Here's a roundup of five medical studies published recently 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.
Some obesity may be related to slow metabolism. Really.
"Slow metabolism" as an explanation for obesity has been largely knocked down by doctors as inaccurate. But University of Cambridge researchers showed in a new study that mutations on a particular gene slow metabolism, which may be linked to obesity in some people.
Previous research had shown that mice without the gene KSR2 tended to become overweight.
In this study, researchers sequenced the DNA of 2,101 people with severe early-onset obesity and 1,536 people who were not obese. They saw that mutations in KSR2 were associated with "hyperphagia (increased appetite) in childhood, low heart rate, reduced basal metabolic rate and severe insulin resistance."
Fewer than one in 100 people have KSR2 mutations, and some of those do have normal weight, BBC News reports.
This genetics research could have implications for developing drugs that help people with obesity and type 2 diabetes, the study said.
High blood sugar linked to memory problems
Past studies have suggested that diabetes raises the risk for Alzheimer's disease although it's not entirely clear why. New research finds that even in people who don't have diabetes, chronically higher blood glucose levels are associated with poorer outcomes in the brain.
This study looked at 141 people, average age 63, without diabetes or pre-diabetes. No participants were overweight or had memory and thinking impairment.
On cognitive tests, participants with lower blood glucose levels performed better in terms of delayed recall, learning ability and memory consolidation than those with higher levels. What's more, those with higher levels tended to have smaller volumes in the hippocampus, a sea horse-shaped brain structure crucial for memory.
“These results suggest that even for people within the normal range of blood sugar, lowering their blood sugar levels could be a promising strategy for preventing memory problems and cognitive decline as they age,” study author Dr. Agnes Flöel of Charité University Medicine in Berlin said in a statement. “Strategies such as lowering calorie intake and increasing physical activity should be tested.”
This study received significant media attention, but Dr. Jane Chiang, the American Diabetes Association's Senior vice president of medical affairs and community information, said she is concerned about the way it was conducted. The participants weren't entirely "healthy," according to their blood glucose levels -- in fact, they may have diabetes and not know it, she said.
A bigger concern, Chiang said, is that older adults aren't recommended to have a strictly regulated "normal" blood glucose in the first place. Low blood sugar presents dangerous risks of falls and seizures, so the American Diabetes Association discourages tight blood sugar control in older adults.
Healthy friends may go with healthy eating
Presented at the Agricultural and Applied Economic Association’s 2013 annual meeting in Washington
You may go into a restaurant thinking you'll eat a salad, but some burger-loving friends may lead you astray. New research shows who you eat with affects your food choices.
This study took place at an Oklahoma restaurant over three months. In one part of the restaurant, guests received menus with items and prices. A second restaurant section got menus that included calorie counts. A third section received menus with this information in addition to traffic light symbols indicating lower (400 and lower), medium (401-800) and higher calories (800 plus).
University of Illinois food economist Brenna Ellison found that people dining in groups tended to choose items from the same menu categories as the others in the group.
“The big takeaway from this research is that people were happier if they were making similar choices to those sitting around them,” Ellison said in a statement. “If my peers are ordering higher-calorie items or spending more money, then I am also happier, or at least less unhappy, if I order higher-calorie foods and spend more money."
Read more about this study at TIME.com
Coffee may reduce risk of liver cancer
Journal: Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology