Medical News Today: What the color of your face reveals about your feelings

Many of us know that our subtle facial expressions can give us away when we’re trying to hide our feelings. But a new study reveals that our faces can do even more: without moving so much as a millimeter of facial muscle, we can communicate exactly how we truly feel through color alone.
woman blushing
The color of your face tells others how you feel — even when you don’t want them to know.

Be it a frown, a very slight upturn in the corners of one’s mouth, or subtly raised eyebrows, we are pretty good at decoding other people’s feelings using facial expressions.

However, there’s another facial cue that may be even more reliable when it comes to guessing a person’s feelings: the color of their face.

In fact, new research suggests that we can accurately identify other people’s emotions based purely on the subtle color changes of their faces in up to 75 percent of cases.

The study was carried out by researchers led by Aleix Martinez — a cognitive scientist at the Ohio State University in Columbus — and the findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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We can tell emotion from facial color

Martinez and colleagues grouped hundreds of photos of different facial expressions into two color channels, which were equivalent to how human eyes perceive color: a red-green channel, and a blue-yellow one.

Using computer analysis, they realized that different emotions formed different color patterns, and that these patterns were almost identical, irrespective of gender, ethnicity, and skin tone.

Next, the team wanted to see whether people picked up on emotions from facial expressions entwined with color, or whether it was color alone that conveyed feelings.

To test this, they superimposed different color patterns on pictures of neutral facial expressions (for example, a color associated with happiness on a neutral face) and asked 20 study participants to guess the feeling conveyed in the photo.

Based purely on color, the participants guessed correctly 70 percent of the time that a photo conveyed happiness, 75 percent of the time that it conveyed sadness, and 65 percent of the time that it displayed anger.

They then swapped emotion-specific colors onto the “wrong” facial expressions. For instance, they superimposed “angry” colors onto happy faces, and vice versa.

“Participants could clearly identify which images had the congruent versus the incongruent colors,” says Martinez. While they didn’t know what was wrong, the participants could tell that something was “off.”

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What red, green, blue, and yellow mean

Martinez and team also designed a computer algorithm that would recognize the emotions. Their algorithm detected human emotion with even more precision than humans: 90 percent accuracy for happiness; 80 perfect for anger; and 75 percent for sadness.

“There’s a little bit of every color everywhere,” says Martinez. For instance, disgust is usually characterized by a blue-yellow hue around the mouth and a red-green color on the nose and forehead.

“We identified patterns of facial coloring that are unique to every emotion we studied,” explains Martinez.

We believe these color patterns are due to subtle changes in blood flow or blood composition triggered by the central nervous system.”

Aleix Martinez

“Not only do we perceive these changes in facial color,” he concludes, “but we use them to correctly identify how other people are feeling, whether we do it consciously or not.”

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Medical News Today: Could omega-6 fatty acids help us live longer?

New research from Finland supports the idea that a diet rich in omega-6 fatty acids may protect us from premature death.
oils and nuts
Omega-6 fatty acids — found in vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds, among other things — may prolong our lives.

Scientists from the University of Eastern Finland analyzed data from a study that followed nearly 2,500 men for over 20 years.

It was revealed that higher blood levels of the omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid were tied to both a lower risk of death and death from cardiovascular disease.

“Linoleic acid,” claims first author Jyrki Virtanen, an adjunct professor of nutritional epidemiology, “is the most common polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid.”

He and his colleagues report their findings in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Omega-6 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids that are present in plant-based foods such as vegetable oils, seeds, nuts, beans, and grains.

They get their name from the fact that their first double bond occurs at the sixth carbon-carbon bond counting from the methyl end (CH3) of their hydrocarbon backbone.

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The debate about the benefits of omega-6

There is currently much debate about the health benefits of omega-6 fatty acids. Although widely praised for their effect on cholesterol levels, they have come under fire because it is thought that they may also do harm — such as promote low-level inflammation, which is associated with cardiovascular disease.

The reason behind this thinking lies in the fact that our bodies convert dietary linoleic acid into another omega-6 fatty acid called arachidonic acid, which, in turn, is used to make certain pro-inflammatory compounds.

Unlike linoleic acid, blood levels of arachidonic acid are not diet-dependent.

However, the notion that a diet high in omega-6 fatty acids such as linoleic acid raises disease risk by promoting inflammation ignores the fact that omega-6 fatty acids also promote anti-inflammatory compounds.

Prof. Virtanen and colleagues suggest that the controversy highlights the sorts of problems that arise when scientists focus only on the links between diet and disease risk.

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Higher blood linoleic acid, lower death risk

For their research, the scientists used data from the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor (KIHD) Study.

The KIHD Study is a large, ongoing study of cardiovascular risk that follows a population of middle-aged men living in eastern Finland. Men in this region have high recorded rates of coronary heart disease.

