes of ED. Moreover, research on the effectiveness of apple cider vinegar is mixed.

Some studies that found a benefit were small or poorly designed. In other cases, some studies found a benefit while others did not. So men should talk to their doctors before trying apple cider vinegar for ED.

Some research suggests that apple cider vinegar may help with:

Protecting heart health

Apple being held in man's hands with heart shape cut out of it.
Improving heart health may help to treat ED. Apple cider vinegar is thought to have several benefits fo heart health.

Apple cider vinegar may help lower blood lipids and cholesterol. This can improve heart health, theoretically reducing the severity of ED.

A 2014 study of female mice found that apple cider vinegar could lower blood lipids.

A 2017 study of male rats found a link between apple cider vinegar and better cardiovascular health. Even though the rats ate a high-fat diet, apple cider vinegar reduced the risk of obesity, which is linked to poor heart health.

Rats who consumed apple cider vinegar were also less likely to have metabolic changes linked to obesity and worse heart health.

Improving organ health

Oxidative stress is one way that the kidneys and liver can be damaged over time. Research on mice has found that apple cider vinegar may slow signs of oxidative stress in the kidneys and liver.

Apple cider vinegar may also increase levels of antioxidants that can improve organ health. While no research has shown that this can prevent ED due to kidney or liver damage, it does suggest that people with organ diseases may benefit from apple cider vinegar.

There is no evidence that apple cider vinegar can improve symptoms of ED related to recent organ surgery.

Treating diabetes

Diabetes can undermine heart health and circulation, making it hard to get an erection. Some research has found that apple cider vinegar may treat diabetes. For example, a 2015 study of diabetic mice found that the vinegar could significantly lower blood glucose. Other studies have found that various vinegars can help with diabetes.

However, a 2016 review of previous research argues that there is no definite evidence linking apple cider vinegar to an improvement in diabetes symptoms. The study contends that other vinegars may be helpful, but the study’s authors say that the risks of apple cider vinegar outweigh the benefits.

Is apple cider vinegar safe?

Man looking at pack of supplement vitamins in shop.
Apple cider vinegar supplements can vary in potency and acidity, making it important to compare brands and choose supplements based on individual health needs.

People allergic to apples or cider should not use apple cider vinegar.

There are safety concerns when using potent apple cider vinegar. One study investigated the potency of apple cider vinegar tablets sold at various stores.

The products varied significantly and often differed in potency and acidity from the claims made on the label. That study followed reports of people whose throats were burned following the use of apple cider vinegar tablets.

People with a history of issues with acid reflux or other acid-related stomach problems may wish to avoid apple cider vinegar. Because of the reports about the vinegar burning people’s throats, it is best for people with throat pain, mouth sores, or ulcers to avoid apple cider vinegar unless a doctor advises otherwise.

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How to use apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is a nutritional supplement, so there is no single recommended dosage. It has a very strong flavor, which makes it useful as a pungent seasoning in some dishes.

A few ways to use apple cider vinegar include:

  • Adding a small quantity, such as a teaspoon, to a smoothie.
  • Replacing salad dressing or other vinegars with apple cider vinegar.
  • Swallowing a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar as a daily supplement.
  • Mixing a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar with sparkling water for a flavorful drink.


ED can be well managed with a number of treatments. Prescription drugs can help a man get and sustain an erection. Treatment for underlying medical conditions can also help. A man with depression or anxiety may find that his ED improves with therapy, medication, or both. Likewise, couples counseling can help couples overcome stress or relationship-related ED.

Apple cider vinegar may be an effective supplement to standard treatments for medical conditions linked to ED. However, when a man does not know the cause of his ED, he should not use apple cider vinegar as his first choice of remedy.

Instead, he should see his doctor for testing to understand the underlying cause. Once the doctor has identified a cause, both standard and supplemental treatments — including apple cider vinegar — may help improve symptoms.

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Medical News Today: All you need to know about microblading

For people with thin eyebrows looking for what some consider to be a semi-permanent fill, microblading might be an option. Here is what you need to know about this new trend, including facts, costs, and associated risks.

The term “microblading” has been around for a few years and celebrities have recently caught on, including Madonna.

Microblading is a cosmetic tattooing procedure that fills in thin eyebrow areas to make them look fuller. Unlike a traditional tattoo, which is permanent, the coloring from microblading may last for up to 3 years. This is because microblading uses different tools and a smaller amount of pigment.

