Get This: Beer Might Be Good For Your Heart

Check out the list of links that should be on your radar today:

Sipping on beer (in moderation) may help improve heart function, according to a new study. We’ll drink to that! [NY Daily News]

Who would’ve thought: Singing can help alleviate some of the breathing problems associated with lung disease. [AP]

Lube is the fountain of youth! Well, sort of: Having regular sex might be the secret to a long life, according to a new paper presented at a psychology conference in England. []

In incredibly scary news, some spray sunscreens are flammable. [NPR]

Almost half of all babies get flat spots on their heads because of the carriers we’re putting them in—yikes. [NBC News]

You know those embarrassing questions you would only ask a computer? Some health websites are sharing them with third parties. [Reuters]

A new urinal design comes with a built-in sink to encourage men to wash their hands after peeing. Shouldn’t they be doing this anyway?! [The Frisky]

The next generation of Twinkies will last 45 days (as opposed to the 25 they were good for before). We don’t even want to think about what kinds of crazy preservatives it took to extend their shelf life by three weeks. [USA Today]

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

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Get This: Hot Chocolate Might Be Good For You

Check out the list of links that should be on your radar today:

Drinking hot chocolate might help prevent diabetes (as long as it’s made with actual cocoa powder), according to a new study. [Mail Online]

On a (semi) related note, Starbucks just announced that it’s going to add calorie counts to menus nationwide. [The Atlantic]

Getting to a healthy weight may help improve your memory. [ScienceDaily]

Did your brother or sister bully you when you were little? It could still impact your mental health. []

ODing on sugar can put extra stress on your heart. To keep your ticker in good health, check out these sneaky sugar culprits[redOrbit]

Pregnant women are often laid off or forced to take unpaid if they ask for temporary job changes, according to a new report. []

Eyeball licking is a real trend in Japan. If for some bizarre reason you’re tempted to try it, don’t—it could lead to blindness. [CBS News]

Twenty percent of men choose their bride’s dress, according to a new survey. We didn’t realize this particular right to choose was up for debate… [Huffington Post]

Fast-food companies plant info about fake products (like pizza-delivery drones and hands-free burger devices) to get free publicity—and the sad thing is it works shockingly well. [Grub Street]

photo: Image Source/Thinkstock

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Eating Peppers Might Help Prevent Parkinson’s

What if keeping your nervous system healthy—and functioning properly—was as easy as tweaking your lunch? A new study suggests that this might be the case: Eating more peppers may lower your risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, according to a new study published in the journal Annals of Neurology.

Parkinson’s disease, which affects as many as one million people in the U.S., is a movement disorder that is often hard to diagnose and gets worse over time. The actual cause is unknown, but Parkinson’s develops when neurons in your brain that are responsible for producing dopamine, a hormone that helps regulate movement in your body, malfunction and die. Symptoms include tremors, slowed movement, stiffness, and instability. Pretty scary stuff—especially since there’s no known cure.

Researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle asked 490 newly-diagnosed participants and 644 participants without the disease (who were used as controls) to share their dietary habits and tobacco use. The more participants filled up on foods from the Solanaceae plant family—which includes peppers, tomatoes, tomato juice, and potatoes—the lower their risk for Parkinson’s. Peppers in particular seemed to be the most effective: Eating them two to four times or more per week was associated with about a 30 percent reduced risk of developing the disease.

So why the focus on this particular plant? Past research suggests that the nicotine in cigarettes—which is derived from the same plant family that produces peppers—can help reduce your risk of Parkinson’s. The obvious problem with that is the host of other health issues that cigarette smoking can cause. Luckily, edible nicotine seems to thwart the disease—without compromising your health in other ways. It’s also worth noting that, in this study, the reduced risk associated with eating these foods occurred mostly in men and women who reported never having smoked tobacco or only did so for a short period of time.

For a delicious way to pump up your pepper intake, whip up these recipes.

Red Pepper and Feta Turkey Burger

Photo: Levi Brown

 Roasted Pepper-Corn Pasta Salad

Photo: Con Poulos

Lemon Shrimp with Roasted Peppers

Photo: Con Poulos

Rip-Roarin’ Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Stuffed Piquillo Peppers

Photo: Kenji Toa

Pepper Steak Soup

Photo: Mitch Mandel

Balsamic Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Salad

Photo: Kurt Wilson
Photo (top): iStockphoto/Thinkstock
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The Mistake Your Doctor Might Be Making

You probably trust your doctor to diagnose and cure your symptoms. (It’s why you turn to her, not Dr. Google.) But even good doctors sometimes make mistakes—and it often happens right before your eyes: A recent study found that 80 percent of doctors’ diagnostic errors were made during the patient-doctor interaction.