The study data include the blood levels of fatty acids in 2,480 men who were 42–60 years of age when they joined the cohort in 1984–1989.

The men were followed for an average of 22 years, during which 1,143 of them died from causes that were disease-related. The analysis excluded men who had died from other causes such as accidents.

For their analysis, the researchers put the men in five groups ranked according to their blood level of linoleic acid, and they then compared the rates of death in the five groups.

They found that the group with the highest blood levels of linoleic acid had a 43 percent lower risk of death than the group with the lowest levels.

A more in-depth analysis revealed a similar pattern for deaths that were caused by cardiovascular disease, and also for deaths due to causes other than cardiovascular disease or cancer.

However, no such pattern was found for deaths due to cancer alone.

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Similar, weaker pattern for arachidonic acid

These findings are consistent with those of other studies that followed large groups and found links between high dietary and blood levels of linoleic acid and reduced risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, while not raising the risk of cancer.

When they ran their analyses again, this time using only blood levels of arachidonic acid, Prof. Virtanen and colleagues found similar but weaker patterns.

This result is a new and unique contribution of their study, they note, and they now call for further studies to confirm that higher blood arachidonic acid is linked to a lower risk of death.

The researchers also note another important finding: this was that, regardless of whether the men that they studied had cancer, diabetes, or cardiovascular disease when they enrolled in the study, the results were largely the same.

We discovered that the higher the blood linoleic acid level, the smaller the risk of premature death.”

Prof. Jyrki Virtanen

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Medical News Today: What does it mean when you see stars?

Seeing stars or flashes in vision may be alarming, especially if it has never happened before. Many people say they ‘see stars’ when flashes of light occur in their field of vision. The stars may look like fireworks, lightning bolts, or camera flashes.

Several different issues may cause a person to ‘see stars,’ and many of them are no cause for concern. An isolated flash of light is usually harmless.

However, if seeing stars becomes frequent or is severe and sudden, a person should speak to an eye doctor right away.

How does seeing stars work?

A person typically sees stars because of a disturbance in the retina or the brain.

The retina’s role

close up image of eye. possibly seeing stars in vision
Seeing stars may be caused by an inflammed retina.

The retina is a lining of cells that sits at the back of the eye and sends messages to the brain when it detects light.

The retina does not see colors or shapes; it only sees light. A special gel called the vitreous sits in front of the retina to protect it.

If the retina gets inflamed, or the vitreous gel moves around or shrinks, the retina will be stimulated and send signals to the brain. The brain interprets these signals as light, even if no external light source exists.

The brain’s signals

The brain takes signals from the retina and interprets them as light using electrical impulses.

If something disrupts electrical activity in the brain, it may send false signals, making a person think they see stars.

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The following are the most common causes of disruptions in the brain or retina that could lead to seeing stars:

1. A blow to the head

man holding head in pain
A blow to the head may lead to seeing stars.

Cartoons have portrayed this phenomenon for years: if someone gets hit on the head, they see stars.

The brain is protected by a layer of fluid that usually prevents it from hitting the inside of the skull. A hard knock, such as from a sports collision or car accident, however, may result in the brain bouncing against the skull.

The back of the brain contains the occipital lobe, which is the part of the brain that processes visual information. If this area is knocked, it sends out electrical signals that the brain thinks are light.

Getting hit in the eye can also cause flashes of light because it bumps the retina. The retina is stimulated and sends light signals to the brain. Gently rubbing closed eyes is one way to experience this phenomenon without injury.

2. Migraines

Migraine headaches can cause changes in vision, including seeing stars, sparkles, or flashes. They can also cause spots, heat-like waves, tunnel vision, or zigzagging lines.

These changes occur in both eyes and are thought to be caused by abnormal electrical signals in the brain.

If these visual changes occur before a headache develops, it is called migraine with aura. Some people who get migraines may also experience the aura without a headache afterward.

A retinal migraine is a different type of headache that causes visual changes in one eye only. This is a rare condition and can be a symptom of something more serious. Like a migraine with aura, the visual changes happen before the headache hits.

The visual changes may include seeing stars, flashes, or dark spots, as well as temporary blindness. Retinal disturbances or decreased blood flow to the retina may cause these symptoms.

It is essential for people to contact a doctor right away if they experience retinal migraine symptoms.

Other typical migraine symptoms include:

  • throbbing and severe headache
  • sensitivity to light and sound
  • nausea
  • dizziness

3. Movement in the eye’s vitreous gel

The vitreous gel that is in front of the retina can move around, sometimes pulling on the retina itself. This causes the retina to send light signals to the brain.

Movement or changes in the vitreous become more common as people age and are typically harmless.

However, these flashes could signal a serious issue if:

  • they are happening frequently and regularly
  • they come on suddenly and severely
  • they are accompanied by other vision changes, such as new floaters or cloudiness

4. Retinal detachment or torn retina

Sometimes, the vitreous gel pulls on the retina hard enough to cause damage. It may tear the retina or detach it from the back of the eye.

