Put on happiness

  • Health
  • Sunday, 13 Apr 2003

YOU don’t have to be an extrovert to act like one, and the reward for those who make an attempt to be more talkative, bold or assertive is feeling happier.  

In the first of three experiments in the United States, 46 students kept track of when they were being outgoing and how they felt every few hours for two weeks. In all cases, they had the most fun when they were extroverted. In the second experiment, they kept diaries for 10 weeks, and researchers looked at how often the students were extroverted over a week and how they felt at week’s end. An analysis showed that the link between being outgoing and a good mood was not just momentary.  

The third experiment tested the notion that genuinely acting in an extroverted way would create a happy mood. After being randomly assigned to act introverted or extroverted in a discussion with a group of strangers, the students rated their mood. In all cases – regardless of whether they thought themselves to be naturally introverted or extroverted – the students who behaved boldly and energetically and were talkative and assertive felt happier after the exercise than those who were instructed to be quiet, passive and compliant.  

“This study says that we can improve our level of happiness,” says the study’s lead author, William Fleeson, associate professor of psychology at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. The results were published in the December issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.  

Although everyone has the capacity to be outgoing and adventurous, he says, introverts don’t act that way as frequently as extroverts do. “The more they act extroverted, the more they’ll remember how and the easier it will be for them.”  


Hygiene in hospitals 

WHEN it comes to hospital hygiene, higher-ranking staff members set the stage: If the doctor or nurse doesn’t wash his or her hands upon entering a patient’s room, health workers down the ladder don’t either.  

Health-care providers of all types were observed in 560 interactions with patients at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, both in the old hospital and a year later in the new hospital. Researchers also found that half of the hospital personnel washed their hands in the old hospital, and a quarter washed their hands in the new hospital, even though it had more sinks.  

“There is no good explanation for this, but it does show that it’s not just the number of sinks that affects hygiene. There are other things, like the time it takes to wash your hands,” says co-author Dr William Trick, an epidemiologist at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.  

If you have doubts about whether a doctor, nurse or other hospital worker has washed, Trick says, simply ask.  

Vitamin D reduces fracture risk 

TAKING a single megadose of vitamin D three times a year lowers an elderly person’s risk of breaking a bone, a British study has concluded.  

Every four months for five years, about half of the 2,500 participants, all older than 65, received a fake capsule in the mail; the other half got a capsule of 100,000 IU of vitamin D3 – about 250 times the amount in a typical multivitamin. Fifteen doses of vitamin D later, the treated group was 22% less likely than the placebo group to have had a fracture. And the likelihood of breaking one of the bones typically weakened by osteoporosis was cut by 33%.  

Another study giving the same dose more often – every three months – is under way. For now, says lead author Dr Kay-Tee Khaw, a professor of clinical gerontology at the University of Cambridge, a daily multivitamin with calcium and 400 IU of vitamin D is unlikely to do harm and may do some good.  

“If people wish to take a megadose of vitamin D ? every four months, they should consult their doctor to make sure they have no contraindications to doing so,” he says. “Vitamin D can be toxic, so people certainly should not exceed the dose used in the trial. We certainly do not want people to get the impression in any way that more is better and take excessive amounts.”  

The study was published in the March 1 issue of the British Medical Journal.  


Flaxseed’s benefits 

FLAXSEED has been popular as a laxative since at least the ancient days of Egypt. Now grown in many parts of the world, the seeds and oil (derived by crushing the seeds) from the flax plant are thought to have other medicinal values as well. For example, contemporary research shows the seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids, considered important for cardiovascular health.  

Flaxseed is used variously to lower cholesterol, help prevent heart disease and cancer, ease premenstrual syndrome and improve the symptoms of inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis, lupus and psoriasis.  

It comes in liquid, capsule or powder form. Typically, the dose is one tablespoon of oil or 500mg to 1,000mg capsules.  

It has to be noted that large doses can cause diarrhoea (because of flaxseed’s laxative effect) and interfere with the absorption of other nutrients.  

Studies are mixed on whether flaxseed lowers cholesterol levels, but the possible effect on cholesterol is so promising that the US federal government recently launched a study to evaluate it. The evidence for cancer prevention has only been established in animal studies. Other uses of flaxseed are based on folklore rather than science.  


Statins before heart surgery 

DOES the administration of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs prior to artery-clearing procedures affect the odds of survival?  

Past studies have shown that statins lower the risk of heart attacks and death when administered following percutaneous coronary interventions (PCIs) such as balloon angioplasty and stenting.  

A study involved 1,552 patients with clogged arteries. Those who received statins before PCI had a lower risk of heart attack during the procedure (6% vs. 8%), lower one-year death rate (3% vs. 7%) and lower incidence of non-fatal heart attack (6.3% vs. 9.8%). Patients with the highest levels of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP), a marker of inflammation, benefited most from statin therapy before PCI: Their risk of death in the year after the procedure was about 6%, compared with about 15% for those who did not receive statins before the procedure.  

Who may be affected by these findings? People with clogged arteries who do not require emergency PCI, especially those with high hsCRP levels.  

However, the findings are not based on a randomised trial. In addition, all the participants were treated at the same medical centre; as a result, people undergoing PCI at other locations may have different outcomes. Finally, the benefits need to be verified for a longer period.  

Bottom line: People with clogged arteries may wish to consult their physician about having at least two weeks of statin therapy before PCI.  

This study can be found in the March 24 issue of Circulation; abstract online at http://circ.ahajournals.org/rapidaccess.shtml . – LAT-WP 

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