Weekend Checkup: Venus' Syndrome, Deep Sleep Problems, More Chocolate

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SHE HAS WHAT? Sjogren's Syndrome (pronounced Show-grins), which caused tennis star Venus Williams to withdraw from the U.S. Open this week, is an autoimmune disease that typically affects women after 40.

The disorder can lead to dry eyes, dry mouth, joint pain and swelling, according to the Mayo Clinic. It's caused when white blood cells, the body's natural defenders against disease, instead begin attacking the moisture-producing glands. In rare cases, the kidneys and nerves can be damaged.

Sjogren's is often associated with other painful autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. NIne out of 10 patients are women and most develop symptoms after age 40. (Williams is 31.)

In a statement after withdrawing, Williams said, "I am thankful I finally have a diagnosis and am now focused on getting better and returning to the court soon."

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SLEEP WELL? Older men who get the least amount of deep sleep each night have a higher risk of high blood pressure, a new study shows.

The research, published in the journal Hypertension, found that it's not the quantity but the quality of sleep that's important. Sleep affected by breathing problems, like sleep apnea, and other issues can affect the risk for high blood pressure in men over 65.

The study looked at what's called "slow wave sleep," the deepest sleep stage during a typical night. Researchers followed  784 men (average age 75) without high blood pressure over 3 1/2 years and found that 243 men, who developed hypertension, had the least amount of deep sleep.

Slow wave sleep normally makes up about 25 percent of a healthy night's sleep, but the men who were at the highest risk for high blood pressure got only 4 percent deep sleep.

Dr. Susan Redline, an author of the study and a professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's hospital, told the New York Times that although the study followed only men, she believes the results would also apply to women who fail to get enough deep sleep.

How do you know if you're not getting enough deep sleep (other than your spouse elbowing you every time you snore)?

"If you're feeling tired and unrefreshed after a full night's sleep," Redline told the newspaper, "that's a good indication you need to talk to your doctor" or maybe see a sleep specialist.

LOVE CHOCOLATE? An analysis of seven studies on how chocolate affects heart health found, yet again, that eating chocolate can greatly reduce the risk for heart disease. Five of the studies found that those who ate the most chocolate reduced their risk of heart disease by a whopping 37 precent,  and stroke by nearly 30 percent.

The research, published in the British Medical Journal, found that "chocolate consumption has a positive

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influence on human health," including helping lower blood pressure, inflammation and insulin sensitivity.

Of course, the researchers also point out that eating too much chocolate -- especially the kind with lots of sugar -- can cause weight gain, which will negate all those lovely benefits.

In other words, as we all have been told zillions of times, everything in moderation.

Photo credit: Venus Williams: viewtennis.com

Sleeping man: warmsleepy via flickr.com

Chocolate: darkchocolatehealthbenefits.com

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