If this happens, a person may see:

  • a sudden appearance of stars or flashes
  • floaters
  • blurred vision
  • loss of peripheral vision
  • a curtain or shadow across the vision

Risk factors for retinal detachment or tearing include:

  • being over age 40
  • a family history of retinal detachment
  • a previous retinal detachment or torn retina
  • being very nearsighted
  • previous cataract surgery
  • having another eye disease, disorder, or injury to the eye

A torn or detached retina needs emergency medical care. It may be corrected with surgery, but can lead to blindness if left untreated.

Flashes vs. floaters

Flashes of light or seeing stars in vision should not be confused with floaters. While seeing stars may sometimes accompany floaters, these two things are caused by different factors.

Floaters may look like shadows, lines, or dots that move across a person’s field of vision. They can be caused by:

  • protein clumps or cells in the vitreous
  • tiny blood vessels bursting in the eye

Floaters are typically harmless and become common as a person ages. However, a person should still discuss the floaters with an eye doctor, especially if they happen frequently or come on suddenly.

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Tips for healthy eyes

Glasses looking at eye test chart
An eye exam before the age of 40 is recommended for everyone.

Seeing stars on occasion is often a natural part of aging and cannot be prevented. However, certain lifestyle factors can help keep eyes healthy for as long as possible.

To keep the eyes healthy, a person should:

  • Eat a nutritious diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
  • Quit or avoid smoking. Smoking is a significant risk factor for macular degeneration, which can lead to blindness.
  • Always wear sunglasses with UV protection when in the sunlight.
  • Wear proper eye protection when using power tools and during contact sports.
  • Take breaks from looking at a computer or television screen every 20 minutes.


Seeing occasional flashes or stars in vision is usually not an indication of an underlying health problem.

Many people find that seeing stars happens only occasionally and that their eyes are otherwise healthy. Seeing stars may occur more often with age.

However, seeing flashes frequently can indicate an eye problem that needs medical treatment. If a person experiences a rapid onset of flashes, stars, or any other sudden vision changes, they should seek medical care right away.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommend people get a comprehensive eye exam by age 40 even if they have no other health problems.

Some people will need to get an exam sooner if they have diabetes, high blood pressure, or a family history of eye disease. People with poor vision may also be offered a comprehensive eye exam during their regular checkup.

These appointments are a good time to mention seeing any stars or flashes and to discuss any tests or treatments with a doctor to maintain healthy eyes for years to come.

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Medical News Today: Is clove oil effective for toothache?

Eugenol, a chemical found in cloves, has been used in dentistry since the 19th century. Cloves and clove oil have long been used as a home remedy for a toothache.

In this article, we will look at the evidence for clove oil as a treatment for a toothache, as well as whether it has any possible side effects.

We will also investigate commons causes of a toothache and suggest tips to prevent tooth pain in the future.

Clove oil and oral health

Clove oil which is used for toothache
Clove oil has long been used as a home remedy for toothache.

Clove oil has been used in traditional Indian and Chinese medicine for centuries to relieve tooth pain.

Clove oil contains a chemical called eugenol. In 1837, eugenol and magnesium oxide were combined to create a filling material.

Later, zinc oxide replaced the magnesium oxide to create ZOE (zinc oxide eugenol), which is still widely used as a temporary filling cement.

Since the 19th century, eugenol has been one of many essential oil components to be used in root canal therapy, periodontal therapy, and to treat abscesses.

How to use clove oil to treat toothache

Clove oil contains a chemical called eugenol, which acts as an anesthetic and antibacterial agent. Clove oil is anti-inflammatory and antifungal.

It is available from many supermarkets, drug stores, and health food shops, or can be bought online. It has a strong, warm, and spicy taste.

To use it for a toothache, dip a clean tissue, cotton swab, or cotton ball into the oil and wipe it over the gums at the point of the pain.

People can also use whole cloves. Simply place them on the affected area for several minutes at a time.

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Is it effective?

Woman with toothache holding her cheek
Clove oil may ease toothache when applied to the gums.

Clove oil has long been applied directly to the gums to ease toothache. There is evidence that the eugenol in clove oil is effective at fighting several known oral bacteria. Medicines containing eugenol are widely used in dentistry.

Some research suggests that clove gel may reduce the pain of needle insertion in dentistry. More work needs to be done before this is conclusive.

The United States Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) rate the effectiveness of certain treatments based on the available evidence. It has recently downgraded the classification of clove oil.

The FDA now believe there is not enough evidence to suggest it is effective for toothache, and that more research is needed.

Side effects

While clove oil is usually safe when applied to the skin, repeated use inside the mouth and on the gums can have side effects.

