By Dr. Oz
Ever fill out those symptom checklists at the doctor's office? I can't remember the last time those lists were updated, but they should be: Scientists are making remarkable advances in connecting the dots about what may put you at risk for a variety of diseases. And we're now learning that some seemingly temporary health issues, from insomnia to low vitamin D levels, may contribute to serious problems down the road. Protect yourself by paying attention to these warning signs.
According to research presented at a 2012 American Heart Association conference, insomniacs are twice as likely to suffer a stroke as people who don't have trouble sleeping. Researchers believe that as a person's sleep deficit rises, so does her blood pressure, which, over time, can lead to inflammation of vascular walls. And it doesn't take long for the negative effects of insomnia to set in: Blood pressure can shoot up after even a single night of inadequate sleep. For sounder slumber, try turning on some "pink noise" (think falling raindrops). A small 2012 study found that this blend of sound frequencies, which is more pleasing to the human ear than white noise, can help calm brain waves, leading to 23 percent more restful sleep.
The fact that stress is bad for your health should come as no surprise, but a new study shows just how lasting an impact it can have on your brain. Researchers tracked women for nearly 40 years and found that those who experienced a greater number of stressors (work problems, divorce, family illness) in middle age were more likely to develop dementia later in life. Chronic stress may trigger the production of inflammatory compounds and damage areas of the brain linked to memory.
High Soda Intake
After analyzing 14 studies, researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health discovered that people who consumed more than 8.5 ounces of sugar-sweetened soda a day had an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer, one of the most elusive and deadliest diseases, by as much as 19 percent compared with those who didn't drink soda. (Diet soda wasn't tested.) The sugar rush that occurs after you down fizzy drinks causes the pancreas to increase insulin production; as a result, pancreatic cells may be exposed to a higher concentration of insulin than other cells in the body are. This may create an imbalance that researchers believe could spur cancer growth. Try cutting back by replacing one soda a day with a glass of water.
While doctors have thought for years that a D deficiency can increase the risk of respiratory infections, a 2013 Finnish study found that people with the lowest vitamin D levels were 2.6 times more likely to develop pneumonia than those with the highest, suggesting that the vitamin is essential to a strong immune system. All it takes to reach your daily quota of D is ten to 15 minutes in the sun three times per week. Note that simply opening the curtains isn't enough -- the UVB rays your body needs can't penetrate windows.
My Number One Disease Fighter
As science continues to evolve, the number of ways to prevent illness will only increase. But there's one piece of health advice that never gets old: exercise. In fact, a 2013 report found that workouts (ranging from heart-pumping cardio to resistance training) were just as effective as drug treatments for preventing coronary heart disease and prediabetes. Go on and get moving!