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According to Doctors, Being Overweight Offers Health Benefits

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Society teaches us from an early age that being overweight is bad for your health. But for a little over a decade, doctors have been reporting evidence of the “obesity paradox”: cases of overweight or mildly obese patients faring better with several health conditions than their thinner counterparts.

Quartz recently published a feature story exploring the phenomenon that includes insights from several physicians. Carl Lavie, a cardiologist in Jefferson, Louisiana, was one of the first clinicians to get a paper published describing the paradox. Since then, dozens of studies have been released supporting its existence. It’s now a commonly held belief in the medical community that being overweight can protect patients against issues like burns, stroke, hypertension, pneumonia, and heart disease.

As you may have guessed, these findings have stirred up their fair share of controversy. Many scientists have taken a strong stance against any evidence supporting the paradox, saying it can be explained away by other factors. One popular theory is that overweight people are receiving better treatment than thinner people, but when you look at actual studies on the care received they tend to show the opposite

Even if heavier people are more likely to survive life-threatening conditions like heart disease, they’re also more likely to be diagnosed with them in the first place. But weight isn’t the only factor that influences a person's chances of having these issues. Add that to the fact that a strong correlation between weight and disease only appears in the morbidly obese and the health benefits of being overweight start to look more convincing. 

There are others who say that smokers and sick people, who tend to be thinner but also less healthy, skew the data. While this could be possible, the studies on the issue aren’t concrete enough to say for sure. The data that’s been collected on the obesity paradox, however, is hard to contest. 

Katherine Flegal, an epidemiologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has examined hundreds of mortality studies including information on body mass index (BMI). What she found is that patients in the overweight and mildly obese classifications suffered the lowest mortality rates. Her study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Associationanalyzed data from nearly 100 studies looking at close to 3 million participants. 

But just because researchers buy into the phenomenon’s validity doesn’t mean they’re any less perplexed by it. The medical field has used weight as a marker for health for a long time, but the obesity paradox suggests that the two may not be as intimately linked as we previously believed. In response to the findings, many doctors are now taking the “Health at Every Size” approach to healthcare. This initiative is built around placing a greater emphasis on healthy behaviors like nutrition and exercise. So don’t use this news as an excuse to switch to an all-ice cream diet.

[h/t: Quartz]

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New Patient Test Could Suggest Whether Therapy or Meds Will Work Better for Anxiety
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Like many psychological disorders, there's no one-size-fits-all treatment for patients with anxiety. Some might benefit from taking antidepressants, which boost mood-affecting brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Others might respond better to therapy, and particularly a form called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT.

Figuring out which form of treatment works best often requires months of trial and error. But experts may have developed a quick clinical test to expedite this process, suggests a new study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have noted that patients with higher levels of anxiety exhibit more electrical activity in their brains when they make a mistake. They call this phenomenon error-related negativity, or ERN, and measure it using electroencephalography (EEG), a test that records the brain's electric signals.

“People with anxiety disorders tend to show an exaggerated neural response to their own mistakes,” the paper’s lead author, UIC psychiatrist Stephanie Gorka, said in a news release. “This is a biological internal alarm that tells you that you've made a mistake and that you should modify your behavior to prevent making the same mistake again. It is useful in helping people adapt, but for those with anxiety, this alarm is much, much louder.”

Gorka and her colleagues wanted to know whether individual differences in ERN could predict treatment outcomes, so they recruited 60 adult volunteers with various types of anxiety disorders. Also involved was a control group of 26 participants with no history of psychological disorders.

Psychiatrists gauged subjects’ baseline ERN levels by having them wear an EEG cap while performing tricky computer tasks. Ultimately, they all made mistakes thanks to the game's challenging nature. Then, randomized subjects with anxiety disorders were instructed to take an SSRI antidepressant every day for three months, or receive weekly cognitive behavioral therapy for the same duration. (Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of evidence-based talk therapy that forces patients to challenge maladaptive thoughts and develop coping mechanisms to modify their emotions and behavior.)

After three months, the study's patients took the same computer test while wearing EEG caps. Researchers found that those who'd exhibited higher ERN levels at the study's beginning had reduced anxiety levels if they'd been treated with CBT compared to those treated with medication. This might be because the structured form of therapy is all about changing behavior: Those with enhanced ERN might be more receptive to CBT than other patients, as they're already preoccupied with the way they act.

EEG equipment sounds high-tech, but it's relatively cheap and easy to access. Thanks to its availability, UIC psychiatrists think their anxiety test could easily be used in doctors’ offices to measure ERN before determining a course of treatment.

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A Pitless Avocado Wants to Keep You Safe From the Dreaded 'Avocado Hand'
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The humble avocado is a deceptively dangerous fruit. Some emergency room doctors have recently reported an uptick in a certain kind of injury—“avocado hand,” a knife injury caused by clumsily trying to get the pit out of an avocado with a knife. There are ways to safely pit an avocado (including the ones likely taught in your local knife skills class, or simply using a spoon), but there’s also another option. You could just buy one that doesn’t have a pit at all, as The Telegraph reports.

British retailer Marks & Spencer has started selling cocktail avocados, a skinny, almost zucchini-like type of avocado that doesn’t have a seed inside. Grown in Spain, they’re hard to find in stores (Marks & Spencer seems to be the only place in the UK to have them), and are only available during the month of December.

The avocados aren’t genetically modified, according to The Independent. They grow naturally from an unpollinated avocado blossom, and their growth is stunted by the lack of seed. Though you may not be able to find them in your local grocery, these “avocaditos” can grow wherever regular-sized Fuerte avocados grow, including Mexico and California, and some specialty producers already sell them in the U.S. Despite the elongated shape, they taste pretty much like any other avocado. But you don’t really need a knife to eat them, since the skin is edible, too.

If you insist on taking your life in your hand and pitting your own full-sized avocado, click here to let us guide you through the process. No one wants to go to the ER over a salad topping, no matter how delicious. Safety first!

[h/t The Telegraph]

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