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Health Capsules: Nov. 15

By: Lisa Russell

Taking up running helps smokers kick the habit

The 2017 Great American Smokeout, an annual American Cancer Society event encouraging smokers to simply quit for a day or make a plan to quit for good, takes place Thursday, Nov. 16. While rates of cigarette smoking have dropped significantly, from 42 percent in 1965 to about 15 percent today, more than 36 million Americans still smoke cigarettes, and use of other addictive tobacco products – including cigar, pipe and hookah – is on the rise.

Those who continue to smoke know how dangerous, and potentially deadly, the habit is; still, many find quitting to be nearly impossible. But a new quitting method recently introduced by Canadian health authorities may offer up to half of smokers an increased chance of success: running. That was the conclusion of a new study that found that about half the people who completed a 10-week running program were able to kick the habit successfully.

Last year, 170 smokers across Canada registered for the new program, called Run to Quit, offered through a partnership between the Canadian Cancer Society and a nationwide running and fitness retailer. The weekly sessions included classroom time divided between running instruction and strategies for quitting smoking, plus an outdoor walking/running component that culminated in a 5K run.

Of the 72 participants who stayed in the program for the entire 10 weeks, 37 had quit smoking, which was verified through carbon monoxide testing. The number of successful quitters held steady six months later. Even among those who did not quit completely, more than 90 percent of those who participated said they were smoking less.

“This shows that physical activity can be a successful smoking cessation aid and that a community-based program might offer that, because doing it on your own is very difficult,” said Carly Priebe, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia and lead author of the study.

Currently, a formal quit-smoking program related to running, similar to Run to Quit, does not exist in the U.S. However, for smokers in the West County area who may want to give its methods a try, several local running groups are open to novice runners and walkers who wish to get more physically active for any reason. The Chesterfield-based Fun Run Club of Greater St. Louis [www.funrunclub.org], along with area Big River Running and Fleet Feet stores and the informational website www.stlouisruns.com, are just a few local sources of information about how to get started with a community-based running group.

Teens now delaying adult behaviors

Today’s teenagers are in no big hurry to grow up compared to past generations – at least in terms of such developmental milestones such as working, driving and dating. A new study, conducted by researchers at San Diego State University and Bryn Mawr College, examined how often current teens engage in these activities compared to their predecessors, and found that today’s adolescents are less likely than teens who came of age during the past four decades to take part in adult behaviors. 

“The developmental trajectory of adolescence has slowed, with teens growing up more slowly than they used to,” said Jean M. Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State and the study’s lead author. “In terms of adult activities, 18-year-olds now look like 15-year-olds once did.”

The researchers analyzed how often teenagers between the ages of 13 and 19 take part in several specific activities that mark the transition from childhood to adulthood: dating, working for pay, going out without parents, driving, drinking alcohol and having sex. They looked at seven large surveys, conducted between 1976 and 2016, which included 8.3 million teens. The survey groups proportionally represented the U.S. population in terms of gender, race, socioeconomic status and geographic region. Their findings – that teens who have reached adolescence since 2010 are waiting longer to embrace adulthood – held true across all demographic groups, and suggest a broad-based cultural shift, they concluded.

This trend cannot be explained by saying that today’s teens are simply busier with homework or extracurricular activities, the study also showed. Time spent on those activities has actually decreased since 2010 among eighth and tenth graders compared to previous decades, while holding steady among high school seniors.

“Our study suggests that teens today are taking longer to embrace both adult responsibilities and adult pleasures,” added Heejung Park of Bryn Mawr College, a co-author of the study, which was published in the journal Child Development. “These trends are neither good nor bad, but reflect the current U.S. cultural climate.”

The nearly universal use of smartphones and increasing amounts of time spent online, which allow most teens to socialize from the safety of their homes, may be part of the explanation, Twenge said. Overprotectiveness on the part of their parents may be another.  Twenge also has authored a new book on teenagers who are part of the generation born after 1995, titled “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.”