What is microblading?

Microblading cosmetic tattooing procedure for eyebrows.
During microblading, color pigments are applied to the eyebrow area, to give the appearance of hairs.

An esthetician uses a microblade tool to apply color pigments that look like real hairs. The color effect will fade over time, so touch-ups may be necessary to maintain the desired look.

Microblading is said to offer natural looking and defined eyebrows, but the process typically takes some time to perfect.

The initial procedure may take up to a couple of hours, and the eyebrows will appear darker immediately after the initial treatment.

It is possible that the color will fade after a few weeks and a touch-up may be needed.

What to be aware of

All cosmetic procedures, including microblading and permanent makeup tattooing, have possible risks associated with them.

It is also important to remember that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not regulate the color additive substances of the pigments used in these cosmetic practices.

Therefore, it is essential to be aware of the risks of microblading before undergoing a procedure.

Do the research

One of the most important things to think about when considering microblading is the salon that will be carrying out the procedure. The person doing the microblading should be a licensed esthetician who has undergone the appropriate training.

Because microblading regulations can vary from state to state, anyone who is considering having the procedure needs to take precautions.

In general, highly skilled and licensed estheticians at high-quality salons and spas offer microblading, but a person considering microblading should check out each esthetician’s credentials before going ahead with the procedure.

Someone with accreditation from either from the American Association of Micropigmentation or the Society of Permanent Cosmetic Professionals (SPCP) is likely to have more credibility and training in permanent makeup or microblading.

Both organizations are also good starting points for locating licensed and skilled technicians and estheticians.

Allergic reaction

While allergic reactions to organic pigments used for the procedure are rare, it can happen. It is, therefore, important to ask the esthetician what types of pigment they are using and how they confirm allergies.


Since microblading breaks the skin, there is a serious risk for transmission of infectious diseases, including HIV and bacterial skin infections.

Unsterile tools and other equipment are among the leading risks for transmitting infection. It is essential that all equipment is sterilized before the procedure has even started to avoid any infectious complications.


Microblading cannot be easily covered up if it is done incorrectly. If this occurs, a person will likely endure additional costs to manage complications and correct the procedure. The best way to ensure the procedure is done correctly is by vetting the esthetician and the establishment where a person is considering getting the microblading done.

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Beautician and spa worker explaining services to customer.
The esthetician should provide guidance on risks, preparing for microblading, and promoting recovery afterwards.

According to the SPCP, the possibility of problems with permanent makeup procedures is rare when all health standards are followed, especially in regards to the disinfection and sterilization of equipment.

Medical complications may also be related to post-procedural care, but these risks decrease when a person follows aftercare instructions properly.

One 2014 report in the journal, Clinical Interventions in Aging, confirms that cosmetic tattooing bears the same risks as other types of tattoo procedures. These risks can be minimized, and consumers can be protected with better education, information, and training.


According to Paradise Salon of Carson City, Nevada, preparation for a microblading procedure involves:

  • Avoiding caffeine beverages or alcohol on the day of the procedure.
  • Tinting brows before the appointment.
  • No tanning or sunbathing for 3 days before the appointment.
  • No waxing or plucking eyebrows within 2 days beforehand.
  • No chemical peels and other intense facial treatments for at least 2 to 3 weeks before the procedure.
  • Wash and style hair before the procedure, as the brows must not come into contact with water for at least 7 days.

Other spas and salons will likely recommend a similar set of instructions for preparation, which might include:

  • Discontinuing vitamin A (Retinol) and Botox treatments for at least 1 month beforehand.
  • Stopping taking fish oil or any other natural blood thinners, such as vitamin E, at least 1 week before the procedure.
  • Avoiding aspirin or ibuprofen for pain relief (as these types of medications are blood thinners).
  • Not working out the day of the appointment.


On the day of the procedure, it is important to sit down with the esthetician and voice any questions or concerns. The esthetician should also explain the procedure and the options, including style and color, and make recommendations.

Before the procedure starts, the esthetician will probably use a topical numbing ointment on the brow area, which helps reduce discomfort during the microblading procedure — although, according to the SPCP, there are various options for topical anesthesia available.

Once the client is comfortable, the technician begins the procedure. The process is very detailed and can take up to 2 hours. It is important for the esthetician to take their time because the result will last for a few years and needs to be done well.

The client may feel a scraping-type of sensation in the brow area, but the process is usually only minimally painful and very tolerable.

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Man washing his face gently with water from bathroom sink.
Washing the eyebrows gently with antibacterial soap, while avoiding exposing them to too much water for too long, may help to promote recovery.

After the microblading procedure, and for at least 1 week afterward, a person’s eyebrows might appear darker. They may also feel sharper due to scabbing and healing. It is also normal to experience some redness and mild swelling.

The esthetician will give their clients aftercare instructions, which might include:

  • Gently washing over the eyebrows with a fingertip, using antibacterial soap and water for about 10 seconds, rinsing, and then patting dry.
  • Using a minimal amount of moisturizing ointment.
  • Keeping the brows away from water for 7–10 days, which includes not taking long showers or swimming.
  • Avoiding putting makeup on the brow area while it is actively healing to keep the area as clean as possible.
  • Not picking at the scabs.
  • Avoiding direct sunlight or tanning for at least 4 weeks after the procedure.
  • Not using facial scrubs or peels for at least 4 weeks after the procedure.
  • Not sleeping on the face for at least 10 days after the procedure

Outcome and costs

The goal of microblading is to create a natural-looking fill for thin eyebrows. The results can last anywhere from 1–2 years, sometimes even longer. The quality of the eyebrows will depend on the quality of the job, which confirms the necessity of choosing a licensed and skilled esthetician.

According to the website, Allure, the procedure can cost anywhere from $400 to $1,400, depending on the location and artist expertise. Lower price options might be available, but it is vital to avoid inexperienced technicians.

Once the skin has healed, a person can protect their eyebrows and help prevent the color from fading by applying sunscreen on the microbladed area. Some people may require a touch-up to finalize the brows 4-8 weeks after the procedure.

After that, touch-ups may be done after about a year or as directed by the esthetician.

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Medical News Today: ‘Cognitive ability genes’ identified

A new study — the largest of its kind — scrutinizes the cognitive performance and genomes of more than 100,000 people. The findings have unlocked new details about the genetics behind cognitive ability.
Head profile and DNA
A new study brings us one step closer to mapping intelligence in the genetic code.

Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) allow scientists to assess whether certain genetic locations are related to specific traits.

GWAS screen the genome of each person in a group that carries a certain trait of interest. This can then be compared with the genomes of people without that trait.

The technique has proven vital for identifying genetic variants (also called single-nucleotide polymorphisms) that appear more often in certain diseases.

The results from the first study of its kind were published in 2005 and since then, the genes underlying hundreds of diseases — including hypertension and type 1 diabetes — have been identified.

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Searching for cognitive ability genes

One trait that has proven trickier to pin down is cognitive ability. Although researchers know that intelligence does have a heritable, genetic component, finding its home in the genetic code has been challenging.

Earlier studies that made some effort to get to the bottom of this problem did not produce clear-cut results. Because cognitive ability is likely to be spread across a number of locations in the genome, not having a large enough sample size is one of the reasons that previous studies have had little success.

One of these earlier studies, using just a few thousand participants, was conducted by Todd Lencz, Ph.D., and published last year. His team could only identify a few genetic loci associated with cognitive ability.

Lencz set out to take another look at this problem, heading up a research team from the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, NY. This time around, 107,207 people were recruited, all of whom were assessed using neuropsychological tests. Their genomes were also screened.

The results were then compared with another database that housed the genomic data of 300,000 people, whose highest level of educational achievement had also been noted. This is considered to be a relatively reliable estimation of cognitive ability.

More detail was gleaned this time; according to the authors, they “were able to identify 70 genomic loci significantly associated with cognition, implicating 350 candidate genes underlying cognitive ability.”

The results were published this week in the journal Cell Reports.

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New and intriguing overlaps

Deletions and mutations in some of the loci identified by the team have already been associated with certain neuropsychiatric conditions, backing up the reliability of the study.

Interestingly, there was an overlap between cognitive ability loci and longevity: people genetically predisposed to intelligence tended to live longer. Also, a new genetic overlap was found between cognitive ability and the risk of autoimmune diseases, such as eczema, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and celiac disease.

Finding regions of genes responsible for cognitive ability is interesting in its own right, but there are larger implications.

For the first time, we were able to use genetic information to point us towards specific drugs that might aid in cognitive disorders of the brain, including Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.”

Todd Lencz, Ph.D.

Alongside their dive into the genetics behind cognitive ability, the researchers hunted out potential nootropic drug targets, which are receptors that could be activated to enhance cognitive prowess.

They found some candidates worthy of further study. The strongest contender was cinnarizine, a type of calcium channel inhibitor typically prescribed for seasickness.

Another candidate was a glutamate receptor encoded by the GRM3 gene, which has previously been implicated in schizophrenia. In fact, drugs targeting GRM3 have been suggested as a potential treatment, although trials have not had any success to date.

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GWAS are becoming more commonplace as processing power expands and research techniques advance. As Lencz says, “The field of genomics is growing by leaps and bounds.”

He continues, “Because the number of genes we can discover is a direct function of the sample size available, further research with additional samples is likely to provide even more insight into how our genes play a role in cognitive ability.”

Intelligence is a difficult and nebulous trait, and the new findings are likely to be only a small part of the larger genetic landscape. As technology improves and available genetic data increase, the picture will no doubt become clearer.

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Medical News Today: Mysterious anaphylaxis explained: Red meat to blame

New research, conducted by scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, suggests that rare cases of unexplained anaphylaxis may, in fact, be caused by an allergic reaction to a molecule found in red meat.
person buying red meat in supermarket
Red meat might be to blame for cases of anaphylaxis that have so far eluded an explanation.

Anaphylaxis is a serious, potentially fatal allergic reaction. During an anaphylactic episode, the airways become blocked and blood pressure drops, leading to troubled breathing or even fainting.

While most cases of anaphylaxis are caused by known allergens in food, certain medications, or insect bites, there are anaphylactic episodes whose causes remain a mystery.

These are referred to as “idiopathic anaphylaxis” (IA) by medical professionals, meaning an episode with unknown triggers. It is currently estimated that 30,000 people in the United States have IA.

In the new study, 70 study participants with IA were examined, and six of them were found to be allergic to a sugar molecule commonly found in red meat, such as beef, pork, and lamb.

Dr. Melody C. Carter — staff clinician in the Laboratory of Allergic Diseases in the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Division of Intramural Research — is the first author of what was deemed a “unique, prospective study,” by the researchers.

Their findings were published in the journal Allergy.

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Red meat-free diet stops IA in six patients

The sugar molecule is called “galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose,” or “alpha-gal.” Alpha-gal is found in the flesh of most mammals, and it is believed to be spread by the Lone Star tick.

In this study, Dr. Carter and colleagues found IgE antibodies — a marker of an allergy to the alpha-gal molecule — in the blood of six participants.

“Upon institution of a diet free of red meat, all patients had no further episodes of anaphylaxis,” write the authors.

The reason why physicians had not found the cause of the anaphylaxis they misclassified as idiopathic, the researchers suggest, is that alpha-gal allergy has different signs from other, more common food allergies.

Routine allergy tests do not screen for IgE antibodies, explain the researchers. Additionally, the alpha-gal allergic reaction starts within 3 to 6 hours after the consumption of red meat, which makes it all the more difficult to detect.

“This unusually long time gap between a meal and an allergic reaction is probably a big reason that alpha-gal allergies are often initially misdiagnosed,” says study co-author Dr. Dean Metcalfe, chief of the Mast Cell Biology Section in NIAID’s Laboratory of Allergic Diseases.

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“If you start to have trouble breathing in the middle of the night, you probably are not going to blame the hamburger you had for dinner,” Dr. Metcalfe adds.

NIAID Director Dr. Anthony S. Fauci also weighs in on the findings, saying, “Alpha-gal allergy appears to be yet another reason to protect oneself from tick bites.”

The study’s lead author echoes the same message, saying:

We often think of ticks as carriers of infectious diseases, such as Lyme disease, but the research strongly suggests that bites from this particular species of tick can lead to this unusual allergy.”

Dr. Melody C. Carter, lead author

“The association is increasingly clear,” Dr. Carter continues, “but we still need to discover exactly how these two events are linked and why some people with similar exposure to tick bites seem to be more prone to developing alpha-gal allergy than others.”

“Food allergies can range from an inconvenience to a life-threatening condition and pose a serious and growing public health problem that urgently requires more research,” adds Dr. Fauci.

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Medical News Today: Chronic back pain: A 10-minute treatment leaves patients pain-free

More than 80 percent of people with chronic low back pain who received a single, 10-minute pulsed radiofrequency treatment are pain-free after 1 year, a new study reveals.
a man with low back pain
Researchers say that their CT-guided pulsed radiotherapy technique could help to alleviate chronic low back pain.

The new and minimally invasive treatment was tested on 80 people who had chronic low back pain — that is, low back pain lasting for at least 3 months — due to a herniated disk.

A herniated disk, which is also referred to as a “slipped” or “ruptured” disk, occurs when the disks between the spine’s vertebrae protrude, or “herniate.” This can pinch the spinal nerves and cause pain, particularly in the lower back.

“The nerve root is a sensitive structure that when pinched becomes inflamed and causes pain,” says lead study investigator Dr. Alessandro Napoli, of the Sapienza University of Rome in Italy.

“The body reacts with muscle constriction, which decreases the distance between vertebrae, and a vicious cycle is created.”

For 90 percent of people with back pain because of a herniated disk, symptoms will pass within 6 weeks. But for the remaining 10 percent, it is unlikely that current medical treatments alone will alleviate pain. In severe cases, surgery to ease nerve pressure is the best option.

“There’s a big gap,” says Dr. Napoli, “between conservative treatments for disc compression and herniation and surgical repair, which can lead to infection, bleeding, and a long recovery period.”

But he and his colleagues may have discovered an alternative treatment option that is significantly less invasive than surgery.

The researchers recently presented their new results at the Radiological Society of North America annual meeting, held in Chicago, IL.

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‘Extraordinary results’

The new treatment involves using computed tomography (CT) imaging to help guide a needle to the patient’s herniated disk and nerve root. Next, a probe is inserted into the needle. For 10 minutes, the probe delivers pulses of electrical energy to the affected area.

“Following this treatment, inflammation and pain go away,” explains Dr. Napoli. “With relaxation of the muscles, the distance between the vertebrae returns.”

Over the course of 3 years, the researchers tested the technique on 80 people with chronic low back pain caused by a herniated disk. Patients had been experiencing pain for at least 3 months, and they failed to respond to medication or exercise.

After having just one session of the CT-guided pulsed radiofrequency procedure, 90 percent of the participants were pain-free within a month, and 81 percent of these subjects remained free of pain after 1 year.

The results have been extraordinary. Patients have been relieved of pain and resumed their normal activities within a day.”

Dr. Alessandro Napoli

The researchers note that six of the participants required a second treatment, and these were considered “partial responders.”

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Importantly, 90 percent of the subjects were able to avoid surgery, the scientists report, and none of the subjects experienced side effects.

Based on their findings, Dr. Napoli and his team believe that their CT-guided pulsed radiofrequency technique could offer a highly effective, minimally invasive treatment option for individuals with low back pain.

“Evolving technologies like this image-guided treatment may help a substantial number of patients avoid surgery,” Dr. Napoli concludes.

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Medical News Today: What is hallucinogen-persisting perception disorder?

Hallucinogen-persisting perception disorder, or HPPD, causes a person to keep reliving the visual element of an experience caused by hallucinogenic drugs. But what do the flashbacks in HPPD feel like, what causes them, and how might they be treated?

A person with HPPD has frequent visual disturbances. They do not relive any other aspects of a drug trip, only the part that involved vision. The way the flashbacks in HPPD affect a person’s vision can be frustrating and may cause anxiety.

This article explores the symptoms and causes of HPPD. It also discusses how a person experiencing HPPD can manage their condition.

What is HPPD?

man lying on stomach on bed covering his eyes with his hands
A person with HPPD has frequent visual disturbances, which may cause anxiety.

Unlike the immersive flashbacks that some people have after taking drugs, HPPD flashbacks are purely visual. This means that a person with HPPD just has visual disturbances, such as seeing blurry patterns, size distortion, and bright circles.

These individuals do not relive any other aspects of the feeling of being on drugs.

HPPD flashbacks are not usually pleasurable, and they can become annoying if they occur frequently or last for a long time. The flashbacks may also cause anxiety.

HPPD does not cause people to have full hallucinations or delusions.

