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Dark chocolate could be good for your brain, vision, pain relief

Like we need a reason to eat more chocolate, but researchers say that dark chocolate may have more  medicinal benefits.

The indulgent candy may boost your brain, immune system and vision according to three separate studies that were recently released, ABC News reported.

>> Read more trending news 

Brain benefits

In the first study, researchers gave volunteers a dark chocolate candy bar and studied their brain waves with an electroencephalogram machine, or E.E.G. They saw an increase in gamma rays half an hour after the treat. “Gamma frequency is associated with neurosynchronization, in other words neuroplasticity. It is the highest level of cognitive processing,” Dr. Lee Burk told ABC News.

Immune system

Burk also conducted a small study on how chocolate boosts the immune system. Ten subjects were given dark chocolate and Burk noted that they found an increase of anti-inflammatory markers, T cells and infection-fighting cells.

Both of Burk’s studies were only conducted on 10 participants, and the findings were announced at a scientific meeting, but not published in a medical journal. They were not peer-reviewed before the release, ABC News reported. Burk presented his findings at the Experimental Biology 2018 annual meeting, USA Today reported.

Berk told USA Today that the study was funded by Loma Linda University’s School of Allied Health Professions, and was not affiliated with chocolate companies.

Vision benefits

A third study that was published in a medical journal -- JAMA Ophthalmology -- showed that dark chocolate can boost vision. Researchers gave 30 participants dark and milk chocolate bars then did a vision test two hours after the the bars were eaten. They had small vision improvements after eating the dark chocolate, ABC News reported.

Mostly they saw an improvement in contrast sensitivity. They were able to separate objects in low light or high glare situations.

Doctors believe that the chocolate affects blood vessel function and blood pressure, or basically allowing more blood to flow into the eye, according to ABC News.

But before you dig into the Hershey bars, the doctors said the key is dark chocolate that has 70-percent cacao, or those bitter, super-dark, dark chocolate bars, USA Today reported. Normally a chocolate bar has 11 percent cacao. ABC News reported.

'Tick explosion' coming this summer, expert warns

Now that summer is just around the corner, experts are warning that ticks will be coming back in full force.

>> Watch the news report here

One tick expert in New England told Boston's WFXT that the warmer weather will cause what he called a "tick explosion."

The tiny, pesky and possibly harmful arachnids are about to spring into action, and everyone should be extra vigilant.

>> Tick spreading in the US gives people meat allergies

"They're up and looking for a host hoping something will walk by that they can latch on," said Dr. Thomas Mather, aka "The Tick Guy."

Mather said this season is prime for ticks, and his website, tickencounter.org, shows the type to watch out for in New England this season is the deer tick because it spreads Lyme disease.

"It's very important because around here it's the worst for Lyme disease more than anywhere else in the nation," Mather said.

The website also lists high tick activity in most of the eastern United States, as well as the Midwest, Plains states and West Coast. Deer ticks are the most prevalent species in the Northeast and Midwest, while Lone Star ticks dominate in the Southeast and much of the Central U.S. Wood ticks are more common in the Mountain region, and Pacific Coast ticks are prevalent on the West Coast, the site said. Learn more here.

>> Rare tick-borne illness worries some medical professionals

Stephen Novick of Boston-based FlyFoe said his business is extremely busy since the ticks never really went away.

"We had a mild winter, didn’t freeze too much, and because of that, the animal populations were active longer, and that enabled the tick populations to be active," he said.

Deer, chipmunks and rodents all carry ticks. Spraying is one way to keep ticks out of your yard.

You may even opt for a garlic-based, organic repellent or a store-bought pesticide.

"The pesticide is the lowest rated by the EPA, so it’s also super safe," Novick said.

The pesticide is used for flea and tick collars for pets. 

>> Read more trending news 

Spraying has to be done once a month to keep ticks at bay, but for many it's the best alternative as it provides peace of mind.

Ticks usually hide in tall grass, so if you go hiking or walking in the woods, make sure to wear long-sleeve shirts and pants or get tick repellent clothing, use bug spray and always check yourself for ticks after being outdoors.

Checking for ticks is always important because if you happen to have been bitten, the quicker you remove the tick, the less likely it is that it will transmit any diseases.

– The Cox Media Group National Content Desk contributed to this report.

