NPR Health

A massive research project in California is beginning to show how genes, health habits and the environment can interact to cause diseases. And it's all possible because 100,000 people agreed to contribute some saliva in the name of science.

Many teens aspire to have lean bodies and big muscles, like the professional athletes they so admire. But they don't always want (or know how) to sweat to get them. A new study finds a surprisingly high number of teens have used steroids to try to slim down and bulk up.

Six percent of teenagers say they've used steroid drugs in the past year, which is a lot higher than the 1.1 percent reported in a 2011 survey.

The Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, is an extreme event — a 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bike ride, topped off by a marathon.

Throughout the event, racers drink plenty of fluids and eat energy bars or gels. Most also take a performance-enhancing substance that is legal and effective — caffeine.

"While I'm racing, caffeine is actually a pretty important part of my day, particularly in the Ironman, where it's such a long race," says Sarah Piampiano, a professional triathlete.

As we've reported, there's a backlash brewing to sedentary office life as more people realize how sitting all day can do a body wrong.

I work at home and often sit in front of my computer doing research and writing. So I thought I'd give a treadmill desk a try.

This Is How Diabetes Swept The Nation

Nov 16, 2012

When it comes to diabetes, just about everyone has heard there's an epidemic upon us.

In 2010, about 18.8 million people of all ages in the U.S. had been diagnosed with diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another 7 million had diabetes but hadn't been diagnosed.

How much have things changed?

Back in 1995, about 4.5 percent of adults in the U.S. had been diagnosed with diabetes. By 2010, the prevalence had zoomed to 8.2 percent.

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When it comes to tallying our liquid calories, we're not always so accurate. Does that tiny 5-ounce serving of wine really count as a glass of wine? (The answer is yes.)

So as the season of celebrations heats up, and holiday cheer is delivered in the form of bubbly, beer or booze, just how many calories are we consuming from alcohol on a random Tuesday night?

Almost as much as we get from soda, apparently — an average of about 100 calories a day. That may not sound like a lot, but it can add up.

It's a question that's baffled evolutionary theorists for decades: if survival of the fittest is the rule, how have the genes that contribute to serious, debilitating mental disorders survived?

James Watson: The Double Helix and Beyond

Nov 16, 2012

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Well, luckily that we lost Dr. Crabtree that - I'm sorry that we did lose him, but fortunately for us we have our next guest with us here, it's Dr. James Watson, sitting right here with us. Welcome to the program.

JAMES WATSON: I'm glad to be back with you.

One of the world's largest health funding agencies — the Global Fund — made two big decisions Thursday.

The fund appointed Dr. Mark Dybul as its new executive director. Dybul is best known for leading the international fight against HIV during the Bush's administration through the President's Emergency Plan For AIDS.

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There's nothing quite like a deadline to focus the mind. Even a deadline that's not quite real.

Friday was originally the day that states were supposed to not only tell the federal government whether they planned to run their own health exchanges but also how they planned to do it.

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We turn now to Ireland and a controversy over a young Indian woman there, who died after being refused an abortion in a hospital.

As NPR's Philip Reeves reports, her case is reigniting debate over the near total ban on abortions in Ireland.

Online insurance markets set to begin selling health coverage to consumers next October may be hampered by software delays.

State regulators learned late last week that an electronic system most insurers will use to submit their policies for state and federal approvals won't be ready for testing next month, as originally planned. The lag is being blamed on the wait for several regulations from the Obama administration that are needed to update the software.

Tens of millions of Americans can't follow the government's guidelines for healthful eating because they can't afford or access enough fresh fruits and vegetables. Sometimes it's because they live in what's known as a "food desert," places devoid of markets with a good variety of quality fresh foods.

Update 8:20 p.m: Late Thursday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius extended the deadline until Dec. 14 for states to decide whether to run an exchange on their own.


Come Friday, states will have to decide whether they will run their own insurance exchanges under President Obama's sweeping health law.

These exchanges will be where people and small businesses go to shop for insurance.

Some rappers have an impressive ability to make up lyrics on the fly, in a style known as freestyle rap.

These performers have a lot in common with jazz musicians, it turns out.

Scientists have found artists in both genres are using their brains in similar ways when they improvise.

Members of a House subcommittee clashed repeatedly Wednesday with U.S. Food and Drug Commissioner Margaret Hamburg over the outbreak of meningitis caused by contaminated steroid injections.

A liberal think-tank closely allied with the Obama administration is proposing a health care spending plan it says could save hundreds of billions of dollars in entitlement spending without hurting middle- and low-income patients.

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In Coney Island, on the southern end of Brooklyn, long lines of EMS trucks and buses of National Guardsmen rolled down the roads this week — trekking from residential building to building.

Since Friday, dozens of troops and officials from the City Health Department have been dropping in at the hardest hit areas of New York, making sure all residents are equipped with the essentials: Do they have food? Water? Do they need medical attention?

In recent years, a disease spread by ticks has become more common across the country.

Lyme disease causes a skin rash, and in some cases, more serious symptoms. The rash usually goes away with antibiotics, but some people say they have other symptoms that persist for months or years.

Last spring, the global health community got some alarming news about its last, best treatment for malaria. The artemisinin-based drugs were losing their potency at two different places in Southeast Asia: in western Cambodia and along the border between Thailand and Myanmar.

I, Robot: Paraplegics Get An Assist

Nov 14, 2012

A robotic suit that gives the wearer superhuman powers sounds like the stuff of science fiction. But technology like that is making the leap from fantasy to reality.

Though much of the gear is still experimental, the equipment is giving some paraplegics a chance to walk again.

There's some fresh progress in the battle against polio in one of the three countries where it remains endemic.

Colorado has been moving to set up an insurance exchange since the health care law was passed. The government, insurance industry and the hospitals say they are glad their work over the last year has been worth it.

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When reporter Tony Dokoupil was a teenager, he found out that his father had sold marijuana, but he just thought his parents "were hippies." A few years ago, while working on a story about his father's drug dealer past, he discovered that actually, in the 1970s and '80s, his father, Anthony Dokoupil, had been a big-time marijuana smuggler.

"He was arrested in the early '90s on a job selling 17 tons of marijuana," Dokoupil tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross, "which was enough at the time to roll a joint for every college kid in the U.S."

Skipping breakfast to take a medical test is nobody's idea of fun. And it's one reason why many people never get around to having a cholesterol test.

So it's good news that some doctors are now saying that for most people, a nonfasting cholesterol test will do just fine.

But who gets to take a pass on the unpleasant skip-your-breakfast routine? To find out, Shots called Samia Mora. She's a cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital, and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.

Death, But Softly

Nov 13, 2012

It was 1569, or maybe early 1570, when it happened: A young French gentleman was out for a ride with his workers, all of them on horseback, when suddenly, "like a thunderbolt," he felt something thick and fleshy slam him from behind. (It was an overzealous, galloping assistant who couldn't stop in time.) Michel de Montaigne's horse crumbled, he went flying up, then down, he crashed to the ground. Then things went black.

When he came to, a minute or so later, he says,

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