Someone experiencing HPPD is usually aware that it is a visual disturbance and can determine what is real, as a 2012 study explains. This qualifies HPPD visual disturbances as pseudohallucinations.


HPPD can affect the way a person perceives visual input.

According to a 2016 review, there are two types of the condition:

  • Type 1: This is where people experience HPPD in the form of random, brief flashbacks.
  • Type 2: People with this kind of HPPD experience ongoing changes to their vision, which may come and go.

The visual disturbances a person with HPPD may experience include:

  • seeing halos or auras around objects
  • seeing trails that follow moving objects
  • having trouble telling colors apart
  • the color of an object seeming to change in hue
  • an object appearing to be moving when it is actually still
  • seeing a pattern on an object that others cannot see
  • air looking like it is grainy or textured, often called visual snow
  • the dimensions of an object looking like they are changing

Experiencing the symptoms of HPPD can be distressing.

It is usually apparent to a person experiencing HPPD that they are not seeing things in the way they used to. This can be unnerving and may cause anxiety.

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Related conditions

Some people with HPPD experience visual disturbances alongside other symptoms. These may include:

Depersonalization disorder is a mental health condition where a person may feel like:

  • they are disconnected to their body
  • they are observing life, rather than experiencing it
  • the world around them is foggy or distant

Researchers do not fully understand how these conditions relate to HPPD, but many report that they experience them alongside visual disturbances.

Causes and risk factors

blurry image with bright circles
A person with HPPD may experience visual disturbances, such as bright circles and blurry patterns.

Researchers believe that people are at risk of experiencing HPPD if they take hallucinogenic drugs recreationally. However, they do not yet understand the type or frequency of drug use that causes it.

According to a 2003 study, HPPD is reported most commonly after illicit use of LSD. There are also reports of people who have only used hallucinogens once or twice experiencing similar symptoms.

HPPD is not caused by brain damage or a mental disorder. It is also not the result of current intoxication or by an amount of a drug staying in a person’s system. Nor is HPPD caused by a “bad trip.” These are all common beliefs about HPPD that are not true.

More research is needed to understand the changes in the brain that cause HPPD symptoms.


doctor talking to female patient
Disclosing any past drug use will enable the doctor to give an accurate diagnosis.

If a person is experiencing visual disturbances, they should speak to their doctor.

There are some other conditions that could be the cause. As such, the doctor may ask a number of questions to reach a diagnosis.

It is important to be open and honest about any past drug use, to help the doctor reach the correct diagnosis.

A person’s relationship with a doctor is confidential. The doctor is there to provide the best course of treatment and not judge lifestyle choices.

Most doctors do have an awareness of HPPD as a condition. If a doctor is not sympathetic to a person’s symptoms or does not want to explore HPPD as a diagnosis, then it is a good idea to speak to a different doctor.

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Management and treatment

There is no one recommended course of treatment for HPPD. However, there are two drugs that initial research suggests may be effective. These are:

  • Lamotrigine: According to a 2012 case study, this antiepileptic, mood-stabilizing medication may help to relieve symptoms. Researchers found lamotrigine to be more effective than other drugs, including antipsychotics and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which made symptoms worse in some people.
  • Clonazepam: A 2015 case study found that the tranquilizer clonazepam might also be an effective treatment for HPPD symptoms.

The effectiveness of drug therapy can vary from person to person. Every person who has visual disturbances as a result of HPPD experiences them slightly differently.

The 2012 study also recommends the following to help manage symptoms:

  • avoiding illicit drugs
  • reducing stress
  • treating related conditions, such as anxiety or depression

HPPD symptoms may cause anxiety. In turn, stress and anxiety may make HPPD symptoms worse. Trying mindfulness, yoga, or meditation may help to reduce stress and anxiety.


Most people who experience HPPD only have symptoms for a short time after drug use. However, there are examples of people experiencing HPPD symptoms over a number of years.

A doctor can help provide advice on managing HPPD symptoms and may prescribe a course of drug therapy to help.

As researchers come to understand more about the condition, a more extensive range of treatments may become available.

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Medical News Today: If you want to avoid dementia, get hitched

Is it really possible that marriage can improve your chances of side-stepping dementia? According to the latest review of the evidence, married folk have a much lower risk of developing dementia than lifelong singletons.
Happy older married couple
Marriage appears to be linked with brain health as we age.

