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Dietary iron and heart disease — what’s meat got to do with it?

The body, it turns out, doesn’t treat all dietary iron equally. A new study from the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington linked consumption of iron from meat with an increased risk of heart disease – a 57 percent increase.


Heme iron is found in all meat sources but beef and pork contain higher concentrations than chicken or fish.

Researcher Jacob Hunnicutt said the link between iron intake, body iron stores and coronary heart disease has been debated for decades by researchers, with epidemiological studies providing inconsistent findings. The new IU research, a meta-analysis, examined 21 previously published studies and data involving 292,454 participants during an average 10.2 years of follow-up.

Hunnicutt said the body can better control absorption of iron from vegetable sources, including iron supplements, but not so with heme iron, which comes from meat sources.

Read more…

Discovery detects early-warning signs of diabetic retinopathy, a major cause of vision loss in the U.S.

microscopic view of a diseased eye

A retinal capillary with multiple loops. The blood cannot travel directly to nourish the retinal cells. Photo by the Burns Lab

Researchers at the IU School of Optometry designed a technique that allows them to see microscopic changes to the eye — what they described as ‘early-warning signs of the potential loss of sight associated with diabetes.”

This discovery could have far-reaching implications for the diagnosis and treatment of diabetic retinopathy, potentially impacting the care of over 25 million Americans.

“We had not expected to see such striking changes to the retinas at such early stages,” said Ann Elsner, professor and associate dean in the School of Optometry and lead author of the study. “We set out to study the early signs, in volunteer research subjects whose eyes were not thought to have very advanced disease. There was damage spread widely across the retina, including changes to blood vessels that were not thought to occur until the more advanced disease states.”

Diabetes has long been known to damage the retina, the irreplaceable network of nerve cells that capture light and give the first signal in the process of seeing. Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of vision loss in the U.S. for people under the age of 75.

Because their findings are new, it isn’t known whether improved control of blood sugar or a change in medications might stop or even reverse the damage. In our news release, they (Elsner and co-author Stephen Burns, also a professor and associate dean at the school) say further research can help determine who has the most severe damage and whether the changes can be reversed.

Read the full release

Read the journal article, published in Biomedical Optics Express.

Mild dehydration can make me tired?

Sleeping teenDr. Means may have given me the boost I need to drink more water.

Water, he says, helps the immune system, weight management and digestion. It “flushes toxins out of vital organs, carries nutrients to cells and provides a moist environment for ear, nose and throat tissues.”

“You often hear reports that people should eat healthier and exercise more. Unfortunately, you less often hear reports that people should drink more water. The truth is drinking water is one the simplest and most effective ways to improve your health,” said Ira Means, a physician at Eskenazi Health Center Blackburn, in this news release.

Means also is an assistant professor of clinical medicine and of clinical pediatrics at the IU School of Medicine.

The clincher: “Even mild dehydration can drain your energy and make you tired,” he said.

I, personally, could stop right there, but if you’d like to read the full news release, you’ll learn of other benefits in addition to how much should be consumed.

Eskenazi Health offers a drinking water quiz

Readers also may find the video below of interest. Aaron Carroll, a pediatrician and health policy expert at the IU School of Medicine, continues his research-based rant about “the milk industrial complex,” which has convinced Americans that milk does a body good.

“Seriously, people, has it occurred to none of you that we’re the only mammals on the planet who consume milk after the early childhood period? We’re so obsessed with it that we steal it from other species in order to keep drinking it.”

(I liked this quote so much that I posted it to my Health & Vitality Tumblr blog)

Health screening provided a ‘wake-up call’ for IU’s Akash Shah

Guest post courtesy of Inside IU writer April Toler

Before and after pics of Akash Shah

Shah: “I was like, ‘Let’s just go for a screening and we’ll find out whatever.’”

When Akash Shah walked into the IU Health Center at Indiana University Bloomington more than a year ago, he knew he was overweight.

But it was the word “obese” — and the idea that his weight might one day contribute to him developing diabetes — that triggered a major lifestyle change for the IU lead project-systems analyst.

“That was the wake-up call,” Shah said. “I was like, ‘I need to do something about it.’ I didn’t care until then.”

For the past two years, IU has offered health screenings — with a $100 incentive — to full-time academic and staff employees and spouses or same sex domestic partners covered by an IU medical plan.

Read more…

These med students make house calls


On Saturday more than 80 students from the Indiana University School of Medicine will perform yard work and landscaping at 30 homes in Indianapolis for the school’s 19th annual Spring House Calls.

The student-led event targets the homes of elderly, disabled or minority homeowners to give them a helping hand.  Read more

5 Questions with psychologist, sex researcher Tierney Lorenz

What does exercise have to do with sex and depression? What is sexual medicine? In this Q&A, Tierney Lorenz, post-doctoral fellow at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, talks about her fascination with mind-body interactions and why this health psychologist added sex research to her pursuits.

Tierney Lorenz

Tierney Lorenz. Photo by Herbert Ascherman Jr.

Health & Vitality: You used a term recently that I rarely hear – sexual medicine. What is it and what can a clinical psychologist, like yourself, contribute to it?