Study: Even mild head injuries increase risk of Parkinson's disease

Even mild head injuries dramatically increase an individual's risk of developing Parkinson's disease, according to a new large-scale study on veterans.

>> Read more trending news

The new research, published this month in the academic journal Neurology, looked at data collected from 325,870 former members of the U.S. military ranging from 31 to 65 years of age. Researchers discovered that individuals who experienced a concussion at some point during their lives were 56 percent more likely to develop Parkinson's disease than those who had never been knocked out, had not experienced an altered state of consciousness or had not had amnesia for up to 24 hours.

More severe brain trauma made the risk of contracting the disease later in life even more likely. Veterans with a moderate to severe traumatic brain injury saw an 83 percent increased risk.

"This is not the first study to show that even mild traumatic brain injury increases the risk for Parkinson's disease. But we were able to study every single veteran across the U.S. who had been diagnosed at a Veterans Affairs hospital, so this is the highest level of evidence we have so far that this association is real," Dr. Raquel Gardner, the study's lead author, who works for the San Francisco Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center, told Reuters.

Kristine Yaffe, another author of the study from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and the VA, said that most of the former soldiers who were diagnosed with Parkinson's actually got their head injuries during civilian life.

"While the participants had all served in the active military, many if not most of the traumatic brain injuries had been acquired during civilian life," she explained. 

But overall, the number of veterans who were diagnosed with Parkinson's was quite small. Only one in 212 veterans who had experienced a concussion developed the disease. The rate was slightly higher, at one in 134 among those who reported a more serious moderate-to-severe traumatic brain injury.

Dr. Michael Silver, an assistant professor at Emory University's Department of Neurology who was not involved in the research, called the data "robust."

"This has been a controversial issue but most studies that have looked at this have found a correlation between traumatic brain injury (TBI) and the subsequent development of Parkinson's disease. This is of course a difficult topic to study since if you would like to start with a cohort of patients that have suffered TBI, you have to wait and track a subject for years," Silver said.

"With this robust VA data, specifically the fact that the system reliably codes for TBIs, we are able to put the pieces together years later," he said.

Although Silver said the study was well done and controlled for many factors, he suggested a longer follow-up on patients would have made the research more helpful.

"I would have liked a longer follow-up on the subjects since the average age was only 48, and the usual age of onset for Parkinson's disease is in the sixties," he said. "This is an intriguing study and as we gather more data going forward, can make more conclusive links between TBI and Parkinson's disease."

Parkinson's is the most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer's. Risk of the disease increases with age, from about 1 percent at age 60 to around 4 percent at 80.

Silver said that as of now, doctors don't have a way of intervening to prevent Parkinson's. He said that he recommends a "healthy diet and exercise" to patients who have experienced head trauma, as previous studies suggest this could reduce the risk of dementia (which Parkinson's can lead to).

The authors of the study have similar advice for individuals concerned about developing Parkinson's later in life. Gardner told CNN that a healthy diet, regular exercise and keeping medical conditions under control are the best ways to avoid any neurodegenerative disease.

"If anyone is worried, do a little bit better to live more healthily," she said.

Read the new study at n.neurology.org.

Immunotherapy plus chemo doubles lung cancer survival, study says

Chemotherapy and radiation are common treatments for lung cancer. However, immunotherapy may be able to help double a patient’s survival, according to a new report.

>> Read more trending news

Researchers from New York University’s Perlmutter Cancer Center recently conducted a study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, to determine which treatments were most effective for those newly diagnosed with lung cancer.

To do so, they examined 616 people with non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer from 118 international sites. The participants did not have genetic changes in the EGFR or ALK genes, which have both been linked to the rapid reproduction of cells. 

>> Related: Healing process after breast cancer surgery could cause cancer to spread in mice, study says

About 400 of the subjects underwent pembrolizumab, a form of immunotherapy that helps destroy cancer cells; platinum therapy, a procedure that uses cell damaging agents; and pemetrexed, a chemotherapy drug that targets the lungs. The other 200 only received platinum therapy and pemetrexed with a saline placebo. 

After analyzing the results, they found the risk of death was reduced by 51 percent for those treated with pembrolizumab, platinum therapy and pemetrexed, compared with those who only got chemo. Furthermore, those with the combined therapy also had a 48 percent decreased chance of progression or death. 

