Delaware Public Media

Patti Neighmond

Many American teenagers try to put in a full day of school, homework, after-school activities, sports and college prep on too little sleep. As evidence grows that chronic sleep deprivation puts teens at risk for physical and mental health problems, there is increasing pressure on school districts around the country to consider a later start time.

We know we need to exercise for our health, but a lifelong exercise habit may also help us feel younger and stay stronger well into our senior years. In fact, people in their 70s who have been exercising regularly for decades seem to have put a brake on the aging process, maintaining the heart, lung and muscle fitness of healthy people at least 30 years younger.

The marketing is enticing: Get stronger muscles and healthier bodies with minimal effort by adding protein powder to your morning shake or juice drink. Or grab a protein bar at lunch or for a quick snack. Today, you can find protein supplements everywhere — online or at the pharmacy, grocery store or health food store. They come in powders, pills and bars.

Nearly 19 million Americans take fish oil supplements and some 37 percent of us take vitamin D. Many may be motivated by research that has suggested these pills can protect heart health and prevent cancer.

Many people routinely take nutritional supplements such as vitamin D and fish oil in the hopes of staving off major killers like cancer and heart disease.

But the evidence about the possible benefits of the supplements has been mixed.

Now, long-awaited government-funded research has produced some of the clearest evidence yet about the usefulness of taking the supplements. And the results — published in two papers — are mostly disappointing.

If you're a first-time mother and you opt for epidural anesthesia during labor, your doctor may suggest you wait about an hour after your cervix is completely dilated before you start trying to push the baby down the birth canal.

But a study published Tuesday in JAMA, the flagship journal of the American Medical Association, suggests that might not be the best advice.

If you're in the hospital or a doctor's office with a painful problem, you'll likely be asked to rate your pain on a scale of 0 to 10 – with 0 meaning no pain at all and 10 indicating the worst pain you can imagine. But many doctors and nurses say this rating system isn't working and they're trying a new approach.

It's been clear for many years that vitamin D helps keep bones strong, but studies have been inconclusive and conflicting about the vitamin's value in protecting against certain cancers, including colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in the United States, most frequently diagnosed among adults over 65. To catch those typically slow-growing malignancies early, when they can often be cured, most doctors' groups recommend colorectal cancer screening starting at age 50.

But the American Cancer Society this week changed its advice and is recommending that screening start five years earlier.

Though Americans spend an estimated $80 billion to $100 billion each year in hopes of easing their aching backs, the evidence is mounting that many pricey standard treatments — including surgery and spinal injections — are often ineffective and can even worsen and prolong the problem.

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