Weight-loss surgery can reduce migraines, study shows

Here's a surprising treatment for migraine headaches: gastric bypass surgery.

A study by researchers from the University of Iowa found that the weight-loss surgery can rid more than 70 percent of morbidly obese patients of migraines. The team questioned 81 bypass patients with migraines who had surgery between March 2000 and September 2009.

The surgery seemed to have the most impact on people who developed migraine symptoms after they became obese. Eighty percent of that group stopped having migraines and 14 percent had partial improvement. Forty-six percent of people with earlier-onset migraines stopped having the headaches after surgery, and 29 percent had some improvement.

Isaac Samuel, who presented the data last week at the annual meeting of the American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery, said it's not clear whether obese people are more likely to have migraines. Some studies have found a correlation between obesity and the frequency and severity of migraines.

Obesity can cause other kinds of headaches that feel like a migraine, so researchers relied on a doctor's diagnosis of migraine. Samuel said the weight-loss surgery may help by reducing inflammation, changing gastrointestinal hormones, or reducing intracranial pressure.

- Stacey Burling

2 to 3 hours in front of TV may be hazardous to your health

"A wake-up call for couch potatoes." That's how Frank Hu, a Harvard University nutrition and epidemiology expert, describes his findings that watching just two to three hours of TV daily may worsen health and shorten lifespan.

With a Danish researcher, Hu analyzed self-reported TV-watching habits from 8 previous studies that tracked the health of more than 25,000 people, followed for at least 6 years on average.

The analysis linked two hours of daily viewing to small but significant increases in risks: 20 percent higher chance of type 2 diabetes; 15 percent higher chance of heart disease; and 13 percent higher chance of death. With a third hour of TV, the added risk of death grew to 30 percent.

Greater health risks remained even after the researchers took into account differences in diet and body mass index.

Hu stresses that "cutting back on TV watching and becoming active" are important steps to better health.

The study was in last week's Journal of the American Medical Association.

- Helen Shen

A cat or dog in a child's life can ward off pet allergies

If you want to protect your child from developing allergies to cats or dogs, get a cat or dog early in the child's life.

That's the counterintuitive conclusion of a study by researchers from Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. It adds to evidence that furry pets actually reduce allergic sensitization - if the first exposure is early enough.

For their study, the researchers interviewed 566 18-year-olds who had been enrolled at birth in the Detroit Childhood Allergy Study. Of those teens, 101 were allergic to dogs, and 116 were allergic to cats.

However, only 13 teens who had lived with a kitty before age 1 were allergic to cats; they had half the allergy risk of teens who weren't around cats until later ages.

Dogs were more complex. Male teens who had dogs before age 1 cut their allergy risk by 60 percent, but females did not - unless they were born by cesarean section.

The researchers speculate that indoor pets increase the home's "microbial load," which helps a baby's immune system develop a lifelong tolerance. C-sections, they theorize, may change the mix of children's gut microbes.

The study appears in the current issue of Clinical & Experimental Allergy.

- Marie McCullough

Gastric bypass didn't reduce mortality for over-50 obese men

For middle-aged, severely obese men, gastric bypass may not add years to life.

Researchers from the Durham VA Medical Center found that for high-risk patients, around 50 years old and morbidly obese, gastric bypass surgery did not reduce their chance of dying prematurely.

The study, published in last week's Journal of the American Medical Association, used medical records to compare the death rates of 850 veterans, mostly white males, who underwent bariatric surgery with a matched group of veterans who did not have surgery.

After 6.7 years, almost 7 percent of the surgery patients had died, so the treatment "was not associated with decreased mortality."

Previous studies have found a survival benefit from bariatric procedures, but these have focused mostly on younger females, the authors say.

Studies are needed to show whether slightly less invasive weight-loss surgery, such as adjustable gastric banding, would be beneficial for older males.

- Juliana Schatz