May 23rd, 2014
05:21 PM ET
Here's a roundup of five medical studies published this week that might give you new insights into your health, mind and body. Remember, correlation is not causation – so if a study finds a connection between two things, it doesn't mean that one causes the other.
Mental illness reduces lifespan even more than smoking
Oxford University psychiatrists say the life expectancy of people with serious mental illness is reduced by 10 to 20 years. That's a toll on life roughly equal or even more dramatic than for people who smoke at least 20 cigarettes a day.
Mental illness is also roughly as common in the United Kingdom than smoking cigarettes, the researchers report: 25% of people will suffer from a mental health problem annually, while 19% of British men and 19% of women are smokers. In the United States, mental illness affects 20% of Americans over 18 in a year.
The study examined information about 1.7 million patients, analyzing 20 scientific reviews and studies that had mostly drawn upon data from wealthy countries.
Lead study author Dr. Seena Fazel told NPR that stigma may play a role in the pattern observed in this study.
"So much emphasis has been placed on reducing smoking and smoking deaths. Mental illness doesn't receive the same attention in public health and public policy," Fazel told NPR.
Placenta has a good chunk of bacteria, and importance
Journal: Science Translational Medicine
Your body has 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells on average, but doctors used to think the placenta, which develops in the uterus while a woman is pregnant, is sterile. These days, we know better. A new study reveals the bacterial diversity in the placenta, and how it might affect the baby.
Premature births, for instance, may occur in part because of a particular combination of bacteria in the placenta. And bacteria that's beneficial to the infant may be passed to the baby via the placenta.
The placenta isn't overflowing with bacteria; it's only about 10% bacteria by mass, researchers said. Still, scientists found about 300 kinds of bacteria, the majority being innocuous.
Intriguingly, the researchers also found that bacteria in the placenta closely matched what was in the mother's mouth, which was also similar to what they found in infant intestines, The New York Times reported.
This was a small, preliminary study, but could inspire deeper looks at the wonders of the placenta.
Diabetic women have a higher likelihood of heart problems than men
A new study has discovered a striking gender gap in diabetes.
Women with diabetes are 44% more likely to develop coronary heart disease than diabetic men, the study found. They are also 44% more likely to die of heart disease than men with diabetes.
Researchers examined data on 850,000 people. This information was pooled from 64 studies spanning 1966 to 2013.
"The days of lumping men and women together are coming to an end," Dr. Tara Narula, associate director of the Cardiac Care Unit at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, told HealthDay News. "We need to see women as unique entities regarding their risk factors and, if we recognize there's this gender differential, we need to be more aggressive in screening and treating women for diabetes or heart disease."
Malaria vaccine in the works
Thanks to a rare antibody, researchers say they have a promising direction for a malaria vaccine.
Study authors took blood samples from hundreds of Tanzanian children and found antibodies in 6% of them that appeared to be important in fighting malaria. These antibodies seemed to confront the malaria parasites while they were asexually reproducing, and counter a protein important to the life cycle of the parasite, Forbes reported.
The children who had these antibodies did not have severe malaria, researchers found. Another study on Kenyans also found a connection between the antibodies and fewer malaria parasites.
Researchers are using these antibodies as the basis for a vaccine.
“Most vaccine candidates for malaria have worked by trying to prevent parasites from entering red blood cells," Dr. Jonathan Kurtis of Rhode Island Hospital, the research team’s spokesman, told Forbes. “We’ve taken a different approach. We’ve found a way to block it from leaving the cell once it has entered. It can’t go anywhere. It can’t do any further damage."
The vaccine has not been tested in humans. Researchers hope to start trials in monkeys in six weeks.
Mice that can't feel pain live longer
We don't know how this would pan out in humans, but in mice it sounds nice: Researchers found that mice lacking a certain pain receptor live longer.
Study authors genetically engineered mice so they wouldn't have TRPV1 pain receptors. Normally, such receptors get activated as a result of high temperatures or hot chili peppers, New Scientist reported.
Male mice without these receptors lived 12% longer than those that had them. The outcome for female mice was even more promising: Those that lacked the receptors lived 16% longer.
It appears that those without the receptor also produced more insulin. On the flip side, mammals have these pain receptors so they will be biologically warned about dangerous objects and situations.
"Pain is very important for animals living in the wild and probably outweighs the benefits of a youthful metabolism," Andrew Dillin at the University of California, Berkeley, told New Scientist.
Still, there could be therapeutic applications that stem from these insights.
About this blog
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.