Medical News Today: Why do I wake up depressed?

There are many types of depression. Some, called diurnal variations, involve symptoms getting worse at certain times of the day.

Symptoms of depression can include feelings of helplessness, sadness, and hopelessness, and these may be worse in the morning. The common term for this diurnal variation is morning depression.

Diurnal means that symptoms seem to occur or grow more severe every day at around the same time. For some people, this happens in the afternoon or evening.

Symptoms of morning depression

Morning depression
Symptoms of depression can include diminished or no enjoyment in activities and difficulty sleeping.

A person with morning depression will have the diagnostic symptoms of major depressive disorder. These symptoms will arise or, more often, intensify in the morning.

The symptoms may dissipate or feel less severe as the day goes on.

Doctors diagnose depression according to criteria listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).

To receive a diagnosis of depression, a person must experience five or more of the symptoms listed below for 2 weeks or more.

A defining aspect of the condition is a depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed.

Other symptoms include:

  • a depressed mood lasting for most of the day, almost every day, though it may be worse at certain times of day
  • diminished or no enjoyment in nearly all activities
  • significant weight loss without effort or a decrease in appetite
  • difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • restlessness throughout most days of the week
  • fatigue or a feeling of no energy throughout most of the week
  • feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
  • difficulty concentrating, thinking, or making decisions throughout most of the week
  • recurrent thoughts of death, suicide, or self-harm

In addition, a person with morning depression may notice the following symptoms:

  • difficulty waking up in the morning
  • physical difficulty getting out of bed
  • frequent over-sleeping
  • difficulty thinking clearly, especially in the morning
  • difficulty completing regular morning tasks, such as getting dressed and brushing the teeth

In a person with morning depression, these symptoms will reduce or disappear as the day progresses.

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Doctors have not identified a specific cause of morning depression, but there are many contributing factors.

Because morning depression occurs at around the same time every day, doctors often connect it to imbalances in a person’s circadian rhythm.

The body’s circadian rhythm is a process that signals the sleep-wake cycle, among other things. Hormonal changes throughout the day can influence the circadian rhythm. One of these hormones is melatonin, which makes a person sleepy.

While people who are not clinically diagnosed with depression often experience changes in mood throughout the day, those with morning depression seem to have more pronounced highs and lows that occur daily or almost every day.

Some research suggests that imbalances in a person’s internal body clock and the amount of sleep and light exposure could lead to mood changes, especially in those with depression.

Beyond changes to the body’s natural rhythms, several other factors may contribute to morning depression and major depressive disorder. These factors include:

  • a family history of depression
  • past or ongoing drug or alcohol addiction
  • medical conditions that can affect a person’s mood, such as sleep disturbances, chronic pain, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • recent changes in life circumstances, such as divorce or loss of a loved one
  • trauma


Doctors begin to diagnose depression and any diurnal variations, such as morning depression, by asking a person about their symptoms.

They may ask questions about changes in mood, sleep, weight, and appetite. The doctor will attempt to establish how long these symptoms have lasted and whether they are improving or getting worse.

They will also try to rule out other possible causes, such as a medical condition that can cause similar symptoms. Hypothyroidism is one example.

Some medications can also lead to mood changes and symptoms of depression, so a doctor will also ask about any drugs a person is taking.

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cbt session
A doctor may recommend psychotherapy to treat depression.

Anyone having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm should seek emergency medical attention. A doctor can help to provide immediate and continuing care.

Many treatments for depression exist. They include:

  • Psychotherapy: This can help a person to recognize negative thought patterns and learn positive behaviors. Group or family therapy can help to strengthen relationships.
  • Medications: Among those that can help are anti-depressants, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotics. It may take time and some trial-and-error to find the right drug and dosage.
  • Exercise: Getting regular exercise, especially outdoors, can help to reduce mild to moderate depression symptoms. Exercising outside can be especially beneficial for people with morning depression, as it may reduce insomnia and ensure plenty of exposure to natural light.
  • Brain stimulation therapies: While rarely a first-line treatment, brain stimulation therapies, such as electroconvulsive therapy and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, may reduce symptoms of severe depression.

Some people also benefit from alternative therapies, including acupuncture, meditation, and yoga. While these can help people to feel better and maintain good mental health over time, they should not replace medical treatment for major depressive disorder.


While pursuing medical treatments, a person may wish to adopt habits that can help them to cope with symptoms. Positive changes can include:

  • Improving sleep hygiene. A person can help to promote better-quality sleep by darkening the bedroom, keeping the temperature cool, and eliminating distractions from screens, such as those on cell phones, computers, and televisions.
  • Preparing for the next morning at night. Setting out clothes and items for work or school, and putting together lunches in advance can make mornings easier if a person has little motivation or energy when they wake up.
  • Getting enough rest. Going to sleep and waking up at the same times, and trying to get 8 hours of sleep per night can improve symptoms.
  • Allowing for extra time in the morning. Waking up earlier or adjusting a work schedule to start later, if possible, can relieve pressure and stress in the morning.
  • Using light cues. Light can communicate to the body that it is morning and time to wake up. Opening the curtains right away or timing an overhead light to turn on at the same time every day can help the body to wake up.

A doctor or therapist can make individual recommendations based on a person’s symptoms and needs.


According to some research, morning depression is a common form of diurnal depression.

If a person has morning depression, medical treatments and support are available to help.

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Medical News Today: How do you treat a fecal impaction?

Fecal impaction is a severe bowel condition in which a hard, dry mass of stool becomes stuck in the colon or rectum. This immobile mass will block the passage and cause a buildup of waste, which a person will be unable to pass.

Fecal impaction disturbs the normal gastrointestinal process in which digested food passes from the stomach to the intestines and then into the colon and rectum.

Without treatment, fecal impaction can cause severe damage. Therefore, people experiencing any of the symptoms should visit their doctor as soon as possible.

What are the symptoms of fecal impaction?

woman with possible fecal impaction
Fecal impaction can cause stomach pain and abdominal bloating.