Researchers from Baylor College of Medicine, Texas A&M, and University of Texas at Houston investigated the medical records of 190 patients at the Houston VA Health Services Research and Development Center of Excellence who ended up in the hospital or back at the doctor within two weeks of a primary care visit. Sixty-eight of the patients were diagnosed with previously-undetected health conditions as serious as cancer, heart disease, meningitis, dementia, iron deficiency anemia, asthma, and even HIV.

In 4 out of 5 of these cases, errors in the patient-practitioner encounter played a role in the missed diagnosis. For instance, doctors messed up diagnostic test orders and physical exams, and overlooked important parts of the patients’ medical records. And in 81 percent of cases, doctors skipped differential diagnosis, a routine but crucial part of the diagnostic process in which doctors reflect on their patient’s symptoms and exam, and record their thoughts on what the condition could be.

“It’s not that these doctors were negligible,” says lead study author Hardeep Singh, M.D., a research scientist at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of the Health Policy and Quality Program at the Houston VA Health Services Research and Development Center of Excellence. “It’s that the conditions that they’re treating are complex—even if they’re common.” Just think: Your pesky cough could be accompanied by any number of other symptoms. Plus, your aches and pains evolve over time: symptoms that scream bronchitis today could turn into pneumonia tomorrow.

And it doesn’t help that most doctors face the same work pressures as you. They, too, are pressed for time and pushed to be more productive—even though it’s your health that’s at stake.

While you can’t carve more time in your doctor’s day, you can help your physician help you with the best patient practices:

Bring a list of your symptoms
Doctors rely heavily on patient information, says Singh, so it’s important to present the most thorough picture of your health. If you’re on medication, feverish, or stressed, you might forget to mention the symptom that tips the scale toward the correct diagnosis. So make a list of your complaints before your exam, and whip it out when your doctor asks.

Answer questions thoroughly
During most medical exams, your doc should ask about your medications. The way she asks you is important–like, “Which medications do you take regularly?” or, “What meds have you taken today?”–but so is how you answer, says Singh. This is your time to take the mic and belt out a list of every pill you pop, from supplements to The Pill, and over-the-counter drugs. Even OTC cold medicines can quicken your heartbeat or disguise signs of sickness, says Singh.

Do your research
Spend too much time Googling your symptoms, and you’re bound to uncover a mild case of hypochondria (look it up!). But reliable, up-to-date resources like Medline Plus (not Wikipedia) can inform and empower you to ask smart questions (like, “Could I have strep?”). This creates a dialog that can ultimately help you and your doctor get to the root of your issue, together.

And if you have a preexisting health condition, or know of one that runs in your family? Stay abreast of its symptoms so you know what to look for. For instance, diabetics are prone to eye issues. If you have diabetes and haven’t had an eye exam in years, ask your doctor for an ophthalmologist referral.

Understand the plan
Before you leave the exam room, note your doctor’s answers to the following questions. Bring a pen and paper if it helps you remember.

• What do I have?
• What is the treatment and how long should it last?
• When should the treatment alleviate my symptoms?
• What should I do if I’m not feeling better then?
• What should I do if I feel worse?
• What’s the best way to reach you?
• Do I need any follow up tests, referrals, or visits?

Follow Doctor’s orders
If your doctor says to call or return if you’re not better in two days, do it, says Singh. And even if doctor doesn’t ask you to follow up, always call her if you’re not feeling better or feeling worse.

Be skeptical
“Doctors try their best, but we work in imperfect systems and are imperfect beings,” says Singh. “There’s a lot of uncertainty, and doctors make their best judgments. But mistakes happen.” If your doctor seems unsure about your diagnosis, it’s OK to return for a follow up visit or seek out a second opinion.

photo: beerkoff/Shutterstock

More from WH:
7 Signs of a Bad Doctor
13 Questions to Ask Your Doctor
Are You Honest With Your Doctor?

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The Healthy Food That Might Be Making You Sick

An apple a day will keep the doctor away…but only if you clean it first. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 23 percent of all food-borne illnesses are caused by contaminated vegetables–that’s 2.2 million out of 9.6 million reported cases. And produce foods–which include vegetables, fruits, and nuts–sicken 4.4 million people a year.

“We eat vegetables raw, so if harmful bacteria is present, there’s no intervention consumers have to ensure they’re safe,” says Michael Doyle, Ph.D., director at the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia.

Scary stuff, right? What’s worse is that there’s no way to be 100 percent sure that your food, especially produce, is totally safe to eat, Doyle says. Your best bet is to take the precautions to lower the number of harmful microbes that could be present. Here are 5 tips to keep your healthy foods safe.

Check for blemishes
Fruits and vegetables with bruises, cuts, and nicks have a greater risk of being contaminated with a food-borne illness, Doyle says. Make sure you inspect every surface of whatever item of produce you intend to buy beforehand so that you don’t contaminate other foods in your shopping cart.