Scientists explore revolutionary new diabetes treatment

Controlling type 1 diabetes and some cases of type 2 diabetes may someday be as simple as ABC. A new type of treatment using artificial beta cells – ABCs – is being tested in mice by scientists at the University of North Carolina, and those tests show promise for potential human trials.

ABCs may represent an easier and less painful treatment option for the more than six million people in the U.S. alone who now use insulin to treat their diabetes, delivered either by daily injections or via a mechanical pump. By contrast, artificial beta cells, which mimic the insulin-secreting beta cells normally present in the pancreas, would automatically release insulin into the bloodstream when glucose levels rise. The cells could be inserted under patients’ skin and replaced every few days, or delivered with a painless and disposable skin patch.

The ABCs contain specially engineered vesicles, or sacs, filled with insulin. A rise in blood glucose levels leads to chemical changes in the vesicles’ coating, and causes them to release the insulin into the bloodstream. Results of the UNC mouse testing of the cells, recently reported in Nature Chemical Biology, were that a single injection of the ABCs into diabetic mice which lacked beta cells quickly returned their blood glucose to normal, and kept them at normal levels for up to five days.

“Our plan now is to further optimize and test these synthetic cells in larger animals, develop a skin patch delivery system for them and ultimately test them in people with diabetes,” said the study’s principal investigator, Zhen Gu, Ph.D., a professor in the university’s department of biomedical engineering. Gu and his colleagues at UNC have been working on solutions to solve the insulin-delivery problem for nearly a decade.

Dr. John Buse, director of the UNC Diabetes Care Center, said of the research, “There is still much work needed to optimize this artificial-cell approach before human studies are attempted, but these results so far are a remarkable, creative first step to a new way to solve the diabetes problem using chemical engineering as opposed to mechanical pumps or living transplants.”

Gu and his team also are working separately on a cell-free “smart insulin patch” that senses blood glucose levels and secretes insulin into the bloodstream as needed.

Breastfeeding shown to slash SIDS risk

A large new international study has found that being breastfed for at least two months cuts a baby’s risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome [SIDS] nearly in half – and babies who are not exclusively breastfed receive the same level of risk reduction.

Previous studies have found that breastfeeding protects against SIDS, the leading cause of death of babies during their first year of life; but this study is the first to determine the duration of breastfeeding necessary to provide a major protective effect. The researchers, from the University of Virginia School of Medicine and UVA Children’s Hospital, analyzed eight large international studies that examined breastfeeding in just under 2,300 cases of SIDS, compared to nearly 7,000 infants in a control group. This large sample demonstrated consistently that two months of breastfeeding was the cutoff point for receiving protective benefits against SIDS, regardless of differing cultural behaviors between countries. Breastfeeding for less than two months did not provide such benefits.

“Breastfeeding for just two months reduces the risk of SIDS by almost half, and the longer babies are breastfed, the greater the protection,” said UVA researcher Fern Hauck, M.D. “The other important finding from our study is that any amount of breastfeeding reduces the risk of SIDS – in other words, both partial and exclusive breastfeeding appear to provide the same benefit.”

Based on their results, which were published in the journal Pediatrics, the UVA researchers are calling for “ongoing concerted efforts” to increase rates of breastfeeding around the world. The World Health Organization has established a goal of having more than half of infants worldwide being breastfed exclusively for at least six months by 2025.

On the calendar

Area residents are encouraged to participate in an American Red Cross blood drive from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 22 at St. Louis County Library’s Daniel Boone Branch, 300 Clarkson Road in Ballwin.  To register for an appointment time, visit www.redcrossblood.org.

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St. Louis Children’s Hospital sponsors a Staying Home Alone course from 6:30-8 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 29 at the Wildwood Municipal Building, 16860 Main St. in Wildwood. This workshop will help families determine a child’s readiness to stay home alone and help prepare the child for this experience. A parent must attend with the child; workbooks are provided. The course fee is $25 per family. To register, call (314) 454-5437.

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