Fecal impaction can cause a range of symptoms, which include:

  • liquid stool leaking from the rectum
  • pain or discomfort in the abdomen
  • abdominal bloating
  • nausea or vomiting
  • feeling the need to push
  • a headache
  • unintentional weight loss
  • a feeling of fullness and not wanting to eat

People should seek treatment as quickly as possible if they suspect that they have an impacted bowel. Without treatment, symptoms can become more severe and may include:

  • rapid heart rate
  • feeling confused
  • hyperventilating or feeling breathless
  • fever
  • becoming irritated and agitated
  • incontinence, where a person loses control over urination or bowel movements


There are several causes of fecal impaction, including:

Untreated constipation

Constipation can occur when stools become hard and dry or when bowel movements become less frequent. Causes of constipation include:

  • a diet low in fiber — a person should consume 30 grams (g) of fiber daily to help soften stools
  • inadequate fluid intake
  • a sedentary lifestyle — regular exercise will help muscles in the bowel wall to stay strong
  • ignoring the urge to defecate
  • certain medications
  • anal fissures or hemorrhoids — the pain these cause can make a person resist the urge to pass stool, resulting in constipation

Overuse of laxatives

Repeated and excessive use of laxatives affects a person’s colon. The body becomes dependent on the laxatives to help with bowel movements. As a result, the colon becomes less able to perform this process naturally.

Other medical conditions

Some medical conditions may cause fecal impaction as a side effect.

These conditions include:

Lack of mobility

A lack of mobility due to injury or aging can weaken the abdominal muscles and reduce colonic mass movements. This impairs the body’s ability to pass stool on its own and could result in fecal impaction.

Certain medications

Some medicines can impair gastrointestinal motility, including:

  • opiate analgesics
  • anticholinergic agents
  • calcium channel blockers
  • antacids
  • iron preparations

Anorectal surgery

Although it is rare, fecal impaction can occur as the result of anorectal surgery.

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doctor examining female patients stomach
During an examination, the doctor will press down on the stomach to feel for the mass.

It is possible to determine whether or not a person has fecal impaction using several different methods.

Initially, a doctor is likely to ask about the following factors to build up a picture of the individual’s medical history:

  • how often they go to the bathroom and when they last went
  • how often they are constipated
  • how much liquid they drink
  • how much fiber they eat
  • whether they use laxatives
  • what medications they take

The doctor will then perform a physical exam by pressing down on the stomach to feel for the mass. They may also insert a finger into the rectum to try to feel for it or to detect any other problems that could be causing the symptoms.

In some cases, an X-ray may be necessary to check for the mass.

Another option is a sigmoidoscopy, which is a procedure involving the insertion of a thin tube with a light and a lens at its end into the lower colon.

What are the treatment options?

It is vital that a person with fecal impaction receives treatment to remove the mass of stool. Not doing so could cause severe complications, possibly even death.

There are several different treatments for fecal impaction. The most common remedy is a procedure called an enema where a doctor will insert a specific fluid into the rectum that softens the stool and makes it easier to push out.

If an enema fails to work, it may be necessary to break the stool down and remove it by hand. Removing the stool should result in a person’s bowel movements returning to normal, and any side effects should go away.

Other possible treatments for fecal impaction include:


A doctor may recommend oral laxatives. These make the colon produce more water, which softens the mass, allowing the body to pass it through and excrete it. Laxatives are also available to buy over the counter.

Anal suppositories

Following insertion into the rectum, these will draw water into the area to soften the mass of stool.

Water irrigation

During water irrigation, a doctor will insert a small hose into the rectum and flush the area with water, encouraging the stool to soften and break down.

A doctor may massage the rectum after this procedure to help the stool move through, before removing it via another tube.

Are there any home remedies?

People with a fecal impaction should not try to remove the mass by themselves or wait for it to go away on its own. Instead, they must make an appointment with a doctor, who will advise them on the best treatment to cure the issue.

However, a person can adapt their food choices to help keep their bowel movements regular and avoid constipation. A diet high in fiber can aid regular bowel movements, and natural laxatives such as tea, coffee, and prune juice may be beneficial if a person feels constipated.

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The complications of fecal impaction can range in severity and are more likely to occur if people delay seeking treatment for the condition. Complications typically include:

  • tearing of the colon wall
  • anal tears
  • hemorrhoids
  • anal bleeding

If a person suspects that there is any problem with their colon, digestive health, or bowel movements, they should make an appointment to see their doctor as soon as possible.


a selection of fiber rich food
Having a diet rich in fiber can help lessen the risk of fecal impaction.

There are several lifestyle changes that people can make to reduce their risk of fecal impaction. These include:

  • taking regular exercise and staying active
  • eating a diet high in fiber
  • drinking plenty of water
  • avoiding alcohol
  • using the bathroom when the need arises rather than waiting

While it is not always possible to do so, avoiding the use of laxatives and trying to prevent constipation will lower the chance of a person experiencing fecal impaction.

A doctor may also recommend taking stool softeners to help stool pass along more smoothly.


Fecal impaction is a common gastrointestinal problem. Prompt and successful treatment will minimize a person’s discomfort and the risk of complications. Not treating fecal impaction is dangerous and can cause serious side effects.

Making diet and lifestyle changes can help people to avoid reoccurrence.

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Medical News Today: What to know about ileus

Ileus is a temporary and often painful lack of movement in the intestines.

An ileus occurs when the intestines do not move food through in the normal way. It often occurs after abdominal surgery.

This is a severe condition because, if left untreated, an ileus can cut off blood supply to the intestines and cause tissue death. This can result in an intestinal tear or life-threatening infection of the abdominal cavity.

Read on to learn more about recognizing and treating an ileus.


ileus demonstrated by 3D render of intestines.
Abdominal or pelvic surgery may cause ileus.

Typically, muscles in the intestines contract and relax to cause a wave-like motion called peristalsis. This movement helps food to travel through the intestines.

