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June Health News

Written by Dr Tom Nolan for Doctify

Art and religion are making their first appearances on the news blog this month. But don’t stop reading just yet: we’re also discussing stomach bugs. This month’s research has made me doubt the wisdom of my usual dodgy tummy recovery plan of Dioralyte followed by increasing volumes of mashed potato.

Don’t do the mashed potato

Boil them, bake them, mash them, or fry them. It doesn’t matter: potatoes seem to raise blood pressure. Researchers persuaded over 200,000 healthcare workers (mainly female nurses in the US) to tell them how often they eat potatoes. For more than 20 years they kept a close eye on their blood pressure. Those who ate potatoes four or more times a week were more likely to develop high blood pressure – although only slightly.

The authors suggest why: the carbs in the potato are quickly broken down into sugars leading to high sugar levels in the blood. This causes inflammation and damage to blood vessels, which if repeated over many years can lead to high blood pressure.

There’s been plenty of debate about these findings. My favourite comment is from Professor Messerli on the BMJ’s rapid responses. Reflecting on Van Gogh’s 1885 portrait Potato Eaters, he writes: “when looking at these hungry peasants one doesn’t get the impression that high blood pressure was particularly rampant among them.” If Van Gogh were around today his Potato Eaters may look a little different.

How do you like them apples?

Apple juice or Dioralyte? I’ll have an apple juice please. But if I – or my child – had a stomach bug I’d probably go for an electrolyte solution like Dioralyte. From now on though, thanks to some pioneering work at Alberta Children’s Hospital, I’m going to choose apple juice. Children coming through the emergency room with mild gastroenteritis were given either half strength apple juice followed by whatever drink they preferred or electrolyte solution. The children on the apple juice were less likely to refuse the drink and less likely to end up on a drip.

Alter your life expectancy at the Altar

Preachers have a new weapon in their mission to get bums on pews: come to worship and you will live longer. A study in JAMA followed female nurses in the US for 20 years. Women attending religious services more than once a week were a third less likely to have died by the end of the study. They had better social support, a more optimistic outlook, and we’re less likely to smoke.  

Arthritis success

Rheumatoid arthritis is a cruel crippling disease. Inflammation in the joints, usually the hands, lead to joint destruction and simple tasks like holding a fork or pen can become impossible. The treatments used to be almost as bad, with the sorts of side effects you might expect if you inject gold into someone (this used to be a treatment). Fortunately, rheumatoid arthritis can now be effectively treated – as shown in a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine this month. People with early stage rheumatoid arthritis were followed for ten years. Four different treatment strategies were compared. Whichever treatment was given x-ray signs of damage and joint destruction was rare and over 50% of people were in remission at the end of the study.


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