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Common nutrient may play role in heart issues

A nutrient in meat and eggs may conspire with gut bacteria to make the blood more prone to clotting, a small study suggests.

The nutrient is called choline. Researchers found that when they gave 18 healthy volunteers choline supplements, it boosted their production of a chemical called TMAO.

That, in turn, increased their blood cells’ tendency to clot. But the researchers also found that aspirin might reduce that risk.

TMAO is short for trimethylamine N-oxide. It’s produced when gut bacteria digest choline and certain other substances.

Past studies have linked higher TMAO levels in the blood to heightened risks of blood clots, heart attack and stroke , said Dr. Stanley Hazen, the senior researcher on the new study.

These findings, he said, give the first direct evidence that choline revs up TMAO production in the human gut, which then makes platelets (a type of blood cell) more prone to sticking together.

Choline is found in a range of foods, but it’s most concentrated in animal products such as egg yolks, beef and chicken.

Hazen said he and his colleagues at the Cleveland Clinic wanted to isolate the effects of choline on people’s levels of TMAO and their platelet function. So they studied supplements.

The researchers had 18 healthy adults --10 meat-eaters and eight vegetarians/vegans -- take choline supplements for two months.

The supplements provided around 450 milligrams of choline daily -- roughly the amount in two or three eggs, Hazen said.

One month in, the study found, the supplements had raised participants’ TMAO levels 10-fold, on average. And tests of their blood samples showed that their platelets had become more prone to clotting.

“This study gives us one of the mechanisms by which TMAO may contribute to cardiovascular disease ,” said Dr. J. David Spence.

Spence, who was not involved in the study, directs the Stroke Prevention & Atherosclerosis Research Centre at Western University in London, Ontario, Canada.

For the healthy people in this study, Spence said, the TMAO rise from choline might not be worrisome. But, he added, it might be a concern for people at increased risk of heart disease or stroke.

Spence suggested those individuals limit egg yolks, beef and other foods high in choline.

Hazen had similar advice. “You don’t have to become a vegetarian,” he said. “But you could try eating more plant-based foods, and more vegetarian meals.”

He also pointed to the Mediterranean diet -- rich in olive oil, vegetables and fish . In an earlier study, Hazen said, his team found that a compound in olive oil seems to inhibit TMAO formation.

The new study uncovered yet another compound that may counter TMAO: low-dose aspirin.

In a separate experiment, the researchers had some participants take 85 milligrams of aspirin (a baby aspirin) a day, in addition to choline supplements. That, it turned out, lessened the rise in TMAO and the change in platelet activity.

Doctors already prescribe low-dose aspirin to certain people at risk of heart disease and stroke.

It’s possible, Hazen said,

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School helps teens fight opioids, substance abuse

When Logan Snyder got hooked on pills after a prescription to treat pain from a kidney stone, she joined the millions already swept up in the nation’s grim wave of  addiction to opioid painkillers .

She was just 14.

Youth is a drawback when it comes to kicking drugs. Only half of U.S. treatment centers accept teenagers and even fewer offer teen-focused groups or programs. After treatment , adolescents find little structured support. They’re outnumbered by adults at self-help meetings. Sober youth drop-in centers are rare. Returning to school means resisting offers to get high with old friends.

But Snyder is lucky: Her slide ended when her father got her into a residential drug treatment program. Now 17 and clean, she credits her continued success to Hope Academy in Indianapolis , a tuition-free recovery school where she’s enrolled as a junior.

“I am with people all day who are similar to me,” she says. “We’re here to hold each other accountable.”

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Logan Snyder, a student at Hope Academy, in Indianapolis, got hooked on pills after taking a painkiller prescribed for a kidney stone.

Michael Conroy, AP

The opioid epidemic , which researchers say is the worst addiction crisis in U.S. history, has mostly ensnared adults, especially those in their 20s, 30s and 40s. But each day, 1,100 teens start misusing pain pills, too. Opioids killed 521 teens in 2015, federal data show.

Not enough is known about opioids and teen brains. But getting hooked early is trouble — the vast majority of adults in treatment report they started using as teenagers.