When an ileus occurs, it stops peristalsis and prevents the passage of food particles, gas, and liquids through the digestive tract.

If people continue to eat solid food, it can lead to a backlog of food particles, which may cause full or partial obstruction of the intestines.

An ileus most commonly occurs after abdominal or pelvic surgery. According to some estimates, ileus or other bowel obstruction is the second most common cause for readmission to the hospital within the first month following surgery.

This may be because:

  • normal peristalsis is slow to return after surgery
  • medications prescribed after surgery affect intestinal movement
  • post-surgical scarring can cause a blockage

Some of the medicines that affect muscles and nerves in the digestive tract include:

  • opioid pain-relieving drugs
  • anticholinergics, which are used to treat many conditions including bladder conditions, COPD, and Parkinson’s disease
  • calcium channel blockers, which are often used to treat heart conditions

Other causes of ileus include infections and disorders of the muscles and nerves, such as Parkinson’s disease.

In children, intussusception or ‘telescoping’ often causes ileus. Intussusception is when part of the intestine slides into itself, much like the closing of a telescope.

Risk factors

Some factors that may increase the risk of ileus include:

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Stomach pain in person clutching stomach.
Stomach pain is a characteristic symptom of ileus

Symptoms of ileus include:

  • stomach cramps and pain
  • bloated or swollen stomach
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • constipation, or passing small amounts of watery stool
  • loss of appetite
  • feeling full
  • inability to pass gas

Ileus versus intestinal obstruction

An ileus and an intestinal obstruction have similarities, but an ileus results from muscle or nerve problems that stop peristalsis while an obstruction is a physical blockage in the digestive tract.

However, a type of ileus known as paralytic ileus can cause a physical block due to a buildup of food in the intestines.

Other causes for obstruction include:

  • areas of fibrous tissue that form after surgery (intestinal adhesions)
  • cancer of the colon
  • diverticulitis, inflamed pouches in the digestive tract
  • a hernia
  • impacted feces
  • inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD)


To diagnose an ileus, a doctor will first ask about symptoms and take a full medical history. They will ask about:

  • current or past medical conditions
  • medication use
  • surgical history

The doctor will then perform a physical examination to check for swelling or pain in the abdomen. They may use a stethoscope to listen for bowel sounds. Absent or excessive bowel noises suggest an ileus, although imaging tests are usually required to confirm a diagnosis.

Imaging tests

Imaging tests help locate an ileus by highlighting abnormalities in the intestine, such as a buildup of gas or an enlargement of the intestine. Sometimes, there may be a physical blockage. Tests used include:

  • X-ray. An abdominal X-ray may show some obstructions, but they do not always show up an ileus or other intestinal problem.
  • Computerized tomography (CT). A CT scan provides more detail than standard X-ray images. These scans are more likely to highlight an ileus because they show the intestines from different angles. Sometimes, a person swallows a special dye that creates a clearer image.
  • Ultrasound. Doctors often diagnose children with a suspected ileus using an ultrasound scan. Ultrasound scans typically show a coiled area in the intestine when intussusception is present.
  • Air or barium enema. This involves inserting air or liquid barium into the colon through the rectum and then taking X-rays of the abdomen. This procedure can resolve an ileus caused by intussusception in some children.

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Treatment options for an ileus include waiting for the ileus to resolve, making dietary changes, or adjusting medication use. Sometimes, surgery is necessary. The treatment will depend on the severity of the ileus and its underlying cause.

Possible treatments for an ileus include:

Hospital care

Man in hospital bed with doctor talking to them.
Some people experiencing ileus may require treatment in the hospital.

Surgery-related ileus often heals within a few days of surgery, and paralytic ileus usually resolves once a person makes changes to their medication. However, individuals may require a stay in the hospital until the issue resolves fully.

Treatment at the hospital can include:

  • intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration
  • nasogastric decompression, which uses a tube to suction out materials that a person might otherwise vomit up
  • pain relief

Dietary changes

Conditions such as Crohn’s disease and diverticulitis can cause a partial intestinal block. Some bowel material can pass through the intestine, but not all of it.

A doctor may recommend that people with this issue follow a low-fiber diet to make it easier to pass stool. This involves cutting down on whole-grain foods, raw vegetables, and nuts.

Medication changes

A paralytic ileus that is caused by medication can often be treated by taking another medicine, such as metoclopramide (Reglan), to stimulate the movement of the intestines.

Another option is to discontinue use of the medication that is causing the ileus. However, only do this with a doctor’s supervision. It is not always advisable to stop antidepressants and some other medications suddenly.


If medication or dietary changes do not resolve the ileus, or if the blockage is severe, then a person may need surgery.

Surgical procedures involve removing the blockage, or repairing or removing the damaged portion of the intestine.

Older adults or people with colon cancer may not be suitable candidates for extensive surgery. Instead, they may be fitted with a stent (tube) to keep the intestine open and allow bowel materials to pass through more easily.

In some cases, a person may need to have their entire intestine removed. In this case, the surgeon will perform an ostomy. They will create an opening in the abdomen, called a stoma, allowing stool to pass from the intestine into a pouch.

Although an ostomy requires care, a person can live a healthy life without the intestine.


An undiagnosed and untreated ileus can cause severe and potentially life-threatening complications, such as:


Necrosis is tissue death. Necrosis occurs when blood cannot reach the intestine. The intestinal tissue dies and becomes weakened. A weak intestinal wall is prone to tearing, which causes bowel contents to leak out.


Bowel contents are full of bacteria. When they leak into the abdominal cavity, they cause a serious infection called peritonitis. Bacterial peritonitis can lead to sepsis, a widespread infection that can be fatal.


After surgery, intestinal function usually returns to normal within 5 days. If it persists for longer than this, it is considered a paralytic ileus.

Recovering from an ileus depends on getting the proper treatment for the underlying cause.


Ileus is a relatively common condition that is easy to treat. It is especially prevalent in those who have undergone recent abdominal or pelvic surgery.

