Here’s a roundup of five medical studies published recently that might give you new insights into your health, mind and body. Remember, correlation is not causation – so if a study finds a connection between two things, it doesn’t mean that one causes the other.
Autism cases in the UK rose but leveled off
Journal: BMJ Open (British Medical Journal)
We’ve been hearing for the past several years that autism is on the rise but by how much? A new study shows that while autism cases among 8-year-olds in the United Kingdom rose five-fold in the 1990s, the numbers plateaued early in the 21st century and have held since 2010.
That’s quite a contrast to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found a 78% increase in the condition in 8-year-old children from 2004 to 2008 in the United States.
What’s going on? Dr. Max Wiznitzer, pediatric neurologist at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, told CNN the British numbers are more in line with his clinical experience than what has been reported in the United States. Autism incidence in the United States incorporates diagnoses made in schools, from educational records, whereas the British study only looked at medical records.
Sleep cleans toxins out of your brain
After a night of uninterrupted sleep, you wake up feeling refreshed and ready to go. By experimenting on mice, scientists have gained new insights into the processes that make sleep so valuable to your brain.
It appears that at night, your brain is cleaning itself of harmful waste. To accomplish this more effectively, the cells in your brain can shrink by 60% during sleep, reports TIME.com.
“The brain only has limited energy at its disposal, and it appears that it must choose between two different functional states – awake and aware or asleep and cleaning up,” said Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, a co-director of the URMC Center for Translational Neuromedicine, in a statement. “You can think of it like having a house party. You can either entertain the guests or clean up the house, but you can’t really do both at the same time.”
The researchers were looking at mice, not humans, but this may eventually lead to insights about preventing brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Nedergaard said.
Teens today could be at increased risk of genital herpes
Journal: Journal of Infectious Diseases
An editorial accompanying this study calls it “The Scarlet H.” Herpes is a sexually transmitted disease that comes in multiple forms. The most widely recognized are herpes simplex virus type 1, often associated with cold sores on the mouth, and herpes simplex virus type 2, which causes genital sores. There is no cure for either strain.
In industrialized countries, genital herpes is being increasingly spread through type 1, HealthDay reports.
Researchers examined nationally representative data for 14 to 49-year-olds in the United States. They found that an increasing number of adolescents do not have herpes simplex virus type 1 antibodies when they begin sexual activity, putting them at higher risk of acquiring the virus.
It may be because fewer teens are getting exposure to herpes simplex virus type 1 during childhood. Better hygiene may be keeping infected adults from transmitting the virus through skin contact to children.
“Every year the proportion of patients who get infected with HSV-1 through oral sex is increasing,” Dr. David Kimberlin, chair of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, told HealthDay. “Adolescents who reach that age without being exposed to HSV-1 might, through oral sex, be more susceptible to the infection.”
Park signs can encourage exercise
Journal: American Journal of Preventive Medicine
A RAND Corporation study looked at 50 parks across Los Angeles, and discovered that parks that added signs saw a 7% to 12% increase in physical activity among park-goers during the study period, compared to parks that made no changes.
The signs were aimed at encouraging people to participate in activities sponsored by the park.
“The study shows that environmental cues influence and change individual behavior, including physical behavior,” Dr. Deborah A. Cohen, the study’s lead author and a senior natural scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization, said in a statement. “When physical activity opportunities and reminders become more obvious, whether they are overt signs or notices for classes or new walking paths, they may lead people to becoming more active, especially if they are already in a park.”
Most of the gains seen were in existing park users, however, which means parks may want to consider posting advertisements outside their fences, too.
Women may be better quality doctors than men
Journal: Revue d’Épidémiologie et de Santé Publique
Sex differences in the workplace is a touchy subject, but researchers at the University of Montreal tackled it anyway. Based on a limited sample, which you should take with a grain of salt, they find that female doctors provide better quality care than male doctors. They also found that male doctors are more productive.
Their conclusions come from studying billing information of more than 870 doctors in Quebec, half of whom were women, relating to the care of elderly diabetic patients.
“Women had significantly higher scores in terms of compliance with practice guidelines,” researcher Valérie Martel said in a statement. “They were more likely than men to prescribe recommended medications and to plan required examinations.”
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