>> Related: Groundbreaking 'cancer vaccine' set for human trials by the end of the year

Suresh Ramalingam, deputy director at Emory University’s Winship Cancer Institute, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution the finding is “very important” as “it moves the milestone forward.”

“This study shows that by combining the two treatments, you can maximize or even improve patient outcomes. From that standpoint, it does shift the treatment approach to lung cancer in a positive way,” said Ramalingam, who was not a part of the trial.

By using both approaches together, doctors can create a multiplying effect. During chemotherapy, cells die and leave behind protein. Immunotherapy activates the immune system, aiding its ability to kill any remaining cancer cells.

>> Related: New cancer 'vaccine' completely wipes out tumors in mice -- human trials are on way

The NYU researchers did note there are severe side effects to the combination treatment, including nausea, anemia, fatigue and an increased risk of acute kidney injury. 

However, Ramalingam believes the trial gives experts the ammunition to test the approach in many other cancers. He also said there are several ways to treat different types of the disease, and people should understand that some tumors may need to be tackled differently.

For example, he recently led a separate, large clinical trial that targeted lung cancer patients with the EGFR mutation, unlike the NYU analysts. As a result of his findings, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration expanded the use of a lung cancer pill called Tagrisso to those with the EGFR gene.

>> Related: Pharmaceutical company touts 'breakthrough' cancer treatment

While it was initially only used for individuals whose lung cancer worsened after treatment with other EGFR therapies, Ramalingam and his team proved the medication almost doubled the survival outcome for newly diagnosed lung cancer patients with the EGFR mutation. In fact, it resulted in better outcomes than chemotherapy and immunotherapy. 

“Given all these exciting advances that there are in lung cancer, patients should not settle for what’s been told,” Ramlingam recommended. “Basically get a second option or go to a major center that specializes in lung cancer to make sure they’re getting the cutting-edge treatment options that are out there.”

7 great sources of protein that aren't meat or animal products

"You're vegetarian? How do you get your protein?"

It's a question vegetarians (and vegans) are asked over and over again. While meat and other animal products are common sources of protein for much of the population, there are countless protein options for those on a plant-based diet, too.

» RELATED: These protein powders are toxic to your health, study says

Scientific evidence suggests that animal farming causes between 14.5 percent and more than 50 percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

>> Read more trending news 

As concerns for animal welfare, along with environmental realities, continue to grow, many are adopting vegetarian or vegan diets. But starting off can be daunting, especially if you’re worried about maintaining strong bones and muscles.

"It is very easy for a vegan diet to meet the recommendations for protein. Nearly all vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds contain some, and often much, protein," the Vegetarian Resource Group explains on its website.

» RELATED: 31 healthy and portable high-protein snacks

Here's a look at some of the best sources of protein that aren't from animals:

1. Lentils and beans

Not only are lentils a great source of protein, they are also rich in healthy carbohydrates and fiber. One cup of cooked lentils contains an average of 18 grams of protein. A cup of beans contains a bit less, coming in at an average of 15 grams.

2. Spinach and kale

Popeye was definitely onto something when he chowed down on spinach before saving the day. Most people already know that spinach and kale are trendy "superfoods," primarily because they’re great sources of protein. There are about 3 grams of protein per 100 grams of spinach. Kale has even more, with 4.3 grams per 100 grams.

3. Quinoa

Another popular superfood, quinoa is considered a starchy protein because it also contains carbohydrates and fiber. In just half a cup of quinoa, there are seven to nine grams of protein.

4. Nuts

From almonds to walnuts, pecans, cashews and pistachios, nuts are an ideal source of protein. They are also rich in minerals, Vitamin E, and healthy fats. Nuts vary in their protein content. For instance, 21 grams of protein can be found in 100 grams of almonds. Cashews have about 18 grams of protein per 100 grams.

» RELATED: Eating nuts can improve survival rate for those with colon cancer, study says

5. Asparagus

Asparagus is another vegetable rich with protein, plus it works to detoxify your body. Per every 100 grams, there are about 2.2 grams of protein.

6. Tofu

One serving of tofu contains about 20 grams of protein. The protein in tofu is also considered a complete protein, meaning it contains all the necessary amino acids.