An awareness of the symptoms is key to improving the outlook and reducing the risk of complications. It is essential to seek prompt medical treatment as soon as symptoms appear.

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Medical News Today: Parkinson’s: Could this ‘missing link’ be a cause?

Scientists have now identified a faulty cell process that may be common to different forms of Parkinson’s, and they propose a mechanism through which it might lead to the disease.
nurse supporting man with PD
Researchers shed new light on the potential cause of Parkinson’s.

This process involves a group of lipids or fatty molecules called ceramides, which are found in cell membranes and play important roles in their function and structure.

A paper that is now published in the journal Cell Metabolism describes how the team — at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX — made the unexpected discovery in a fruit fly model of a faulty gene condition with Parkinson’s-like symptoms.

Previous studies have identified genes and cell defects linked to Parkinson’s disease and other brain disorders with similar symptoms. The researchers suggest that ceramides are the “missing link” than connects them.

“Numerous genes,” claims senior study author Hugo J. Bellen, a professor of molecular and human genetics and neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine, “have been associated with Parkinson’s disease or Parkinson-like diseases; nevertheless, there is still little understanding of how these genes cause these conditions.”

Parkinson’s disease and Parkinsonism

Parkinson’s disease affects movement and will get worse over time. Its typical symptoms include tremors, muscle stiffness, and slowness. It can also have nonmotor symptoms, such as sleep disruption, depression, anxiety, and fatigue.

There are around 10 million people worldwide with Parkinson’s, with around 1 million living in the United States.

While the disease mostly strikes after the age of 50, there is a form called early onset Parkinson’s that develops in younger people.

The disease develops because of the destruction of nerve cells, or neurons, in a part of the brain that controls movement. The cells produce a chemical called dopamine that carries messages between the brain and the rest of the body that are important for controlling movement.

Parkinsonism is a general term for conditions that produce symptoms that are similar to those of Parkinson’s, particularly slowness of movement, or bradykinesia, which is the “defining feature.” Parkinson’s disease is the most common cause of Parkinsonism.

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Fruit fly model of Parkinsonism

The study began with research into the human gene PLA2GA6. Mutations of the gene are known to cause Parkinsonism and other disorders involving the loss of brain tissue.

Previous studies have shown that the gene contains instructions for making an enzyme called phospholipase. The enzyme acts on phospholipids, a group of fats known to be important components of the nervous system, but apart from this, not much is known about them.

To study the effects of PLA2GA6 in cells, the researchers used a fruit fly model of Parkinsonism that is made by silencing iPLA2-VIA, which is the fly equivalent of the human gene.

Flies that lacked the gene lived a third as long as normal flies, and their cells displayed similar features as human cells with PLA2G6 mutations.

The researchers also confirmed, in line with previous studies, that youthful mutant flies were healthy but gradually developed neurodegeneration as they aged.

Nervous system deficiencies

They also found that lack of the gene had two other effects in the flies: they took longer to recover from physical impacts, and they also showed progressive problems with visual response. Both effects suggested nervous system deficiencies.

When they examined the neurons in the eyes of the mutant flies with electron microscopes, the scientists found that their membranes contained abnormal “inclusions,” or lumps, that were not present in the normal flies.

They also found several other abnormalities, including malformed mitochondria and abnormally large lysosomes. Mitochondria are compartments inside cells that make energy for the cell. Abnormalities in mitochondria are often found in Parkinson’s disease.

Lysosomes are another type of compartment inside cells that act as recycling centers for worn-out cell materials, including membranes.

When looking at these results all together, they indicate “that the iPLA2-VIA gene is important to maintain proper membrane structure and shape,” notes Prof. Bellen.

The researchers assumed that because the iPLA2-VIA gene provides instructions for making the enzyme that acts on phospholipids, they would find problems with phospholipids in the flies without the gene. This would then explain the results.

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The role of ceramides

However, to their surprise, the researchers did not find what they expected. The phospholipids in the mutant flies behaved normally.

So, they turned their attention to other lipids, and this is when they noticed abnormally high levels of ceramides in the files that lacked the iPLA2-VIA gene.

They then gave some of the mutant flies drugs that block ceramide production. The team found that, compared with untreated mutant flies, the treated mutant flies had not only lower levels of ceramides in their cells, but they also showed reduced symptoms of neurodegeneration and several other nervous system deficiencies. Their cells also had fewer abnormalities in their lysosomes.

Further investigation revealed that the problem lay in the recovery and recycling of lipids in ceramides. Another cell component called a retromer finds and extracts the lipids before they enter lysosomes for recycling and sends them to the membranes. If the lipids are not extracted, they end up being recycled to produce more ceramide.

If the retromer does not work properly, levels of ceramides will increase, causing stiffness of the cell membranes. This sets up a vicious cycle that further disables the retromer, causing a further rise in ceramide levels. Eventually, this causes neurodegeneration.

Other links and alpha-synuclein

In another part of the study, the team confirmed that the mutant flies had lower levels of retromer proteins called VPS35 and VPS26. In normal flies, these attach to iPLA2-VIA protein and help to stabilize retromer function.

Further tests showed that improving retromer function led to reductions in the defects observed in the mutant fruit flies that lacked the iPLA2-VIA gene. “Interestingly,” Prof. Bellen notes, “mutations in the Vps35 gene also cause Parkinson’s disease.”

The researchers replicated the findings using laboratory-grown animal brain cells. They also found that high levels of a protein often found in the brain in Parkinson’s disease, called alpha-synuclein, also causes retromer dysfunction, large lysosomes, and rises in ceramide levels.

The researchers suggest that their findings reveal a new link between previously unconnected features of Parkinson’s disease.

We think that our work is important because it points to a potential mechanism leading to Parkinsonism and perhaps Parkinson’s disease.”

Prof. Hugo J. Bellen

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Medical News Today: How could designer proteins thwart cancer?