Side effects may include damage to the:

  • gums
  • tooth pulp — the central part of the tooth which is made of connective tissue and cells
  • the skin on the inside of the mouth
  • mucous membranes inside of the mouth

Using dried cloves inside of the mouth can cause sensitivity and irritation, as well as damage the dental tissues.

Consuming clove oil can be dangerous for children and may lead to seizures, liver damage, and fluid imbalances.

Pregnant women are advised against using this remedy, as it is not known whether clove oil is safe for the growing baby.

Other toothache treatments

Over-the-counter pain medications, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, may reduce the pain and discomfort while a person is waiting for a dentist appointment.

An over-the-counter dental gel containing local anesthetic can also be used to numb the pain. This method is not suitable for children under the age of 12.

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When to see a dentist

dentist inspecting patients mouth
A toothache can get worse if left untreated.

If a toothache lasts for more than 1 or 2 days, a person should make an appointment to see their dentist. If it is left untreated, it may get worse.

Most cases of toothache are caused by:

  • tooth decay that leads to holes or cavities in the hard surface of the tooth
  • a cracked tooth
  • loose or broken fillings
  • receding gums
  • periapical abscess or a collection of pus at the end of the tooth caused by a bacterial infection

If the toothache is not treated, the tooth may become infected and lead to worse pain.

To determine the cause of a toothache, the dentist will carry out a physical examination and may suggest an X-ray. The type of treatment will depend on the underlying cause but may include:

  • removing a decayed area and replacing it with a filling
  • removing and replacing loose or broken fillings
  • carrying out root canal treatment on an infected tooth

Preventing toothache

The best way to prevent a toothache is to keep the teeth and gums healthy. Some best practices include:

  • limiting intake of sugary food and drinks
  • brushing the teeth twice a day using a fluoride-containing toothpaste,
  • gently brushing the gums and tongue
  • using dental floss to clean in between teeth
  • quitting smoking
  • having regular dental checkups

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Medical News Today: A big breakfast could aid weight loss, glucose control

You may have heard that breakfast is “the most important meal of the day,” and a new study helps to support this. It found that eating a big breakfast and reducing lunch and dinner size may be key for people looking to lose weight and improve their blood glucose levels.
a healthful breakfast
Researchers suggest that three meals per day — starting with a big breakfast — could promote weight loss and better glucose control.

Led by researchers from Tel Aviv University in Israel, the study found that adults who were obese and had type 2 diabetes lost more weight and had better blood glucose levels after 3 months when they had a high-energy breakfast every day.

Lead study author Dr. Daniela Jakubowicz, who is a professor of medicine at Tel Aviv University, and colleagues recently presented their results at ENDO 2018, the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society, held in Chicago, IL.

Obesity is a leading risk factor for type 2 diabetes; excess weight makes it more difficult for the body to use insulin — the hormone that regulates blood glucose levels — effectively.

According to the Obesity Society, it is estimated that around 90 percent of adults who have type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese.

In terms of treating obesity and type 2 diabetes, switching to a more healthful diet is often the first port of call. But, as Dr. Jakubowicz notes, it’s not always what and how much we eat that might cause problems; it’s also the time of day at which we eat.

“Our body metabolism changes throughout the day,” as Dr. Jakubowicz explains. “A slice of bread consumed at breakfast leads to a lower glucose response and is less fattening than an identical slice of bread consumed in the evening.”

With this in mind, Dr. Jakubowicz and colleagues sought to find out more about how the timing of food intake influences weight loss and blood glucose levels.

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Bdiet led to weight loss, reduced hunger

The scientists enrolled 29 adults, of whom 18 were male and 11 were female, to their study. Subjects were aged 69, on average, and all of them had obesity and type 2 diabetes.

The team randomly assigned each of the adults to two different diet groups for a total of 3 months.

One group followed the “Bdiet,” and this consisted of three meals per day: a large breakfast; a medium-sized lunch; and a small evening meal. The other group followed the “6Mdiet,” which consisted of six small meals spaced throughout the day, plus three snacks.

The researchers tested the subjects’ blood glucose levels every 2 weeks during the study. They also used continuous glucose monitoring to measure overall glucose levels, as well as spikes in blood glucose throughout the study.

The researchers found that subjects in the Bdiet group lost an average of 5 kilograms after 3 months, while those who followed the 6Mdiet gained an average of 1.4 kilograms.

Hunger and cravings for carbohydrates also increased among subjects in the 6Mdiet group, but these reduced significantly for subjects who followed the Bdiet.

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The effects on blood glucose levels

The scientists found that the fasting glucose levels of subjects in the Bdiet group fell by an average of 54 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) — from 161 mg/dl to 107 mg/dl — after 3 months, while fasting glucose levels of the 6Mdiet diet group fell by just 23 mg/dl, from 164 mg/dl to 141 mg/dl.