The number of people living with dementia is slowly rising, currently affecting around 50 million people worldwide. Every 3 seconds, another person develops dementia.

Due to escalating figures and the absence of a cure, many researchers are now dedicated to developing a better picture of how and why these disruptive conditions emerge.

As we all know, prevention is better than cure, so understanding what increases the likelihood of developing dementia is essential. Of course, the greatest risk factor — the inevitable, creeping, tick-tock clock of chronological age — cannot be changed. However, others can be altered.

Modifiable risk factors include smoking, diet, inactivity, alcohol consumption, and — according to a newly published review — marital status. That’s right: being married may soon be added to the list of things that we can do to avoid dementia.

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Marriage and dementia

A paper published this week in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry revisited 15 studies investigating dementia and marital status. The investigation included more than 800,000 participants from Asia, North and South America, and Europe.

Once the number-crunching process was complete, the researchers found that lifelong singletons were 42 percent more likely to develop dementia, even after controlling for age and sex. The authors conclude:

Our findings, from large populations, across numerous countries and time periods are the strongest evidence yet that married people are less likely to develop dementia.”

Interestingly, when the analysis only included data from the most recent studies, this risk dropped to 24 percent, but the reasons for this are not clear.

But it wasn’t only lifelong singletons who had an increase in risk; people who had been widowed were 20 percent more likely to develop dementia than married people. The researchers believe that this might be because the stress involved in bereavement impairs cognitive abilities.

Divorce, however, did not significantly influence risk, but according to the authors, this might be because the number of divorcees in the dataset was small.

Although the findings are robust and remained significant even after detailed analysis, they are by no means definitive. As the authors point out, there are shortfalls.

For instance, the studies were observational, so it was not possible to make any firm conclusions about cause and effect. Also, there were certain gaps in the data, such as information about the length of time since an individual had become divorced or widowed.

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How does your spouse protect your brain?

There are a number of ways that being married might protect one’s brain health. One example is that married people may have more regular social interactions. And, social interaction is being increasingly viewed as a risk factor for dementia in its own right.

One meta-analysis that looked at this concluded, “The strength of the associations between poor social interaction and incident dementia is comparable with other well-established risk factors for dementia, including low education attainment, physical inactivity, and late-life depression.”

This may be because interacting socially exercises the brain, helping to attain a higher level of cognitive dexterity. This, in turn, provides an improved ability to compensate for any cognitive decline that might come with age.

A reduced dementia risk among those who are married might also be related to lifestyle decisions; married people are more likely to take part in healthful activities and enjoy exercise and are less likely to indulge in unhealthful activities, such as drinking and smoking.

On the other hand, as the study authors write, “[I]n societies where marriage was the social norm, people with difficulties in flexibility of thought or communication and consequent smaller lifelong cognitive reserve (therefore more likely to develop dementia) may be less likely to marry.”

This might help to explain the reduction in dementia risk for singletons seen in more recent papers. Staying unmarried is now much more common and less likely to be down to an individual’s “difficulties in flexibility of thought.”

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So should we all hurry down the aisle?

The current study is published alongside an editorial written by Christopher Chen, of the National University of Singapore, and Vincent Mok, from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

They ponder whether or not being married should be added to the list of modifiable risk factors for dementia. But, as they concede, “[T]he challenge remains as to how these observations can be translated into effective means of dementia prevention.”

In other words, how does the medical world replicate the all-encompassing effects of marriage? How would one artificially simulate lifelong wedded bliss?

Of course, it is not the ritual of marriage that imparts these brain benefits; it is a range of things, including the support that a lifelong partner can provide.

The editorial’s authors conclude that “producing dementia-friendly communities more accepting and embracing of the kinds of disruptions that dementia can produce should progress alongside biomedical and public health programs.”

To wrap things up, if your husband or wife is driving you crazy, just consider this: they may protect your brain health as you age, so give them the benefit of the doubt, forgive their foibles, and be thankful for holy matrimony.

If you’re single, before you rush off to Vegas with a stranger, remember that this is a double-edged sword: being widowed increases the risk of developing dementia. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, I guess. Focus on giving up cigarettes and whiskey instead.

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Medical News Today: ‘Alarming’ rise in cancer rates driven by diabetes, obesity

New research crunches the numbers on diabetes- and obesity-related cancers and projects a steep rise in diagnosed cases.
data analysis
Scientists’ projections for diabetes- and obesity-related cancers worldwide are not at all encouraging.