Chromosomes, or DNA molecules found in cells carrying genetic material, are “bookended” by telomeres, which will prevent them from “unraveling.” Telomeres are also important in the growth and aging process of cells, but what happens when cancer “hijacks” them, and can this be prevented?
scientist looking through a microscope
Scientists have developed specialized proteins that can interfere with cancer’s growth strategy at a molecular level.

“A normal cell grows for just the right amount of time that is required for us to develop and maintain our bodies,” explains associate professor Oliver Rackham, of the University of Western Australia in Crawley.

Certain molecular mechanisms are in place in cells that “tell” them how much to grow and when it’s time to stop growing.

One such mechanism involves telomeres, which are the “caps” at the ends of chromosomes. Chromosomes carry genetic information.

Telomeres are “attached” to the single strands of DNA that are left “hanging” at the endings, or termini, of chromosomes, securing them, as it were.

“[Cells] control their growth with a molecular counting mechanism that tells the cell how old it is. This occurs on the ends of our chromosomes which have little caps on them,” Rackham says.

“Each time the cell divides,” he goes on, “a little bit at the cap of the chromosome disappears. Once the caps shrink to a certain length the cell knows that it has divided too many times and it will then stop growing or die.”

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How cancer disregulates cell growth

But problems occur when the telomeres don’t shorten incrementally, as they ought to. Throughout a person’s childhood, telomeres are naturally “longer-lived,” as the individual still needs to grow and develop.

However, if, in adulthood, the mechanism that regulates the shortening of telomeres and thus the aging process of cells is disrupted and telomeres do not shorten, the cells keep growing abnormally.

This, research has shown, is what happens in cancer. As Rackham puts it, “[C]ancer cells subvert the counting mechanism that shrinks the ends of our chromosomes so cancer cells keep replicating indefinitely.”

How does cancer “hijack” telomeres? “[B]y producing an enzyme called telomerase which we need when we are babies and growing very fast but which we stop producing when we stop rapidly growing,” explains Rackham.

Approximately 90 percent of all cancer cells contain telomerase, thus disrupting the normal cellular self-regulating mechanism, notes the researcher.

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These artificial proteins are a ‘first’

Rackham and a team of specialists from the University of Western Australia’s Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research have been working to find an effective way to stop telomerase from facilitating the abnormal growth of cells in cancer.

This enzyme works by “lengthening” the telomeres that at the ends of chromosomes, practically “renewing” their lease of life.

As they reported in an article that is now published in the journal Nature Communications, the University of Western Australia team has developed artificial proteins that wrap around the ends of chromosomes, thus preventing telomerase to “reinforce” the telomeres.

“These proteins,” explains Rackham, “lock down the [single-stranded] DNA [which is secured by telomeres] so telomerase can’t touch it.”

“Our laboratory designed proteins that, for the first time, can actually recognise the single-stranded DNA and bind it. We can basically program these proteins to target them,” he notes.

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In doing this, the team managed to disrupt the molecular mechanism that cancer would “hijack” in order to fuel the uncontrolled, and thus harmful, growth of cells.

The researchers have expressed their excitement at their discovery, arguing that the development of proteins able to bind to single-stranded DNA could, in the future, be used in multiple areas of therapeutic interest.

“In this study we have shown that we have the ability to design proteins that recognise specific [single-stranded DNA] sequences of interest, with many potential applications in biology and biotechnology,” the authors conclude.

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Medical News Today: What does it mean if you have a high C-reactive protein?

C-reactive protein is a substance that the liver makes in response to inflammation. The C-reactive protein test measures the amount of this protein in the blood. The test can help to diagnose acute and chronic conditions that cause inflammation.

A wide variety of inflammatory conditions can cause elevated C-reactive protein (CRP) levels, including the following:

Significantly high CRP levels of more than 350 milligrams per liter (mg/L) are nearly always a sign of a serious underlying medical condition. The most common cause is a severe infection, but a poorly controlled autoimmune disease or severe tissue damage can also lead to high CRP levels.

What does the CRP test involve?

CPR blood test in vial sample in front of document.
The CRP test is a type of blood test.

There is no need to fast or avoid liquids before having a CRP test. However, people having a high-sensitivity CRP (hs-CRP) test are likely to undergo other blood tests at the same time, and these may require fasting for 9–12 hours beforehand.

The hs-CRP test is different from the CRP test. The hs-CRP test detects lower levels of CRP in the bloodstream (0.5–10 mg/L), whereas the CRP test measures levels in a higher range (10–1,000 mg/L). Doctors will use the hs-CRP test to evaluate a person’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Some conditions that may cause an elevated hs-CRP level include:

Obtaining the sample for the test will only take a few minutes and should be relatively painless aside from a small needle prick.

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The symptoms of elevated CRP levels depend entirely on the underlying condition that is causing them.

Many people who have moderate infections or injuries, or conditions that cause chronic inflammation, may experience similar symptoms. These include:

  • unexplained exhaustion
  • pain
  • muscle stiffness, soreness, and weakness
  • low-grade fever
  • chills
  • a headache
  • nausea, loss of appetite, and indigestion
  • difficulty sleeping or insomnia
  • unexplained weight loss

People with very high CRP levels are most likely to have an acute bacterial infection.

Signs of acute infection include:

  • high fever
  • rapid heart rate
  • uncontrollable sweating, chills, or shaking
  • uncontrollable or persistent vomiting, retching, or diarrhea
  • difficulty breathing
  • rash or hives
  • parched lips, mouth, and skin
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • a severe headache, body pain, stiffness, or soreness
  • loss of consciousness

What is the normal range?

Doctor with clipboard to patient.
The test results will indicate the risk of certain conditions.

There is currently no set standard for CRP blood levels, and guidelines vary.

However, as a general rule, the following classifications apply to CRP:

  • Levels between 3 mg/L and 10 mg/L are mildly elevated and usually result from chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, or lifestyle factors including tobacco smoking and being sedentary.
  • Levels between 10 mg/L and 100 mg/L are moderately elevated and are usually due to more significant inflammation from an infectious or non-infectious cause.
  • Levels above 100 mg/L are severely elevated and almost always a sign of severe bacterial infection.