Upon looking at overall mean glucose levels, the team found that these dropped by 29 mg/dl in the first 14 days — from 167 mg/dl to 138 mg/dl — for subjects who followed the Bdiet, while they fell just 9 mg/dl among the 6Mdiet diet group, from 171 mg/dl to 162 mg/dl.

At 3 months, overall mean glucose levels decreased by 38 mg/dl in the Bdiet group — from 167 mg/dl to 129 mg/dl — compared with a reduction of 17 mg/dl in the 6Mdiet diet group, from 171 mg/dl to 154 mg/dl.

Mean glucose levels during sleep did not reduce at all for those subjects who followed the 6Mdiet diet, but subjects in the Bdiet group experienced a reduction of 24 mg/dl — from 131 mg/dl to 107 mg/dl — at 3 months.

Those who adhered to the Bdiet also required less insulin during the study period, with a reduction in 20.5 units each day. Subjects who followed the 6Mdiet diet, however, needed more insulin, with an increase of 2.2 units every day.

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Meal timing offers benefits in itself

Notably, the study also revealed that participants adhering to the Bdiet experienced a significant decrease in overall blood sugar levels in as little as 14 days, even when the subjects themselves showed no weight loss.

According to the researchers, this finding indicates that the timing of meals itself can help with blood glucose management, though weight loss can help to enhance the benefits.

Overall, the team concludes that three meals each day — with breakfast being the biggest — may be of great benefit to people with obesity and type 2 diabetes.

“This study shows,” says Dr. Jakubowicz, “that, in obese, insulin-treated type 2 diabetes patients, a diet with three meals per day, consisting of a big breakfast, average lunch, and small dinner, had many rapid and positive effects compared to the traditional diet with six small meals evenly distributed throughout the day.”

These “positive effects” included “better weight loss, less hunger, and better diabetes control while using less insulin.”

A diet with adequate meal timing and frequency has a pivotal role in glucose control and weight loss.”

Dr. Daniela Jakubowicz

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Medical News Today: Transgender surgery can improve life for most, study confirms

New research uses a transgender-specific survey to assess the well-being of people who underwent gender reassignment survey.
trans woman holding flag
For many, transgender surgery brings comfort and improves overall well-being.

According to recent estimates, at present, there are 1.4 million transgender adults living in the United States, which represents about 0.6 percent of the country’s population.

Studies have shown that transgender people have, overall, a lower quality of life than the general population.

High rates of depression, suicide attempts, and substance abuse have been documented among transgender individuals.

For many transgender people, quality of life improves after they transition. Gender reassignment is often essential for their well-being, with better psychosocial functioning, more stable relationships, and higher levels of contentment and happiness being reported by men and women who have transitioned.

Now, researchers from Essen University Hospital in Germany have developed, for the first time, a specific quality of life questionnaire for trans people who have had gender reassignment surgery.

The scientists — led by Dr. Jochen Hess — designed and validated the “Essen Transgender Quality of Life Inventory.” They used it to assess the quality of life and satisfaction of 156 people who had all undergone male-to-female gender reassignment surgery.

Their findings were presented at the 33rd European Association of Urology conference, held in Copenhagen, Denmark.

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Gender surgery improves quality of life

Dr. Hess and colleagues surveyed 156 people who had all had gender reassignment surgery 6.61 years prior to the study, on average. The survey included open-ended questions regarding the participants’ “general, optical, and functional contentedness” with the surgery.

The participants were also asked about their psychosocial well-being and quality of life. The latter was assessed at two different points in time throughout the transition process.

Overall, 71 percent of the participants reported feeling very satisfied with the “optical and functional results” of the surgery, with 76.2 percent of the participants saying that they were able to achieve orgasms.

Over 80 percent of the participants reported seeing themselves as female, and 16 percent said they felt “rather female.” The authors conclude:

We could detect a distinct improvement of general and trans-specific [quality of life] and psychosocial resources in our transgender cohort within [the] transition process.”

“However,” they add, “transgender individuals have a lower [quality of life] and have less of at least some psychosocial resources compared to non-transgender individuals.”

Dr. Hess continues, saying, “We found that around three quarters of patients showed a better quality of life after surgery.”

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Strengths and limitations of the study

To the authors’ knowledge, this is the first study to have confirmed the psychosocial benefits of gender surgery in most people.

However, the authors also note some limitations to their study. These include a high dropout rate (from a total of 610 people who underwent the surgery, only 156 were included in the study) and the fact that the data were collected from a single center.

“Nevertheless,” notes Dr. Hess, “we now have the first specific validated tool for measuring [quality of life] in transgender patients, we hope that this means that we can go forward to gather better information to help us improve treatment.”

“It’s very important that we have good data on [quality of life] in transgender people,” he continues. “They generally [have] a worse [quality of life] than non-transgender population, with higher rates of stress and mental illness, so it’s good that surgery can change this, but also that we can now show that it has a positive effect.”

