Medical News Today: Osteoarthritis: Could researchers have found the key to prevention?

A new study may have revealed a possible new prevention and treatment strategy for osteoarthritis, which is one of the most common and debilitating age-related diseases in the United States.
osteoarthritis of the knee
Researchers suggest that increasing levels of FoxO proteins could be one way to prevent and treat osteoarthritis.

Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) in San Diego, CA, reveal that proteins called FoxO are key for joint health.

By boosting the levels of these FoxO proteins, they believe that it might be possible to treat osteoarthritis, or even stop the disease from developing.

Senior study author Dr. Martin Lotz — from the Department of Molecular Medicine at TSRI — and his team recently reported their results in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Osteoarthritis, also referred to as degenerative joint disease, is estimated to affect more than 30 million adults in the United States, making it the most common type of arthritis.

The condition is characterized by a breakdown of cartilage, which is the tissue that cushions the joints of the bones. Osteoarthritis most commonly affects the knee, hip, and hand joints.

In a previous study, Dr. Lotz and team found that FoxO levels in joint cartilage are reduced. For this latest study, the researchers sought to find out more about how FoxO proteins affect joint health.

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The effects of FoxO deficiency in mice

The researchers reached their findings by studying mice that were lacking FoxO proteins in their joint cartilage. Compared with control mice, the scientists found that FoxO-deficient mice experienced degeneration of the joints at a significantly younger age.

What is more, the rodents with FoxO deficiency showed greater susceptibility to cartilage damage during a treadmill test, and they were also more likely to develop post-traumatic osteoarthritis due to knee injury.

Upon further investigation, the scientists found that the FoxO-deficient mice showed abnormalities in a process called autophagy, which is a natural process by which cells get rid of any unwanted or damaged components in order to maintain their health and carry out any repairs.

FoxO deficiency also led to abnormalities in the processes that protect our cells against damage caused by free radicals.

Additionally, the study revealed that mice lacking FoxO proteins failed to produce the required levels of a protein called lubricin, which helps to protect joint cartilage against wear and tear.

The reduced production of lubricin was linked to a reduction in healthy cells in the “superficial zone,” which is a layer of cartilage in the knee joint.

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Boosting FoxO ‘may prevent’ osteoarthritis

So, why does FoxO cause these issues? The researchers found that FoxO proteins regulate the expression of genes that are important for joint health, including those that control inflammation and autophagy.

The absence of FoxO proteins in the joint cartilage leads to an increase in inflammation and a decrease in autophagy, meaning that cells are unable to repair any damage.

“The housekeeping mechanisms, which keep cells healthy, were not working in these knockout mice,” says Dr. Lotz.

For the final part of their study, the scientists wanted to see whether boosting FoxO levels could restore these “housekeeping mechanisms.”

By increasing FoxO expression in cells taken from people with osteoarthritis, the researchers were able to normalize the expression of genes associated with inflammation and autophagy, and the production of lubricin was also restored.

The team now plans to create molecules that can increase FoxO levels and assess their effects in experimental osteoarthritis models.

Drugs that boost the expression and activity of FoxO could be a strategy for preventing and treating osteoarthritis.”

Dr. Martin Lotz

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Medical News Today: How making fun of yourself can make you happy

Self-deprecating jokes are the best — unless I make them. See what I did there? Judging by my humor (or lack thereof), you may think that I’m not a very self-confident person or have a tendency to be sad. According to a new study, however, nothing could be farther from the truth.
guy laughing
Laughing at yourself can do wonders for your well-being, suggests a new study.

Researchers from the University of Granada in Spain set out to investigate different types of humor, and they came to some surprising conclusions.

Contrary to popular belief, they say, those who make self-deprecating jokes do not have low self-esteem, nor are they prone to depression.

They may, in fact, be happier and better socially adjusted than most people.

“In particular,” says lead study author Jorge Torres-Marín, “we have observed that a greater tendency to employ self-defeating humor is indicative of high scores in psychological well-being dimensions such as happiness and […] sociability.”

So, in other words, my self-deprecating jokes may actually be a sign that I’m a happier and better-adjusted person who probably has more friends than you do.

Secretly though, I may also hate everybody — and that’s the truth because, well, I would never joke about that.

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Four types of humor and what they mean

The researchers reached their conclusions — which are now published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences — after applying psychometric analysis to study the humor of 1,068 adults aged 18–65.

To study the link between different styles of humor, well-being, and personality traits, Torres-Marín and colleagues applied the traditional division between four types of humor: “affiliative, aggressive, self-enhancing, and self-defeating.”