The hs-CRP test results indicate a person’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease accordingly:

  • Low risk is less than 1 mg/L.
  • Moderate risk is between 1 mg/L and 3 mg/L.
  • High risk is greater than 3 mg/L.

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Interpreting the results

CRP levels that are mildly or moderately elevated can be hard to interpret.

A huge range of conditions can raise CRP levels slightly, and, as there is no standard reference range set for CRP, there is usually no way to draw any conclusions by looking at CRP levels alone.

The following factors can also make it challenging to interpret CRP levels:

  • Medications: Medications that reduce inflammation in the body, such as some cholesterol-reducing medicines (statins) and specific nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), may lower CRP levels.
  • Minor injuries or infection: These conditions may temporarily raise CRP levels and conceal other potential conditions such as diabetes or IBS.
  • Chronic conditions: Conditions that cause persistent inflammation, including autoimmune diseases, may mask other possible causes of elevated CRP such as minor infection.
  • Estrogen levels: Estrogen-based medications such as birth control pills and hormone replacement medications may raise CRP levels.
  • Pregnancy: Pregnancy can elevate CRP levels, especially during the later stages.

A doctor will usually order a CRP test alongside several other tests to get a broad overview of a person’s health. This will allow them to consider a range of medical factors.

A doctor will also often want to repeat the test to see how CRP levels change over time before they make a diagnosis.

However, regardless of any other external factors, CRP levels above 10 mg/L will typically indicate an underlying inflammatory issue.

What is the most likely cause?

Rheumatoid arthritis in hands.
Rheumatoid arthritis can cause high CRP levels.

Usually, moderately elevated CRP levels are due to RA or infectious arthritis, which occurs when a joint is infected.

Significantly elevated CRP levels tend to occur with severe infections, such as bacterial or fungal infections. Infection is responsible for around 80 percent of the cases involving CRP levels greater than 10 mg/L.

Sometimes higher levels also occur due to certain cancers and other conditions that can cause significant inflammation, such as pericarditis.


Doctors use CRP and hs-CRP tests to detect the levels of CRP in the body. Elevated levels of the protein may indicate an underlying condition or a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. The treatment for elevated levels will differ according to the cause.

A range of conditions can cause mildly or moderately raised CRP levels, but very high CRP levels are generally easier to interpret.

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Medical News Today: Is crab and other seafood safe to eat during pregnancy?

When a woman is expecting, the foods she eats, medications she takes, and even chemicals from the products she puts on her skin can potentially cross the placenta to the baby. So, is crab and other seafood safe to eat during pregnancy?

Due to concerns over mercury consumption, there are several seafood products pregnant women should not eat.

Fortunately, when fully cooked, crab or imitation crab can usually be eaten in moderation by someone who is pregnant.

Can you eat crab when pregnant?

can you eat crab when pregnant
Cooked crab is safe to eat in moderation.

According to 2017 recommendations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), cooked crab is one of the best seafood choices to eat while pregnant.

The FDA also noted that it is most beneficial to eat a wide variety of fish.

A pregnant woman should not eat raw crab, however. Eating raw crab increases the risk for food poisoning, particularly in older adults, children, and pregnant women.

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Can you eat imitation crab when pregnant?

Imitation crab is cooked, so it is usually safe for a pregnant woman to eat. However, it is crucial to ask if there are other raw products in foods, such as sushi, before eating them.

Imitation crab is typically less expensive than real crab and contains pollock, egg whites, artificial flavoring, and sugar.

While this combination may taste similarly to crab, it is not as nutritious as crab itself.

Imitation crab is low in omega-3 fatty acids that are especially beneficial during pregnancy. However, imitation crab is similar in calories and protein to authentic crab.

Seafood to eat and avoid during pregnancy

Seafood is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. Experts state that eating at least 8 ounces of fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids per week can benefit the growing baby.

These benefits include reducing the risk of premature delivery and fostering brain and vision development.

The FDA recommend eating 2 to 3 servings per week of cooked, low-mercury fish choices, such as:

  • catfish
  • crab
  • crawfish
  • freshwater trout
  • haddock
  • lobster
  • pollock
  • salmon
  • scallops
  • shrimp
  • whitefish

Pregnant women can also have 1 serving per week of the following:

  • bluefish
  • carp
  • Chilean sea bass
  • mahi-mahi
  • snapper
  • tilefish
  • tuna (albacore, white, or yellowfin)

It is essential to cook the above seafood, especially during pregnancy, to reduce the risk of food poisoning.

Seafood to avoid

People should not eat seafood that is usually served raw during pregnancy. These foods include sashimi, raw oysters, clams on the half shell, ceviche, poke, tuna tartare, or tuna carpaccio.

Pregnant women should avoid fish high in mercury. These fish include:

  • mackerel
  • shark
  • swordfish
  • tilefish
  • marlin
  • orange roughy
  • tuna (big eye)

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Risks and considerations

you can eat cooked crab when pregnant if prepared on a separate chopping board
When someone is pregnant, they should not eat raw crab and should prepare raw food separately.

Consuming raw fish and shellfish can cause food poisoning, as they may contain the bacteria Salmonella and Vibrio vulnificus. Symptoms of food poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain.

In addition to the dangers surrounding raw food, a person should take precautions when preparing seafood and crab.

Safe food handling and preparation is vital when eating crab, fish, or any raw meat.

People should store live crabs in well-ventilated containers and fresh crab in a refrigerator at less than 40°F or well-packed in ice. Storage containers should be airtight.

When preparing raw crab, it is essential to keep raw and cooked seafood on separate cutting boards, plates, and utensils.

In addition to these risks, exposure to mercury can be toxic to a fetus. It can lead to neurological problems and congenital abnormalities.

As a result, avoiding high-mercury fish is vital for keeping the fetus healthy and safe.