“Until now,” concludes Dr. Hess, “we have been using general methods to understand [the] quality of life in transgender individuals, but this new method means that we can address well-being in greater depth.”

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Medical News Today: Breast cancer: Obesity may hinder some treatments

Obesity may be the reason that some cancers become resistant to drugs intended to stop the formation of new blood vessels that fuel tumor growth, according to recent research led by Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
overweight woman on scales
Could obesity prevent some cancer treatments from working correctly?

In a paper now published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, the researchers explain how obesity and molecular factors linked to it may promote resistance to anti-angiogenic inhibitors in breast cancer.

Anti-angiogenic therapy — which is designed to prevent the growth of blood vessels that feed tumors — is showing mixed results in people with breast and other cancers.

It is also well known that obesity raises the risk of many types of cancer, including breast cancer.

The new study is the first to show a link between these two “observations.” It also offers some molecular targets that might improve response to treatment with anti-angiogenic inhibitors.

“Collectively,” explains lead study author Dr. Joao Incio, of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital, “our clinical and preclinical results indicate that obesity fuels resistance to anti-vascular endothelial growth factor therapy in breast cancer via production of several inflammatory and pro-angiogenic factors, depending on the subtype of cancer.”

“Targeting these resistance factors,” he continues, “may rejuvenate the use of anti-angiogenic therapy in breast cancer treatment.”

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Angiogenesis and its inhibition

Angiogenesis is a natural process in the body that repairs and grows blood vessels. Some chemical signals stimulate the process and some chemical signals inhibit it. Levels of these are normally kept in balance so that blood vessels are made only when and where necessary.

These processes also play a key role in cancer. Without a dedicated blood supply, tumors cannot grow and spread. However, they do so because they also generate chemical signals that trigger angiogenesis, resulting in the growth of blood vessels that keep them fed with oxygen and nutrients.

Angiogenesis inhibitors are drugs that are designed to interfere with the chemical signals involved in angiogenesis. One of these drugs blocks vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a signaling molecule that triggers growth of new blood vessels when it binds to proteins on cell surfaces.

However, Dr. Incio and his colleagues found that obesity “promotes resistance to VEGF inhibitor therapy” by altering chemical signals in tumors. They note that it increases “interleukin-6 [IL-6] and possibly also fibroblast growth factor 2 [FGF-2] in the tumor microenvironment.”

The team also discovered — with the help of “mouse models of cancer with and without obesity” — that resistance to VEGF inhibitors may be overcome by using the “appropriate combination therapy.”

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Obesity, anti-VEGF therapy in breast cancer

The researchers started their investigation by analyzing the results of a clinical trial that tested the anti-VEGF drug bevacizumab, with and without chemotherapy, in 99 people with breast cancer.

Promising results from early clinical trials had led to the accelerated approval of the drug for the treatment of metastatic breast cancer in the United States. But approval was then withdrawn after subsequent studies found no evidence of benefit to long-term survival.

The trial that Dr. Incio and his colleagues investigated had shown that bevacizumab only benefited a small percentage of people.

When the researchers analyzed the trial data, they found that people whose body mass index (BMI) was 25 or higher — that is, if they fell into the overweight or obese category — had larger tumors when they were diagnosed.

On average, these people had tumors that were 33 percent bigger than those whose BMI was under 25.

In addition, tissue samples from people who had more body fat revealed that their tumors had a smaller blood supply, which is known to reduce the effects of chemotherapy.

Further examination showed that people with a higher BMI had higher circulating levels of two molecules: IL-6, which promotes inflammation, and FGF-2, which promotes angiogenesis.

There was also evidence that these factors were present in fat cells and adjacent cells in the tumors.

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The role of IL-6 and FGF-2 in mouse models

In the next stage of the study, the researchers sought to confirm these findings in mouse models of breast cancer, both with and without obesity. They used two models: one of breast cancer that is positive for the estrogen receptor (ER), and the other of triple-negative breast cancer.

They found, in the case of the obese mice, that the tumor microenvironments — which contained many fat cells and had reduced levels of oxygen — responded poorly to anti-VEGF treatment. Morever, at a molecular level, responses differed depending on the breast cancer subtype.

For example, in obese mice with ER-positive breast cancer, the fat cells and some types of immune cell had higher levels of several pro-inflammation and pro-angiogenic molecules — including IL-6.

The researchers found that when they blocked IL-6 in the ER-positive obese mice, the animals’ responses to anti-VEGF therapy improved and matched that of the lean mice.

Obese mice with triple-negative breast cancer, on the other hand, showed higher levels of FGF-2 but not of IL-6. In their case, blocking FGF-2 raised their response to treatment to that of the lean mice.

Blocking either of those molecules in lean mice with either type of breast cancer did not improve their response to anti-VEGF treatment.

This is the first study to propose that markers such as body mass index could help personalize anti-VEGF therapy, with blockade of molecules like IL-6 or FGF-2 for overweight or obese cancer patients.”