7. Broccoli

It may not be the most popular vegetable among children, but broccoli is high in protein, as well as fiber, antioxidants and other essential minerals. There are about 2.8 grams of protein per 100 grams of broccoli.

How to manage your spring allergies

Spring is in the air, literally. 

Over the next few days, many parts of the country may experience high pollen levels.

Dr. Castellaw with the Baptist Medical Group said, “This is probably one of the worst allergy seasons that we have seen in years.”

Castellaw said the signs are clear to see and even easier to feel.

“If the drainage from your nose and things that you're coughing start to change color and consistency, then you need to go see the doctor,” Dr. Castellaw said.

The problem comes when the signs go un-treated. Allergies can turn into much more serious issues.

Dr. Castellaw said, “And oftentimes those allergy problems lead to infections like sinus infections, bronchitis and even pneumonia.”

>> Read more trending news 

Castellaw adds if you're going to take over the counter medicine - be careful. If you have high blood pressure - check the ingredients.

The doctor suggested, “If you have heart problems, thyroid problems you have to stay away from them.”

While the allergy season may have already started, it will likely get harder to deal with before your symptoms subside.

Dr. Castellaw said, “Things are still blooming and actively going we're still seeing cases daily of people coming in who are getting sick.”

Related video:

E.Coli outbreak in 11 states linked to chopped romaine lettuce

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have linked store-bought chopped romaine lettuce from a growing area in Yuma, Arizona, to an E.coli outbreak that has sickened dozens of people in 11 states, the agency reported Friday.

>> Read more trending news 

Twenty-two people have been hospitalized, including three who developed a type of kidney failure, according to the CDC.

The states impacted include: Washington, Idaho, Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

No deaths related to the outbreak have been reported.

The agency has not yet identified the grower or a common brand, yet, and is urging people not to eat chopped lettuce from the Yuma area.

Symptoms of an E. coli infection vary, but often include severe stomach cramps and (often bloody) diarrhea. Most people get better in five to seven days. Infections can be mild, but can also be severe and even life-threatening.

If you think you have E. coli, the CDC says to talk to your health care provider or public health department and write down what you ate in the week before you get sick.

People started reporting illnesses that are part of the outbreak between March 22 and March 31.

DNA fingerprinting is being used to identify illnesses that are part of the same outbreak. Some people might not be included in the CDC’s case count if officials weren’t able to get bacteria strains needed for DNA fingerprinting to link them to the outbreak.

To reduce your risk of an E. coli infection, you can:

  • Wash your hands. Wash hands after using the restroom or changing diapers, before and after preparing or eating food, and after contact with animals.
  • Cook meats thoroughly to kill harmful germs.
  • Thoroughly wash hands, counters, cutting boards, and utensils after they touch raw meat.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables before eating.
  • Avoid raw milk, other unpasteurized dairy products, and unpasteurized juices.
  • Don’t prepare food or drink for others when you are sick.

Death of loved one during pregnancy may affect child's mental health, study says

Grieving the death of a loved one can affect an entire family, including babies. In fact, losing a relative during pregnancy may affect the mental health of a child later in life, according to a new report.

>> On AJC.com: Smoking while pregnant study: 1 in 14 women still smoke while pregnant

Researchers from Stanford University recently conducted a study, published in the American Economic Review, to determine the effect a family member’s death may have on children.

To do so, they examined Swedish infants born between 1973 and 2011 whose mother lost a close relative, such as a sibling, parent, maternal grandparent, the child’s father or her own older child, during her pregnancy.

>> Breast cancer patients may help boost survival chances by building muscle, study says

They followed those children through adulthood, comparing their health outcomes to kids whose maternal relatives died in the year after their birth. They gathered the data from their medical records and Sweden’s novel prescription drug registry, which contains all prescription drug purchases.

Lastly, they considered the impact the death may have had on the fetus, including fetal exposure to maternal stress from bereavement and even changes to family resources or household composition.

>> On AJC.com: Is light drinking while pregnant really dangerous?

After analyzing their results, they found that “that prenatal exposure to the death of a maternal relative increases take-up of ADHD medications during childhood and anti-anxiety and depression medications in adulthood,” the researchers wrote in a statement.

Furthermore, they discovered the death of a relative up to three generations apart during pregnancy can also create consequences. 