Wash before you eat
It’s tempting to sneak a few grapes between shopping aisles, but hold off until you’re home. Doyle says most of the harmful bacteria are located on the outer skins of produce. For fruits like bananas and oranges, peeling the outer layers will leave you with safe food on the inside–just make sure your hands are clean. For other foods, a minute of thorough rinsing will reduce potentially dangerous bacteria.

Cook at a high temperature
You may prefer your veggies raw, but washing them is only half the battle. Doyle recommends cooking vegetables at 160 degrees Fahrenheit to kill most of the harmful microbes. Boiling and steaming will get the job done, but if you’re grilling, heat the outer surfaces well.

Practice safe storage
Don’t let your food sit in your fridge uncovered. Place them in closed plastic containers or Saran wrap and cool them in a temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit or less. Doyle says the life expectancy of vegetables ranges from three to four days, so be sure to eat them in that time frame. Keep these closed foods away from raw meat on a separate shelf or compartment so that juices won’t drip on them.

Use your best judgment
When you eat out, you have less control over how your food is picked, cooked, and stored. You don’t see what happens behind closed doors, so unless the menu tells you how your food is prepared, assume the food is handled properly. If you’re at a buffet-style joint, you’re the food inspector. Sometimes food is left out for hours, so avoid things that look brown or wilted.

photo: Baloncici/Shutterstock

More from WH:
How to Wash Produce 101
23 Ways to Add Fruits and Veggies to Your Diet
7 Ways to Boost Your Mood With Food

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Warning: Your Couch Might Give You Cancer

You already know that too much sitting can increase your risk of heart disease. Now it turns out that your couch might increase your risk of cancer, too. There’s a hazardous amount of flame-retardant chemicals in everyday household objects, including many chairs and sofas, according to two articles published online in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

In one study, researchers tested household dust for the presence of 49 different potentially hazardous flame-retardant chemicals. It was the first study to test such a broad range of the chemicals. The researchers discovered 44 out of 49 flame retardants in the homes they tested, and 36 were detected in at least half of the samples. They also found that most homes contained at least one such chemical at levels above federal health guidelines. Among major health concerns, these toxins have been linked to forms of cancer, hormone disruption, and learning disabilities.

Sadly, the chemicals aren’t easy to trace and oust–many items aren’t labeled, and it’s not easy to get your furniture tested for the presence of these chemicals. “Unfortunately, they’re not obvious,” says study author Robin Dodson, Sc.D, of the Silent Spring Institute (an organization that studies the health effects of environmental toxins). “They’re found in furniture, electronics and carpet padding. The sources are all around. The retardants’ effects are mostly associated with the thyroid system, and a particular concern for neurological and reproductive development in children.” The second study looked at the presence of these chemicals in couches.

Some of the chemicals have been banned in certain circumstances, but are still found in homes. Such is the case for the carcinogen TDBPP (brominated “Tris”), which is no longer used in children’s pajamas due to the health dangers—like harm to DNA, and mammary tumors that may cause breast cancer—but is still found in about 75 percent of households in other products.

Unfortunately, tossing all your furniture and rugs and starting over is impractical. However, there are a few practices can lower your exposure to flame retardants until you get a chance to replace your old stuff with new, safer stuff. Dodson recommends taking these steps:

Repair furniture rips
Flame retardants are often added to the polyurethane foam fillings in your couches and chairs. Ripped upholstery increases the likelihood that you or your kids will be exposed to the chemicals. Get any rips fixed stat to minimize exposure.

Go natural
When choosing new furniture, avoid polyurethane foam, a common filler in couches, chairs, and rugs that often comes treated with flame retardant. Instead, select pieces made from natural materials like wool, wood, and down products–it’s significantly less likely that these pieces have been doused in the flame-retardant chemicals.

Check labels
Labeling requirements are in place for some flame retardants, so you can check garments, upholstery and furniture for big, yellow tags that indicate they are not flame resistant and not treated with the chemicals. If an item has a yellow tag, that means it’s safe from the chemicals in question. (That said, you’re not going to want to light candles anywhere nearby).

Declare war on dust
The chemicals are mostly transmitted from furniture to human via dust, and crawling kids are extremely susceptible to exposure. Since dust is the key source of retardants, clean countertops and surfaces often. Vacuum, especially where children crawl, to keep dust at bay.

Wash up
Always wash your hands after cleaning, and try to cleanse after touching common surfaces or the floor, as well. Remind children to soap up, and wipe the hands of toddlers and babies who spend a lot of time on carpeting. They are particularly at risk for the developmental issues that may result from the chemicals.

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

More from WH:
The Danger of Sitting Too Much
Germ-Proof Your Office
Foods that Improve Your Immune System

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