Dr. Joao Incio

The researchers note that there are several inhibitors of the two pathways are already available. For example, to inhibit FGF-2 in their experiments, they used the widely used diabetes drug metformin, which has been showing promise in slowing the growth of some cancers.

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Medical News Today: What causes black specks in stool?

Black specks in adult stool often come from undigested food, but could also signal something more serious. In newborn babies, black stool may be meconium.

Stool color can be affected by everyday fators such as diet or minor gastrointestinal distress. However, if stools turn black or have black specks for several days, a person should see their doctor to find out the cause.

In this article, we look at the causes of black specks in adult and baby stool, treatments, and when to see a doctor.

Black specks in adult stool

Woman with black specks in stool sitting on toilet.
Black specks in stool may be caused by certain foods in the diet or by underlying conditions.

Healthy bowel movements are normally a medium brown color and long and smooth in shape. They should not require straining to pass or cause pain. Black specks are more noticeable when the stool is light in color than when it is darker.

Visually, the black specks may look like:

  • small, thin flecks
  • coffee grounds
  • dark patches in the stool

Some common causes of black specks in the stool include:


Some foods, such as the skins or seeds of fruit, are more difficult to digest than others. The following foods may leave black specks in the stool:

  • blueberries
  • blackberries
  • plums
  • black beans

Food coloring can also cause the stool to change color because the body may have trouble digesting artificial dyes. For instance, black licorice can turn the stool black or very dark brown.

This cause is not necessarily a problem, although, it could mean a person is eating an unbalanced diet when it persists.

Iron supplements

Iron supplements, or food that is high in iron, can cause the stool to turn black. A sudden change could indicate that a person is getting too much iron. Black stools in a child could mean that they have consumed too many iron pills.


Some medications can temporarily change the color of the stool.

Bismuth, an active ingredient in some intestinal medications, mixes with the tiny amount of sulfur in a person’s saliva and stomach to temporarily add black color to the stool and sometimes the tongue. The temporary color change is harmless, and it should disappear within a few days of using the medication.

A person should consult a doctor about potential stool changes if they have recently started taking a new prescription or over-the-counter drug.

Intestinal bleeding

Bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract, such as in the stomach or intestines, can make the stool appear black. The higher up in the digestive system the bleeding occurs, the darker the blood tends to be.

A person should see their doctor if they experience the following symptoms:

  • black, tarry stools
  • blood in the stool
  • stomach pain
  • vomiting
  • fainting
  • rapid heart rate
  • sweating

Liver problems

Doctor pointing at model of liver to explain condition.
A disease affecting the liver may change the color of stool.

Stool color is a frequent indicator of liver disease. This is because the liver disease can cause cholestasis, where bile is reduced or blocked, sometimes leading to the pale-colored stool.

Liver disease can also cause black, tarry stool or black specks in the stool. This is because it can cause bleeding in the digestive tract, a complication called esophageal varices or portal hypertension.

Esophageal varices are bulging veins in the throat and stomach. They happen when blood flow to the liver is blocked. Scar tissue on the liver, often due to cirrhosis, is the most common cause of esophageal varices.

Esophageal varices signal a serious liver problem and need to be treated as a medical emergency.

Signs of liver disease include:

  • black specks in stool that come and go or worsen with time
  • jaundice or yellowing skin or eyes
  • red palms
  • itching skin
  • fatigue
  • weight loss
  • nausea
  • abdominal pain

Some other conditions, including a blood clot and severe parasitic infections, may also block blood flow to the liver and cause esophageal varices.

A person with liver disease should talk to their doctor about what to do about signs of bleeding.

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Black specks in babies’ stool

In newborns, meconium is usually the cause of black, tarry stools. Their stool is dark because they do not yet have the usual friendly gut bacteria that help people to digest their food and have bowel movements.

Once the baby leaves the womb, their intestines become colonized with bacteria, usually in the first days following birth, and the stools become gradually lighter. Black stool in a baby older than a week is unlikely to be meconium.

Older babies can develop black specks in their stools for the same reasons as adults. However, because babies are more vulnerable than adults to infections and diseases, it is important to notify a pediatrician immediately of changes in their stools.

A baby should be taken to the emergency room if they also show signs of:

  • fever
  • vomiting
  • lethargy
  • gas
  • apparent distress

When to see a doctor

Doctor with clipboard in office discussing with patient in foreground.
If black specks appear in stool for more than two days in a row, medical attention is recommended.

People who feel otherwise healthy and who have no chronic illnesses can wait a day or two to see if black spots in their stool disappear.

A person should seek medical attention for black spots in the stool if they have:

  • a history of liver disease
  • severe vomiting or diarrhea
  • a fever
  • yellow or green eyes or skin
  • signs of a parasitic infection, such as unexplained weight loss or worms in the stool

Newborns should be immediately seen by a doctor if the black color is not due to meconium.

