Health update: Iodine deficiency, switching off, parkinsons

Sara Bunny checks up on the latest medical research and study results.

Switching off
If your closest companion is your office laptop, it may be time to unplug. According to a major new study published in medical journal The Lancet, working for 55 hours or more per week is linked to a 33 per cent greater risk of having a stroke, compared to those who work for 35-40 hours. Researchers also found workaholics increased their risk of developing coronary heart disease by 13 per cent. Medical experts put the elevated risk down to less physical activity and regular stress.
A whiff of Parkinson’s?
Scientists may have found an early indicator of Parkinson’s disease – an impaired sense of smell. The Pacific Health Research Institute tested more than 2000 men on their ability to detect a range of scents, and found those with the lowest scores had a five times higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease than those with more sensitive nostrils. Researchers concluded loss of smell can indicate early nerve damage in the area of the brain affected by Parkinson’s disease, and the evidence suggests it can predate other symptoms of the illness by as much as five to seven years.
Iodine deficiency
If you’re following a diet low in dairy, you may be at risk of an iodine deficiency. This often forgotten mineral is essential for brain and thyroid function, and low levels could lead to sluggishness, depression and weight gain. The recommended daily intake for adults is 150 micrograms, however, many Kiwis aren’t getting enough. While it is found in salt, healthier sources include eggs and fish as well as dairy.
Blood relation
Those with blood type O may have won the genetic lottery. Research from the Harvard School of Public Health shows people with this blood group are up to 23 per cent less likely to develop heart disease,
and have a 37 per cent lower risk of pancreatic cancer than other blood types. Scientists are yet to determine why, but it may be linked to how the microscopic substances that determine blood type interact with the immune system.
Another smoke alarm
As if there aren’t already enough reasons to ditch cigarettes, scientists have found another one to add to the pile – smoking can lead to a pot belly. Researchers from the University of Glasgow analysed 150,000 smokers, and found their waist measurements were consistently larger than those of non-smokers, across all body mass indexes. While the exact cause is unknown, doctors agree smoking promotes fat in the centre of the body.
Baby brain
While many of us would disagree, Canadian researchers say ‘baby brain’ doesn’t exist. Scientists from the University of Western Ontario have found pregnant women perform better in memory tests than other groups, especially in exercises involving ‘working memory’ - the type we use every day to hold one thing in mind while doing something else. Researchers say pregnancy hormones cause slight differences in brain chemistry, which can lead to improved memory.
Did you know?
One in six New Zealand adults are diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in their lives. October 5-11 is Mental Health Awareness Week, and the Mental Health Foundation encourages us all to get on board with steps to boost our wellbeing:
  1. Connect: Get involved in a club or sports team, and make time to catch up with friends.
  2. Give: Do something nice for a friend or stranger – even a smile can brighten someone’s day.
  3. Take notice: Savour the moment, be aware of the world around you.
  4. Keep learning: Try something new or rediscover an old interest.
  5. Be active: Get into gardening, pound the pavements with a walk or jog, or break out some dance moves!
    To find out more, go to mhaw.nz.

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