Researchers say young recovering addicts do better at places like Hope, special schools that use peer communities to support sobriety. There are only about three dozen such schools in the U.S., but interest is growing among educators and health officials because of the opioid epidemic.

“I get a phone call every day from somebody who wants to start a recovery high school,” says Rachelle Gardner, an addiction counselor who helped found Hope in 2006 as a charter school through the mayor’s office. “It’s horrible to watch young people die. And who wants that to be our legacy?”

Hope’s 41 teenagers have abused marijuana, alcohol, painkillers and heroin. Most, like Snyder, have been through residential treatment, some more than once. Others, like 17-year-old Aiden Thompson, arrive having had no treatment after a crisis.

“I was really pissed off because I didn’t want to be here,” says Thompson, who came to Hope last year after his mom discovered his vodka and pill stash. “Everything they said, I was like: ‘That can’t be true. No. No way.’”

A week later, though, he found himself talking in group meetings. Now, he said, “I don’t even want to think about where I would be” without the school.

Teens like Snyder and Thompson can change in these settings, even after years of drug abuse, in part because social acceptance is a fundamental need for people their age. The sway of positive peer pressure — what

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Can you walk your way to better brain health?

Just put one foot in front of the other and you’ll

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Simple spring slow cooker dishes from Chowhound

Wait, wait. We know it’s getting warmer, but that doesn’t mean you have to put away your slow cooker. Those handy kitchen devices aren’t just for comforting soups and hearty stews in the winter. You can make a variety of picnic-ready dishes, weeknight-easy meals or even dessert dishes in a slow cooker. 

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Are you raising an emotional eater?

Soothing your kids with food may stop the tears in the short-term. But researchers warn it can lead to unhealthy eating patterns long-term.

Parents who are “emotional feeders” can encourage “emotional eating” -- a habit linked to weight gain and eating disorders, the Norwegian-British study found.

“There is now even stronger evidence that parental feeding styles have a major influence on children’s dietary habits and how children relate to foods and beverages when it comes to addressing their own emotions,” said one expert, Rafael Perez-Escamilla. He’s a professor of epidemiology and public health at Yale University’s School of Public Health.

“Emotional feeding” is “what parents do when they provide foods or beverages to their children to calm them down, such as when a child is having a tantrum,” added Perez-Escamilla, who wasn’t involved with the study.

Relying on junk food , desserts and sugary foods for comfort can lead to overeating, and later problems such as bulimia and binge-eating , said study lead author Silje Steinsbekk and colleagues.

“You don’t feel like having a carrot if you’re sad,” said Steinsbekk, an associate professor of psychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim.

For the new study, the researchers looked at the feeding and eating habits of more than 800 children in Norway, starting at age 4. They checked in on the kids at ages 6, 8 and 10.

About two-thirds of the children at all those ages showed signs of eating to make themselves feel better, judging by questionnaires answered by their parents.

Kids offered food for comfort at ages 4 and 6 displayed more emotional eating at ages 8 and 10, the study found.

Also, the researchers also found signs that kids who felt more easily comforted by food were fed more by parents for that purpose.

“Emotional feeding increases emotional eating and vice versa,” Steinsbekk said.

The researchers spotted another trend: Children who became angry or upset more easily at age 4 were more likely to eat to feel better and to be fed by parents for that purpose.

“This makes total sense as parents get very stressed out when their children are having a fit or crying non-stop,” said Perez-Escamilla.

But there are better ways of dealing with discomfort, said Melissa Cunningham Kay, a research assistant with the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health.

“Feeling sad or angry are normal emotions. Rather than using food as a distraction from them, children should be taught to tolerate them and find other ways to cope,” said Kay, who was not part of the study.

“Sometimes that may involve positive discipline and a few tears or even a full-on tantrum,” said Kay. “Parents should not fear this. It is a normal and a necessary part of development.”

Perez-Escamilla said parents should soothe upset kids by understanding and responding to their problems -- say, a wet diaper -- instead of offering food as a first response, he said.

He praised the new research, noting

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