People who have had black specks in their stool for more than a day or two should see a doctor if they are not taking medication that turns the stool black. Similarly, they should see a doctor if they cannot explain the color by any foods they have recently eaten.

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Treatment for black specks in the stool depends on the cause. A doctor will take a thorough medical history and may ask for a stool sample.

It may also be necessary to do imaging tests of the colon, stomach, or other parts of the gastrointestinal tract. Liver tests, including blood work, can assess the efficiency of the liver’s functioning.

A person with liver disease may need to take medication, make dietary changes, or spend time in the hospital. If there is internal bleeding, a doctor will want to explore the cause and then have it treated.


Digestion is a complex process, and the appearance of stool can be affected by many factors. Many causes of stool changing color or having black specks are not emergencies.

A person should talk to a doctor to find out about personal risk factors related to this symptom, and they should seek prompt care for any troubling changes in stomach or digestive function.

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Medical News Today: What causes a cyst in your earlobe?

Cysts and other bumps can appear on almost any area of the body, including the earlobe. Most often, these cysts do not cause pain, are not cancerous, and do not cause serious problems.

Earlobe cysts, otherwise known as epidermoid cysts or epidermal inclusion cysts, grow slowly. A doctor will usually recommend removal only if there is pain, discomfort, bursting, or infection.

Cysts commonly form on adults in areas that are not heavily covered with hair, such as on the face, neck, or trunk.

Here we discuss what a person can expect when they discover an earlobe cyst, as well as symptoms and treatment.

Causes and risk factors

epidermoid cysts on earlobe. Image credit: Jonathan RR, (2007, May 25).
A cyst on an earlobe may be more likely to develop in men than women.
Image credit: Jonathan RR, (2007, May 25).

A cyst is a sac-like pocket of tissue that contains fluid, air, or another substance.

When skin cells multiply or grow instead of shedding, they can form cysts within the innermost layer of the skin. These epidermoid cysts can also form if the outermost layer of a hair follicle becomes irritated or injured.

Men are at a higher risk for developing these cysts, but anyone at any age can have by them. Factors that increase the likelihood of a person developing an epidermoid cyst include:

  • Age: being past the age of puberty
  • Genetics: having a certain genetic condition, such as Gardner syndrome, in which tumors and polyps develop in and around the colon
  • Injury: sustaining an injury to the skin or having a history of acne

Cancerous cells rarely develop within epidermoid cysts. However, some cancers have a stronger link to these cysts than others. They include:

  • basal cell carcinoma
  • Bowen’s disease
  • squamous cell carcinoma
  • mycosis fungoides
  • melanoma in situ

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epidermal inclusion cysts behind ear
A cyst on the ear will appear as a firm, round bump under the skin.

The following are some symptoms associated with an epidermal cyst on the earlobe:

  • a small, flesh-colored bump under the earlobe’s skin
  • a cyst that is firm and round
  • a cyst that may or may not have a central plug, which looks like a blackhead
  • drainage of keratin, a thick, cheese-like substance that can have a foul odor

At times, an earlobe cyst can become infected and require medical attention. Signs of an infection may include:

  • redness and inflammation of the area
  • swelling and tenderness or pain
  • a boil-like infection from a burst cyst


Epidermal earlobe cysts are diagnosed by examination and do not require treatment in most cases.

Sometimes, a doctor will take a sample of a cyst, in a procedure known as a biopsy, and examine the sample under a microscope.

When necessary or desired, treatment usually involves removing the cyst with a simple cut and local anesthetic. Surgical removal may also prevent a cyst from reforming.

Otherwise, a doctor can make a small cut in the cyst and drain the contents. This option is quick and simple, but cysts are more likely to return.

A doctor may recommend antibiotics in the event of infection. They may also inject a steroid into the cyst to reduce inflammation.

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Home remedies

While earlobe cysts cannot be prevented, they can be managed at home if there are no signs of infection.

Do not squeeze a cyst, as this can cause scarring and lead to infection.

A person may want to place a warm compress over the cyst, to promote drainage and healing.


Doctor with tablet explaining something to man inforeground.
A cyst that appears to have burst or that is infected should be assessed by a doctor.

Earlobe cysts are usually not a cause for concern. However, certain complications may require medical intervention.

These complications may include:

  • inflammation and infection
  • bursting of the cyst
  • skin cancer, although this is rare

If a cyst seems to have burst or is infected, see a doctor.

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Earlobe cysts are usually benign and tend to form in middle-aged adults.

Cysts can occasionally be a symptom of a genetic abnormality. People, particularly those with a history of Gardner syndrome or another genetic condition, may want to speak to a doctor about the appearance of a cyst.

Medical treatment is not needed to treat most earlobe cysts. Some may even go away on their own.

However, if a person suspects that a cyst has burst or is infected, it is important to seek medical attention.

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