The researchers explain that pro-social, or “affiliative” humor, is “characterized by saying amusing remarks or telling jokes, being considered a type of benevolent humor.”

This humor type was discovered to correlate with personality traits such as kindness, humility, and honesty. The kinder the person, the likelier they are to make “benevolent” jokes that are meant to strengthen social bonds.

Self-enhancing humor, on the other hand, refers to “the maintenance of a humorous outlook during adverse or harmful situations.”

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The researchers say that they expected self-enhancing humor to correlate with higher scores of positive psychological well-being, but instead, they found self-defeating humor to correlate with happiness.

Additionally — and surprisingly — self-defeating humor was also associated with greater anger suppression. By contrast, individuals who use self-enhancing humor also tend to manage their anger better or simply feel less angry in general.

Finally, aggressive humor correlated with a higher expression and experience of anger in everyday situations.

The authors caution that certain kinds of humor could be used to hide negative feelings. Study co-author Ginés Navarro-Carrillo says, “[The] results suggest that humor, even when presented as benign or well-intentioned, can also represent a strategy for masking negative intentions.”

“[Humor] enables individuals with low scores in honesty to build trust, closeness, etc. with other people,” he adds, “and thereby use important information in order to manipulate them or obtain advantages in the future.”

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As a person who truly dislikes telling “jokes” — but who loves stand-up comedy — I cannot resist the urge to pass some of the “comedy greats” through the filter of the new findings.

“Angry” comedians such as Bill Hicks, Lenny Bruce, and George Carlin may genuinely have had anger management issues, given how “aggressive” and sometimes dark their humor was.

If we’re to take the findings for granted, Jerry Seinfeld’s “sunny” humor may either be a sign that he’s genuinely a kind and honest person, or that he’s the complete opposite: manipulative and dishonest, just trying to gain our trust.

Finally, in light of this new study, the self-defeating humor of Louis C.K. tells us that in real life he’s quite happy, but also that he has…well, definitely some issues, anger management or otherwise.

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Medical News Today: Single dads twice as likely to die prematurely

A large-scale study has compared the lifestyle and mortality risk of single dads with those of partnered parents and single moms. The findings are now published in the journal The Lancet Public Health.
single dad kissing his son's head while working on laptop
While the causes are unclear, it appears that single dads are more likely to die a premature death than partnered parents or single moms.

In recent decades, the number of single dads in the United States has skyrocketed.

According to the Pew Research Center, fewer than 300,000 households were built around single fathers in 1960. By 2011, however, the number had jumped to more than 2.6 million.

By comparison, single-mom households went from 1.9 million to 8.6 million during that time.

As the authors of the new study note, despite these growing numbers, not enough research has focused on the health of single dads or compared the mortality of single mothers with that of single fathers.

To remedy this, Dr. Maria Chiu — of the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences and the University of Toronto, both in Canada — and colleagues followed the lifestyles of almost 40,500 Canadians over a period of 11 years.

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Death risk doubled among single dads

Of all the participants, 871 were single fathers, 4,590 were single mothers, 16,341 were partnered fathers, and 18,688 were partnered mothers. On average, the participants were aged between 41 and 46.

“Single parents,” explain the study authors, “were defined as those who were divorced, separated, widowed, or single, never-married, and non-cohabitating, and partnered parents were defined as those who were married or common-law partners.”

In their analysis, Dr. Chiu and her colleagues included people aged 15 and above who lived in the household with at least one biological or adopted child under the age of 25.

Using Cox proportional hazards models, the scientists performed what is — to their knowledge — the “first head-to-head comparison of mortality across single and partnered parent groups.”

At the beginning of the study, single dads were more likely to have cancer and heart disease than their partnered counterparts and single mothers. Additionally, they were more likely to have been hospitalized in the year leading up to the study.

Overall, single fathers were found to be more than twice as likely to die prematurely than their partnered counterparts and single mothers.

They also led less healthful lifestyles and were more likely to binge drink once per month as well as consume fewer fruits and vegetables.

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Could lifestyle be to blame for death risk?

The study could not draw any conclusions regarding the causes of death, mainly due to the fact that deaths over the study period were recorded as “other causes.”

However, the authors speculate on some of the possible causes. The unhealthful lifestyle may play a role, they suggest, as might a lack of social support consisting of friends or other community networks.

Dr. Chiu says, “Our research highlights that single fathers have higher mortality, and demonstrates a need for public health policies to help identify and support these men.”

While our study does not identify the exact cause of this, we did find that single fathers also tend to have unhealthier lifestyles, which could be an important area to address to improve health in this high-risk group.”

