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Health Capsules: Gauging longevity with a treadmill

Cardiologists at Johns Hopkins say they have developed a treadmill test that predicts one’s risk of dying in the next decade.

Cardiologists at Johns Hopkins say they have developed a treadmill test that predicts one’s risk of dying in the next decade.

Gauging longevity with a treadmill

Johns Hopkins cardiologists recently reported they have come up with a way to estimate a person’s risk of dying in a decade. Their formula, the FIT Treadmill Score, estimates a person’s risk of dying within 10 years based solely on the person’s ability to exercise on a treadmill at an increasing speed and incline.

According to a Johns Hopkins news release, their formula factors in age, gender, peak heart rate reached during intense exercise, and the ability to tolerate physical exertion as gauged by how much energy the body expends during exercise.

“The FIT Treadmill Score is easy to calculate and costs nothing beyond the cost of the treadmill itself,” said study author Michael Blaha, M.D., noting he hopes it will become a mainstay in the offices of cardiologists and primary care physicians.


Lifesaving saunas

Relaxing in a sauna seems to reduce the risk of dying from a heart problem and other causes of death, according to a Finnish research study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Past studies have linked bathing in a sauna with better cardiovascular and circulatory function, so researchers explored that association in a study involving more than 2,300 men aged 42-60.

In a midpoint study follow-up of nearly 21 years, researchers learned that compared to men who reported using a sauna once a week:

•  The risk of sudden cardiac death was 22 percent lower for men who took two or three weekly saunas and 63 percent lower among those who took four-seven saunas per week.

• The risk of fatal coronary heart disease was 23 percent lower for those who took two or three per saunas a week and 48 percent lower for those taking four-seven saunas per week.

• Death from cardiovascular disease was 27 percent lower for men who took two or three saunas a week and 50 percent lower for men who were in the sauna four-seven times per week.

• In addition, dying from any cause was associated with a 24 percent lower risk for those taking two-three weekly saunas and 40 percent lower to those taking four-seven weekly saunas.

Time spent in a sauna also was significant: Compared to men who spent less than 11 minutes in the sauna, men who took longer saunas had a reduced risk of sudden cardiac death, death from coronary heart disease and death from cardiovascular disease.

Researchers said further studies are needed to determine the reason for their findings.

In a related editor’s note, JAMA Internal Medicine Editor-in-Chief Rita Redberg, M.D., wrote: “Although we do not know why the men who took saunas more frequently had greater longevity (whether it is the time spent in the hot room, the relaxation time, the leisure of a life that allows for more relaxation time or the camaraderie of the sauna), clearly time spent in the sauna is time well spent.”


Unsafe sounds

Due to lifestyle factors, more than 1 billion teenagers and young adults are at risk of hearing loss, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Activities that pose a threat include using personal audio devices and attending noisy entertainment venues such as nightclubs and sporting events, WHO officials said.

According to a WHO analysis, nearly half of individuals aged 12-35 in middle- and high-income countries are exposed to unsafe sound levels from personal audio devices, and about 40 percent are exposed to dangerous sound levels at entertainment venues.

“As they go about their daily lives doing what they enjoy, more and more young people are placing themselves at risk of hearing loss,” WHO spokesperson Dr. Etienne Krug said. “They should be aware that once you lose your hearing, it won’t come back. Taking simple preventive actions will allow people to continue to enjoy themselves without putting their hearing at risk.”

Effective preventive actions include limiting the intensity and volume of sounds to which one is exposed and limiting the amount of time and frequency of exposure to loud noises.

Specifically, WHO advised that exposure to levels of 100 decibels, which is typical in many entertainment venues, is unsafe after 15 minutes.


Limiting licorice

A recent case study resulted in a call for licorice manufacturers to state as a safety measure a recommended daily amount of the candy.

Pediatric Neurology published an account of a 10-year-old in Italy who was hospitalized for seizures, headache and high blood pressure. Doctors initially had trouble discerning the cause but a week later noticed the boy’s teeth were black, which they learned was due to the fact that for the past four months, he had been eating 20 pieces of licorice per day. That amount of licorice consumption caused the boy to consume much more than the World Health Organization’s maximum recommended amount of glycyrrhizic acid, resulting in high blood pressure and the seizures.

After the boy stopped eating licorice, his health returned to normal.

According to report authors, excessive licorice consumption is particularly for children with low body weight.


Help for binge eating

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the first time has approved a medication for the treatment of binge-eating disorder.

The FDA in 2007 approved Vyvanse to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and since reviewed the medication under a program that provides expedited review of drugs intended to treat a serious condition.

People with binge-eating disorder engage in episodes of compulsive overeating during which they eat abnormal amounts of food. According to the FDA, individuals with the disorder may feel embarrassed by their eating behavior, which can lead to social isolation, and may experience obesity-related health problems.

In clinical studies involving more than 700 adults with binge-eating disorder, those who took Vyvanse had fewer days per week on which they engaged in binge eating and fewer obsessive-compulsive binge-eating behaviors than those who took a placebo.


Too many tests

The amount of blood drawn from heart surgery patients can result in anemia and the need for blood transfusions, a study published in The Annals of Thoracic Surgery found.

Colleen Koch, M.D., and her colleagues at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio looked at lab tests on nearly 1,900 cardiac surgery patients and found they underwent about 221,500 laboratory tests, the equivalent of 116 tests per patient.

“We were astonished by the amount of blood taken from our patients for laboratory testing,” Koch said. “Total phlebotomy volumes approached one to two units of red blood cells, which is roughly equivalent to one to two cans of soda.”

Koch noted that previous studies have shown that those receiving blood transfusions during heart surgery have more post-surgical infections, spend more time on a ventilator and die more frequently.

To lessen the likelihood of unnecessary blood tests, Koch suggested heart surgery patients ask their doctors why a test is being performed, whether or not it will improve their care, and if so, whether it needs to be performed every day.

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