Tierney Lorenz: Sexual medicine is a growing field that encompasses research and clinical practice to promote sexual wellbeing. Scientists and practitioners in sexual medicine come from many disciplines, including gynecology, urology, psychiatry, psychology, social work, physical therapy, even biology and anthropology. The common thread is a focus on improving sexual pleasure and sexual function. I think the term came out of a desire to define research on aspects of sexual health rather than sexually transmitted infection and contraception. Several societies have developed recently to promote sexual wellbeing as an important issue in and of itself, including the International Society for Sexual Medicine and the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health.

Psychology has had a tremendous impact in research on sexual wellbeing, in helping to integrate the roles of emotion, thoughts, and behaviors on sexual function. Clinical health psychology in particular has an interest in how the mind and body interact to produce healthy (or unhealthy) individuals. Behavioral interventions to promote physical health are the bread and butter of health psychologists like myself – but only recently has health psychology turned its focus to sexual pleasure and functioning as a health issue.

Health & Vitality: What made you decide to pursue this as a career?

Tierney Lorenz: I’ve always been intrigued by the interactions between mind and body. And sex is a wonderful way to study those interactions, because sex is both a physical act and a very important mental process. Sexuality is also deeply personal and yet sex is a social activity — so it is a great way to study the interactions of self and others. To put it less academically — I get to think about sex all day and at the end of it, make someone else’s life better (and get paid for it, that’s nice too).

Health & Vitality: In December I posted an item to my Health & Vitality Tumblr blog about your University of Texas-Austin study that examined the impact of exercise on some sexual side effects of antidepressants. Your study found that moderately intense workouts can treat sexual dysfunction such as a weak libido or trouble organsming. For real? What do you want people to know about the findings?

Tierney Lorenz: Yes, for real.

Two things to know: Read more…

5 top reasons to relax about the Affordable Care Act enrollment number

Guest post courtesy of  Heather A. McCabe, assistant professor of social work at Indiana University.

Heather McCabe

Heather McCabe

We are nearing the March 31 deadline for people to enroll in insurance through health exchanges. As we do, many interested in this law are waiting to see what the final enrollment numbers will be. We hear words like “death spiral” and worry that health care will be unaffordable and unattainable.

Here are some reasons to rest easy:

  1. The numbers expected for the first years were estimates. We will know better in future years what actual numbers will be based on previous years’ enrollment — but the insurance companies knew this just as the government did. They knew this when they set their rates for this first year. Read more…

Science of attraction

Guest post courtesy of IU Newsroom multimedia intern Lena Morris:

Do you ever wonder what makes you attracted to someone? Is it their physical appearance, their personality, or could it even be an adaptive cognitive mechanism?

According to research conducted by Professor Peter Todd in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences, the “love at first sight” could be a lot more physiological than you think.

“People say they want somebody who is like them on this variety of different traits but who they actually end up choosing is different,” Todd said.  “It’s actually people who have complementary traits to them.”

It turns out, your attraction to someone could be your innate cognitive development that seeks mates with ideal traits that could help you produce “better” offspring.

Furthermore, Todd’s lab has discovered a phenomenon called “mate-choice copying,” meaning the mate choices of others can influence who you find attractive. He said this is an adaptive cognitive ability that provides a shortcut to choosing your ideal mate.

In other words, you are more likely to be attracted to someone at the bar if you see someone else pursuing him or her.

These studies don’t necessarily create a formula for attraction, but it helps us analyze the natural biological process of mate choices – as if there wasn’t already enough to worry about on the first date!


Play now, pay later? College athletes’ quality of life later in life

Guest post courtesy of IU Newsroom multimedia intern Lena Morris:

Beyond having their names screamed at the games, Division I athletes symbolize the best health and physique of our age group. However, a recent study conducted by Janet Simon, doctoral student at the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington, shows that such ideas might not be true for the long run.

Her study, published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, found that former Division I athletes reported suffering not only more physical struggles years after college, but also suffer mental issues such as depression.

In the accompanying video, which I prepared, Simon discusses the change in perspective on college athletics, and what collegiate athletic programs can do to help graduating athletes in their transition to life after college sports.

The study has been discussed in such media as NPRHuffington Post and HealthDay News.

March Madness gambling — common, illegal

This post is provided by guest blogger Mary Lay, project manager of the Indiana Problem Gambling Awareness Program, which is a project of the Indiana Prevention Resource Center at the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington.

Mid March is the time when all college basketball fans come together to do their “brackets.” It is big news on sports websites; hours of work time is spent being sure a bracket is just right. Even the President of the United States is known for completing a bracket. Many of these brackets are done for fun, but many also involve placing a bets.

2013 tournament bracketThe Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that 2.5 billion is illegally bet annually on the NCAA basketball tournament. While most people who gambling do not become problem gamblers, an estimated 3 to 4 percent of those who begin gambling will develop into problem gamblers.

Again, most people can gamble responsibly and never develop a problem. But for some, gambling develops into a problem for which they have little to no control.

Problem gambling can lead to financial devastation, crime and poor physical and mental health, including an increased risk of substance abuse, depression, and suicide. More than six million Americans are addicted to gambling.

Read more…