Dr. Maria Chiu

“Doctors’ appointments,” she continues, “could be an opportunity for doctors to engage with single fathers to help them to improve their health.”

“Research has shown that these conversations can help to motivate patients to adhere to treatment plans, make better decisions about their health, and influence their behavior and recovery,” Dr. Chiu concludes.

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Medical News Today: Just 1 hour of gaming may improve attention

The brain can be affected by just 1 hour of playing video games, according to new research published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
a man playing a video game
Researchers suggest that gaming for just 1 hour may boost attention.

The study — which was conducted by scientists from the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China in Chengdu — found that participants who spent 1 hour playing the video game League of Legends experienced changes in brain activity.

The participants also demonstrated improved ability to focus on relevant information while screening out distractions.

The researchers recruited 29 male students to participate in the study. One group had at least 2 years of playing action video games and the other group had fewer than 6 months of experience playing these video games.

The group with the most experience, or the “experts,” were ranked in the top 7 percent of League of Legends players. The “non-experts,” meanwhile, were ranked in the bottom 11 percent.

The players’ “visual selective attention” was assessed by the researchers before and after playing League of Legends.

Visual selective attention is how scientists refer to the brain’s ability to focus while simultaneously disregarding less relevant information.

Focusing on relevant information in this way uses up brain power, so scientists tend to believe that people who are very good at focusing their attention while filtering out distractions show a very efficient use of their brains.

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Video game boosted brain activity, attention

The study authors measured visual selective attention with a test involving squares that flashed on different parts of a computer screen.

First, participants were briefly shown a square in the center of the screen, which was followed by a square flashing elsewhere on the screen. The participants had to then tell the scientists where on the screen the second square was, relative to the first square.

The participants’ brain activity was also monitored during the visual selective attention test using an electroencephalogram (EEG) machine.

Before playing the video game, the expert participants were found to have stronger visual selective attention than the non-experts, and their EEG results showed more attention-related brain activity.

After playing League of Legends for 1 hour, both groups demonstrated improved visual selective attention, even reporting similar scores in the post-game test.

Not only that, but the researchers found that the brain activity of the non-experts increased after playing the game, to the extent that levels of brain activity between experts and non-experts were now comparable.

Although the findings demonstrate a measurable increase in both brain activity and visual selective attention scores in participants after playing a video game for 1 hour, the authors explain that their findings do not tell us about how long these effects might last. They therefore suggest that more studies are needed in this regard.

It is worth noting, as well, that this study was conducted in a very small group of participants — just 29 men — so its results should be interpreted with caution.

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New findings add to growing evidence

Some previous studies have also found that action video games such as Halo and Call of Duty may improve visual attention.

A 2010 review of the available research, for example, suggested that playing video games may be beneficial for improving focus in military training and education.

As Bjorn Hubert-Wallander, the lead author of that review, explained, “Visual attention is crucial to preventing sensory overload, since the brain is constantly faced with an overwhelming amount of visual information.”

“It’s an ability,” he said, “that is especially emphasized during visually demanding activities such as driving a car or searching for a friend’s face in a crowd, so it is not surprising that scientists have long been interested in ways to modify, extend, and enhance the different facets of visual attention.”

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Medical News Today: How do I stop stress eating?

Emotional eating is a pattern of eating where people use food to help them deal with stressful situations.

Many people experience emotional eating at one time or another. It could show itself as eating a bag of chips when bored or eating a chocolate bar after a difficult day at work.

However, when emotional eating happens frequently or becomes the main way a person deals with their emotions, then their life, health, happiness, and weight can be negatively affected.

Triggers to avoid

Businessman at his desk emotional eating
Common triggers for emotional eating may include fatigue, habits, boredom, and stress.

Emotions, such as stress, are not the only triggers for emotional eating. Other common triggers that people report include:

  • Boredom: Being bored or having nothing to do is a common emotional eating trigger. Many people live very stimulating and active lives, and when they have nothing to do will turn to food to fill that vacuum.
  • Habits: These are often driven by nostalgia or things that happened in a person’s childhood. An example might be, having ice cream after a good report card or baking cookies with a grandparent.
  • Fatigue: It is easier to overeat or eat mindlessly when fatigued, especially when tired of doing an unpleasant task. Food can seem like the answer to not wanting to do a particular activity anymore.
  • Social influences: Everyone has that friend who encourages them to get a pizza after a night out, go out for dinner or drinks after a difficult day, or as a reward for a good day. It can be easy to overeat when with friends or family.