When cooked, both crab and imitation crab are safe to eat during pregnancy. Practicing careful food preparation and always cooking seafood thoroughly are other ways people can protect themselves and the growing fetus from food poisoning dangers.

Avoiding high-mercury fish, such as shark and swordfish, is also essential to ensure a person avoids any harm to their developing baby.

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Medical News Today: A supple aorta might slow brain aging

According to a study in older adults, memory performance as we age may be associated with the flexibility of the largest artery in our body: the aorta.
Happy older adult
Cognitive decline with age might not be inevitable.

As we grow older, there is an inevitable decline in many of our body’s functions. This includes cognitive ability.

Memory can suffer as we enter the later years of life. However, some are affected by this slide more than others.

Because the population of the United States is living longer, it is more important than ever to understand what mechanisms are behind cognitive decline.

Is it possible to maintain good memory into old age? Researchers in Swinburne University’s Centre for Human Psychopharmacology in Melbourne, Australia, are trying to answer this question.

Their results were published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

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The role of the aorta

In particular, the team is interested in the potential relationship between cognitive decline and the elasticity of the aorta. The aorta is the main artery in the body, carrying blood from the heart and down through the abdomen before splitting off into smaller arteries.

It is a huge blood vessel with walls so thick they need their own blood supply. It is also particularly elastic, allowing it to swell with each heartbeat, thereby helping to maintain a consistent blood pressure. However, with age, the aorta, along with the other arteries, become less supple.

Lead author Greg Kennedy explains why elasticity in the aorta may yield clues about age-related decline in memory function:

“A healthier, more elastic aorta is also theorized to protect cognitive function by reducing the negative effects of excessive blood pressure on the brain.”

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Fitness, elasticity, and memory

The team wanted to see whether a more elastic aorta would mean better memory performance in older adults.

So, they recruited 102 people aged 60–90. They rated their fitness levels using a simple 6-minute walking test, and they assessed their aortic flexibility and memory performance.

As expected, they found that higher fitness levels and more flexible aortas predicted better performance in a memory test.

People generally are less fit and have stiffer arteries as they age, which seems to explain the difference in memory ability that is usually attributed to ‘getting older.'”

Greg Kennedy

Interestingly, however, the level of fitness did not correlate with the participants’ aortic flexibility. According to the study authors, this might be because the study only measured current fitness.

But, lifetime fitness levels are likely to play a significant role in how the arteries perform over time. More work will be needed to dig into this a little deeper.

Kennedy says, “The results of this study indicate that remaining as physically fit as possible, and monitoring central arterial health, may well be an important, cost-effective way to maintain our memory and other brain functions in older age.”

These findings are in line with a huge body of research into age-related cognitive decline: remaining physically fit is likely to keep us mentally fitter for longer.

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Medical News Today: What to know about glossitis

Glossitis is typically characterized by an inflammation of the tongue. It can also cause changes in the tongue’s texture and color.

Along with swelling, glossitis can change the color and surface texture of the tongue because the condition causes the small bumps on the surface to shrink, creating a shiny, red surface.

Severe cases of glossitis can be painful and affect the way a person talks or eats.

There are different types of glossitis, including:

  • Acute glossitis. This often develops suddenly and can have severe symptoms.
  • Chronic glossitis. Chronic inflammation of the tongue is often the result of an underlying condition.
  • Atrophic glossitis also called Hunter’s glossitis. Here, the many of the tongue’s small bumps (papillae) shrink, which changes the surface of the tongue, making it appear glossy.
  • Median rhomboid glossitis. A Candida yeast infection often causes this type of glossitis.


Symptoms of glossitis include pain and swelling in the tongue and difficulty swallowing.

The symptoms of glossitis vary from person to person. They may also differ according to the underlying cause of the condition.

Common symptoms of glossitis include:

  • a swollen tongue
  • pain in the tongue
  • burning or itching in the tongue
  • change in the texture of the surface of the tongue due to the change in the size and shape of papillae
  • different color of the tongue’s surface
  • loss of ability to speak or eat properly
  • difficulty swallowing

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There is a variety of possible causes of glossitis, including:

Allergic reaction

When glossitis occurs due to an allergic reaction, a person is most likely to develop acute glossitis and have sudden tongue swelling and pain. An allergy to a particular food, drug, or specific irritant can cause this type of reaction.

Injury to the mouth

Injuries to the mouth, such as small cuts from braces or burns from hot food, might cause the tongue to inflame and swell.

When dental braces cause glossitis, a person is more at risk for chronic glossitis due to the risk of repeated injury to the mouth and tongue.


Certain diseases can cause glossitis, especially those where nutritional deficiencies occur, such as celiac disease, protein-calorie malnutrition, and pernicious anemia.

Diseases that attack the immune system, such as Sjögren’s Syndrome, can cause changes in the mouth that lead to glossitis.


Bacterial, viral, and fungal infections can all cause glossitis. However, oral herpes, which is a viral infection, and fungal yeast infections are among the most likely infections to cause glossitis.

Nutritional deficiencies

Iron deficiencies occur when a person does not have enough iron in their blood. This can trigger glossitis since low levels of iron lead to low levels of myoglobin, a substance in the blood that plays a significant role in the health of all the muscles in the body, including the tongue.

A vitamin B12 deficiency may also lead to glossitis.


If a person has symptoms of glossitis, they can visit a dentist or a doctor. At the exam, the medical professional will take a medical history and assess any symptoms the person reports.

The doctor or dentist will then examine the person’s mouth and tongue thoroughly. They will note any abnormalities in the tongue’s surface and look for blisters or bumps on the tongue or gums.

They may also take a swab of saliva for testing and order blood work to check for underlying nutritional deficiencies or diseases.

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Image of glossitis <br>Image credit: Klaus D. Peter, 2012</br>
If infection or disease has caused glossitis, a doctor may prescribe medication.
Image credit: Klaus D. Peter, 2012

Treatment for glossitis depends on its cause. Generally, glossitis responds well to treatment once a doctor has determined the underlying cause.