Researchers at several institutions worldwide — including Imperial College London in the United Kingdom and the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Lyon, France — have recently established that cancers related to metabolic diseases, especially diabetes and obesity, have an increasingly high incidence.

According to the team’s data, 5.6 percent of all cancer cases throughout the world in 2012 were linked to pre-existing diabetes and a high body mass index (BMI), which is defined as over 25 kilograms per square meter.

Of this total, 3.9 percent of cases were attributable to diabetes — almost twice as many cases as were related to a high BMI.

Lead study author Dr. Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard and colleagues also worked out the estimates for the probable incidence of cancers related to diabetes and other metabolic disease in the next few years, and their prognosis is not encouraging.

The researchers’ study findings were published yesterday in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal.

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Diabetes, high BMI increasingly dangerous

According to reports published last year in The Lancet, around 422 million adults worldwide live with diabetes, and 2.01 billion adults are overweight or obese.

These numbers are particularly concerning, since diabetes and obesity are established risk factors for many different types of cancer, such as colorectal and pancreatic cancer, as well as cancer of the liver and gallbladder, breast cancer, and endometrial cancer.

The more prevalent these metabolic conditions, the more concerned specialists become that the risk of cancers related to them may also increase.

As the prevalence of these cancer risk factors increases, clinical and public health efforts should focus on identifying preventive and screening measures for populations and for individual patients.”

Dr. Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard

“It is important that effective food policies are implemented to tackle the rising prevalence of diabetes, high BMI, and the diseases related to these risk factors,” he adds.

The new study took into account the increase in the incidence of 18 types of cancer related to diabetes and high BMI in 175 countries between 1980 and 2002.

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Using data provided by GLOBOCAN, the researchers studied the incidence of 12 types of cancer across 175 countries in 2012, taking into account patient age and sex.

Dr. Pearson-Stuttard and colleagues noticed that the majority of cancer cases that were related to diabetes and a high BMI — that is, 38.2 percent of cases — could be pinpointed to high-income Western countries. The second highest occurrence was noted in east and southeast Asian countries, accounting for 24.1 percent of cases.

Low- and middle-income countries have fewer cases of cancer overall, but diabetes and a high BMI seemed to have a stronger impact in these regions. In countries such as Mongolia, Egypt, Kuwait, and Vanuatu, between 9 and 14 percent of all cancers were related to BMI and diabetes.

At the same time, however, Tanzania, Mozambique, and Madagascar had the lowest incidence of diabetes- and weight-related cancers, pointing to stark geographical contrasts in terms of epidemiology.

On a global level, the most common types of cancer from the ones targeted in this study were cancer of the liver (24.5 percent of cases) and endometrial cancer (38.4 percent of cases).

In a region-specific context, 30.7 percent of cases were caused by liver cancer in high-income Asia Pacific. Liver cancer also accounted for 53.8 percent of cases in east and southeast Asian countries.

In high-income Western countries, as well as in central and eastern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa, breast cancer and endometrial cancer were responsible for 40.9 percent of cases.

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Worrying forecast for cancer rates

The researchers explain that an increase in diabetes diagnoses between 1980 and 2002 caused a 26.1 percent increase in related cancers in 2012. Likewise, more widespread obesity was responsible for a 31.9 percent increase in BMI-related cancers between 1980 and 2002.

More worryingly, Dr. Pearson-Stuttard and colleagues estimate that the number of cancer cases related to diabetes and obesity are set to rise worldwide as these metabolic conditions become more widespread.

A projected increase in diabetes- and weight-related cancers in 2025 indicates a more than 30 percent rise in cancer diagnoses for women and an over 20 percent rise on average for men.

According to Dr. Pearson-Stuttard, “Increases in diabetes and high BMI worldwide could lead to a substantial increase in the proportion of cancers attributable to these risk factors, if nothing is done to reduce them.”

“These projections are particularly alarming,” he adds, “when considering the high and increasing cost of cancer and metabolic diseases, and highlight the need to improve control measures, and increase awareness of the link between cancer, diabetes, and high BMI.”

The best solution at this point, the researchers urge, is to make a sustained effort to prevent the rise of metabolic diseases, in order to reduce the future risk of cancer.

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