Junk Food Dims the Brain; Alarming Trends in Heroin Use; and Indoor Tanning Rates Drop

Candy bars, French fries and other junk food can damage more than just your waist line. High-fat and sugary foods can also dim your brain, according to a new study from Oregon State University.

“Both a high-fat and a high-sugar diet, compared to a normal diet, cause changes in gut bacteria that appear related to a significant loss of ‘cognitive flexibility,’ or the power to adapt and adjust to changing situations,” the study said.

Bottom line: Eating too many sugary and fatty foods can lower your brain’s functions. The results were published in Neuroscience, a medical journal.

In the study, rats were fed a variety of diets and given different challenge, including navigating through a water maze. Researchers monitored the physical and mental changes in the test subjects. Those that were fed junk food performed far worse than the mice who consumed a healthier diet.

“In this research, after just four weeks on a high-fat or a high-sugar diet, the performance of mice on various tests of mental and physical function began to drop, compared to animals on a normal diet. One of the most pronounced changes was in what researchers call cognitive flexibility,” the study says.

Researchers believe that the sugary and fatty foods interact with the bacteria in the digestion system, which in turn influences different brain functions. This negative effect of junk food is another strike against the high-carb meals that are popular in the Western culture, the researchers said. Diets heavy in fat or sugar have also been linked to a variety of chronic illnesses or conditions, including diabetes, obesity, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

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Heroin Use and Deaths Spike, CDC says.

Heroin use and overdose deaths are dramatically higher in the U.S., according to a new report from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In the July 7 Vital Signs publication, the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tracked trends in drug use from 2002 to 2013.

“Heroin use has increased significantly across most demographic groups. The increase in heroin abuse or dependence parallels the increase in heroin-related overdose deaths,” the federal agencies reported. What’s more, heroin use was “highest among those who had previously used cocaine, or abused opioid pain reliever abuse or had become dependent on painkillers,” the CDC said.

The use of heroin increased:
• From: 1.6 people per 1,000, age 12 and older, in the years 2002 to 2004.
• To: 2.6 people per 1,000 in 2011-2013, the data shows.

The trends reflect all demographic groups, the CDC said. To combat the spike in heroin use, the CDC recommends a wide range of prevention programs, with a focus on increased monitoring of patients who have been prescribed painkillers to combat injuries, illnesses or other conditions.

The CDC: Specific response needs include:

  • Reducing inappropriate prescribing and use of opioids through early identification of persons demonstrating problematic use, stronger prescription drug monitoring programs, and other clinical measures;
  • Improving access to, and insurance coverage for, evidence-based substance abuse treatment, including medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders;
  • Expanding overdose recognition and response training and access to naloxone [an anti-overdose drug] to treat opioid pain reliever and heroin overdoses.

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Indoor Tanning Rates Drop

Indoor tanning has been linked to increased risk of developing melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer. Fortunately, there’s been a recent drop in the use of indoor tanning beds, according to a report in the latest online issue of JAMA-Dermatology, a publication from the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers studied trends in reported data from the 2010 and 2013 National Health Interview Survey, an extensive database.

“In our study in 2013, a total of 1.6 million fewer women and 0.4 million fewer men engaged in indoor tanning compared with 2010,” the researchers reported.

The bad news: Indoor tanning remains popular. Nearly 8 million women and 2 million men continue to use indoor tanning facilities, the report said. Indoor tanning is dangerous because it exposes you to “intense ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which damages the skin and can lead to skin cancer, including melanoma—the deadliest type of skin cancer,” the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports.

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