Doctors may prescribe medications for people with glossitis that is caused by disease or infection. Antibiotic, antifungal, or antiviral drugs may help clear up a bacterial, fungal, or viral infection, respectively.

A doctor may prescribe dietary supplements for someone with glossitis due to a nutritional deficiency. The doctor may also recommend ways to add more of the missing nutrient into a person’s diet.

If a nutrient deficiency is due to an underlying disease, such as celiac disease, a doctor may recommend treatment that includes dietary changes to manage the underlying condition.


It may not always be possible to prevent glossitis. However, a person can lower their risk of developing the condition by:

  • maintaining a healthful diet
  • practicing good oral hygiene with regular brushing, flossing, and mouthwashes
  • avoiding irritants, such as spicy foods, cigarettes, and acidic foods


A person with glossitis can generally expect to make a full recovery, although this will take time and require proper treatment. During treatment, avoid eating foods that may irritate the tongue, and maintain good oral hygiene through brushing and flossing.

If the symptoms do not go away after some time, seek medical attention. In cases where the tongue is severely swollen and starts to block the airways, a person should seek emergency medical attention or call emergency services as severe swelling may indicate a serious underlying condition.

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Medical News Today: Finding it hard to cut down on processed foods? Here’s why

We know that processed foods are bad for us, and that though they may be tasty, they do not bring us any nutritional benefits. How come we find it so hard to say no to those chips, donuts, and crackers?
cheesy puffs
We know that processed foods aren’t good for us, but how do our brains react?

Many processed foods — such as potato chips, donuts, crackers, cookies, and fries — have a high content of both (saturated) fat and carbohydrates.

However, they also have little to no nutritional value.

Instead, they are packed with “empty calories,” meaning that they can build up our fat levels without providing us with much energy.

If we consistently eat processed foods, or if our diets consist mainly of these, this will gradually increase our risk of metabolic conditions, such as obesity or diabetes, and of other complex diseases, such as cancer.

None of this is new information. Still, though we are aware of the consequences and know which foods are better for our health, many of us still find it difficult to steer clear of these tempting snacks. Why is this?

Researchers from four countries — Germany, Switzerland, the United States, and Canada — have now conducted a series of experiments investigating what happens in the brain when a person is confronted with foods high in carbs, foods that have a high fat content, and foods that are high in both carbs and fats (typically processed foods).

The researchers’ findings indicate that, while we may be pretty good at instinctively estimating the nutritional value of foods that are rich either in carbs or in fats, we seem to be worse at evaluating the nutritional value of processed foods, which are high in both.

“The biological process that regulates the association of foods with their nutritional value,” says senior author Dana Small, from Yale University’s Modern Diet and Physiology Research Center in New Haven, CT, “evolved to carefully define the value of a food so that organisms can make adaptive decisions.”

“For example, a mouse should not risk running into the open and exposing itself to a predator if a food provides little energy,” she explains.

When it comes to processed foods, however, this age-old “cost vs. benefit” mechanism seems to malfunction in humans — so suggests the new study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

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Processed foods trigger a reward response

The main study involved 206 participants, who were, in the first instance, shown images of snacks whose calories came primarily from either their content of fats, carbs, or a mix of the two.

All of these snacks were then rated by each participant on four counts: liking, familiarity, estimated energy density, and caloric content.

“On a subsequent day,” the scientists explain in their paper, “[the participants] arrived [with empty stomachs] to the laboratory and were fed a standard breakfast of 426 [kilocalories] from orange juice, cheddar cheese, whole-wheat toast, white toast, strawberry jam, and butter.”

Three hours after this varied breakfast, the participants were all subjected to functional MRI scans as they participated in a bidding game, in which they were shown the pictures of different snacks with different nutritional values. They were asked to say how much they would pay for each.

Based on these experiments, the researchers made several fascinating findings. First, they saw that the fat and carbohydrate combo stimulates the brain’s reward system more intensely than foods that are just high in carbs, or only high in fat, do on their own.

Two particular brain regions — the dorsal striatum and the mediodorsal thalamus, which have both been linked to reward mechanisms — have been identified as responsive to the presence of foods with a high fat and carb content.

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These brain circuits were, in fact, more active in the presence of fat- and carb-rich foods than in that of an individual’s selected favorite food, a sweeter food choice, a more energy-dense snack, or even a more generous portion size.

Then, in the bidding game, it became apparent that, given a limited amount of money to invest, the participants were more likely to pay more for fat- and carb-rich foods than for snacks only rich in carbs, or which only had a high fat content.

“Surprisingly, foods containing fats and carbohydrates appear to signal their potential caloric loads to the brain via distinct mechanisms,” says Small.

Our participants were very accurate at estimating calories from fat and very poor at estimating calories from carbohydrate. […] [W]hen both nutrients are combined, the brain seems to overestimate the energetic value of the food.”

Dana Small

Is this about adaptation to food?

Small and her colleagues hypothesize that this may be due to the fact that our brains have not had enough time to adapt appropriately to the advent of foods that may be pleasurable but do not actually bring us many nutritional benefits.

The researchers explain that our prehistoric ancestors only had access to animal meat and plants, as they were available in nature.

And, Small says, “In nature, foods high in fat and carbohydrate are very rare and tend to have fiber, which slows metabolism. By contrast, it is very common for processed foods to have high fat and high carbohydrate loads.”

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Processed foods — such as donuts or potato chips — haven’t been around very long. In fact, they have only existed for about 150 years, the scientists note.

This, they believe, could mean that unlike with unprocessed or minimally processed foods, we have not yet developed a brain response that allows us to better regulate what we eat and in what quantities.

In any case, the positive signals that our brains circulate when faced with foods that are rich in fats and carbs combined can lead to the reinforcement of unhealthful eating habits, which may lead to obesity.

“[The study’s] results imply that a potentiated reward signal generated by foods high in both fat and carbohydrate may be one mechanism by which a food environment rife with processed foods high in fat and carbohydrate leads to overeating,” the researchers conclude.

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