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Coping strategies

The first step a person needs to take to rid themselves of emotional eating is to recognize the triggers and situations that apply in their life.

Keeping a food diary or journal can help to identify situations when someone is more likely to eat because of emotional instead of physical hunger.

Tracking their behavior is another way someone can gain insight into their eating habits.

The behavior they record can include:

  • patterns of hunger levels, maybe on a 1–10 scale
  • what they are doing and if it is tedious and unpleasant
  • what they are feeling, whether bored or angry,

Next, they may want to brainstorm ideas for ways to counteract the triggers they identify. For example:

  • Someone who eats when bored may want to find a new book that sounds exciting to start reading, or start a new hobby that could provide a challenge.
  • Someone who eats because of stress could try yoga, meditating, or taking a walk to help themselves cope with their emotions.
  • Someone who eats when they are depressed may want to call a friend, take the dog for a run, or plan an outing to cope with their negative feelings.

It can also be helpful to talk to a therapist or psychologist to discuss other ways to break the cycle of emotional eating.

A nutritionist or doctor may also be able to provide a referral to an expert or additional information on creating positive eating habits and a better relationship with food.

Emotional eating is not simply a matter of a person lacking self-discipline or needing to eat less. Likewise, people who eat to deal with stress do not just lack self-control.

The causes are complex and may involve some of the following:

Childhood development

Child in a kitchen eyeing up cookies
Emotional eating may be a learned behavior from childhood that could be difficult to break.

For some people, emotional eating is a learned behavior. During childhood, their parents give them treats to help them deal with a tough day or situation, or as a reward for something good.

Over time, the child who reaches for a cookie after getting a bad grade on a test may become an adult who grabs a box of cookies after a rough day at work.

In an example such as this, the roots of emotional eating are deep, which can make breaking the habit extremely challenging.

Difficulty dealing with emotions

It is common for people to also struggle with difficult or uncomfortable feelings and emotions. There is an instinct or need to quickly fix or destroy these negative feelings, which can lead to unhealthy behaviors.

And emotional eating is not only linked to negative emotions. Eating a lot of candy at a fun Halloween party, or too much on Thanksgiving are examples of eating because of the holiday occasion itself.

Physical impact of stress

There are also some physical reasons why stress and strong emotions can cause a person to overeat:

  • High cortisol levels: Initially, stress causes the appetite to decrease so that the body can deal with the situation. If the stress does not let up, another hormone called cortisol is released. Cortisol increases appetite and can cause someone to overeat.
  • Cravings: High cortisol levels from stress can increase food cravings for sugary or fatty foods. Stress is also associated with increased hunger hormones, which may also contribute to cravings for unhealthy foods.
  • Sex: Some research shows that women are more likely to use food to deal with stress than men are, while men are more likely than women to smoke or use alcohol.

Physical vs. emotional hunger

It is very easy to mistake emotional hunger for physical hunger. But there are characteristics that distinguish them.

Recognizing these subtle differences is the first step towards helping to stop emotional eating patterns.

Does the hunger come on quickly or gradually?

Emotional hunger tends to hit quickly and suddenly and feels urgent. Physical hunger is usually not as urgent or sudden unless it has been a while since a person ate.

Is a food craving for a specific food?

Emotional hunger is usually associated with cravings for junk food or something unhealthy. Someone who is physically hungry will often eat anything, while someone who is emotionally hungry will want something specific, such as fries or a pizza.

Is there such a thing as mindless eating?

Mindless eating is when someone eats without paying attention to or enjoying what they are consuming.

An example is eating an entire container of ice cream while watching television, having not intended to eat that much. This behavior usually happens with emotional eating, not eating through hunger.

Does the hunger come from the stomach or the head?

Emotional hunger does not originate from the stomach, such as with a rumbling or growling stomach. Emotional hunger tends to start when a person thinks about a craving or wants something specific to eat.

Are there feelings of regret or guilt after emotional eating?

Giving in to a craving, or eating because of stress can cause feelings of regret, shame, or guilt. These responses tend to be associated with emotional hunger.

On the other hand, satisfying a physical hunger is giving the body the nutrients or calories it needs to function and is not associated with negative feelings.

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Emotional eating is a common experience and is not usually associated with physical hunger. Some people succumb to it occasionally while others can find it impacts on their lives and may even threaten their health and mental wellbeing.

Anyone who experiences negative emotions around their eating habits should arrange a visit to their doctor to discuss their issues. They may also want to consult a registered nutritionist or another therapist to help them find solutions or coping mechanisms.

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