“Our study offers complementary evidence linking early-life circumstance to adult mental health, but breaks new ground by focusing on stress,” the authors wrote, “which may be more pertinent than malnutrition in modern developed countries such as the United States and Sweden, and by tracing health outcomes throughout the time period between the fetal shock and adulthood.”

>> Read more trending news 

To combat the issue, the researchers recommend that governments implement policies to help reduce stress during pregnancy. They believe such policies should especially target poor families as they are more likely to experience stress than more advantaged ones. 

Although their findings are concerning, they hope they can better help expecting mothers have healthier pregnancies and birth healthier children. 

“Of course, you cannot prevent family members from dying, and we certainly do not want our findings to constitute yet another source of stress for expecting mothers,” the scientists said. “But our findings potentially point to the importance of generally reducing stress during pregnancy, for example through prenatal paid maternity leave and programs that provide resources and social support to poor, pregnant women.”

>> On AJC.com: Why pregnant women should be careful around cats

Breast cancer patients may help boost survival chances by building muscle, study says

Chemotherapy and radiation are common treatments for breast cancer. However, building muscle may also help boost chances of survival, according to a new report. 

>> On AJC.com: Breast cancer treatment may trigger heart problems, study says

Researchers from Kaiser Permanente recently conducted a study, published in JAMA Oncology, to determine the association between muscle quality and the disease. 

To do so, they examined 3,241 women from Kaiser Permanente of Northern California and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. The participants were diagnosed with stages II or III breast cancer between January 2000 and December 2013. Scientists then used CT scans to observe muscle tissues.

>> Read more trending news 

After analyzing the results, they found that higher muscle mass upped survival rates, while lower muscle mass was linked with a higher risk of death.

In fact, more than one-third of the individuals with sarcopenia, a condition that causes muscle loss, “had a significantly increased risk of death compared with patients without sarcopenia,” the authors wrote in the study.

>> On AJC.com: Study: Fat linked to breast cancer even if you have healthy weight

Furthermore, building muscle may also help with other cancers.

“Our findings are likely generalizable across many other nonmetastatic cancers because the associations with muscle and improved survival for those with metastatic cancer has been observed across a variety of solid tumors,” they said.

While the scientists did not thoroughly explore why low muscle mass is connected to low breast cancer survival rates, they think inflammation may be a factor as cancer-related inflammation can decrease muscle mass and increase fat.

The researchers now hope to continue their investigations and believe their findings will lead to better treatment practices.

“We should also consider interventions to improve muscle mass, such as resistance training or protein supplementation,” they said. “In the era of precision medicine, the direct measurement of muscle and adiposity will help to guide treatment plans and interventions to optimize survival outcomes.” 

>> On AJC.com: Sugar can fuel cancerous cells, study says

Physical activity could improve your happiness, study says

It’s no secret that exercise can have positive impacts on your body. Now scientists have discovered that it might also boost your happiness, according to a new report. 

» RELATED: America is getting unhappier, UN global report finds

Researchers from the University of Michigan recently conducted an assessment, published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, to determine the link between physical activity and mental attitude

>> Read more trending news 

To do so, they reviewed more than 20 studies that examined happiness and physical activity. The studies included the health information of thousands of adults, seniors, adolescents, children and cancer survivors from several countries. 

After analyzing the results, they found that the odds ratio of being happy was 52 percent higher for those who were very active. It was 29 percent higher for those who were sufficiently active and 20 percent higher for those who were insufficiently active

» RELATED: Do you live in one of the happiest cities in America? 

“Our findings suggest the physical activity frequency and volume are essential factors in the relationship between physical activity and happiness,” coauthor Weiyun Chen said in a statement. “More importantly, even a small change of physical activity makes a difference in happiness.”

They reported that happiness levels were the same whether people worked out 150-300 minutes a week or more than 300 minutes a week. In fact, they said as little as 10 minutes of physical activity weekly made a “significant difference” in a person’s mood.

They noted that they didn’t investigate whether one particular exercise was more effective that the other. However, aerobics, mixed activity classes, stretching and balance movement were all helpful. 

“Future research is suggested to explore the mechanism of how physical activity influences happiness,” they wrote, “and to determine the optimal dose and type of physical activity for gaining the benefits of happiness.”

» RELATED: When do adults reach peak happiness? Not until age 50, study says 

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