What Your Mid

By Amy NortonHealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Sept. 1, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Avoiding middle-age spread could be one way to delay the onset of dementia, a new study hints.

Researchers found that among 142 elderly adults with Alzheimer’s disease, those who were overweight at age 50 tended to develop the memory-robbing disorder earlier.

On average, the study participants were 83 years old when diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. But that age of onset varied according to people’s weight at age 50: For each unit increase in body mass index (BMI), Alzheimer’s set in about seven months earlier, on average.

Other studies have found that obesity may boost the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. But this research suggests it also speeds the onset, said senior researcher Dr. Madhav Thambisetty, of the U.S. National Institute on Aging.

“We think that’s important because one of the goals in Alzheimer’s research is to find ways to delay the onset of the disease,” Thambisetty said.

The study, published online Sept. 1 in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, does not prove that obesity, itself, hastens Alzheimer’s.

However, obese adults often have health conditions that have been linked to an increased Alzheimer’s risk, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

In the study, Thambisetty’s team did account for those conditions — plus smoking — and found that a higher BMI at age 50 was still connected to earlier Alzheimer’s onset.

What’s more, brain autopsies showed that Alzheimer’s patients who’d been heavier in middle age generally had more brain “tangles” — twisted strands of protein that build up in the brains of people with the disease.

It’s not clear, however, whether those brain abnormalities are the reason for the earlier Alzheimer’s, Thambisetty said. Plus, he noted, there were some factors that his team could not account for — such as the quality of people’s diets.

That’s important because research has suggested, for instance, that a Mediterranean diet — rich in vegetables, fruit, and “good” fats from olive oil and fish — may help stave off Alzheimer’s, according to the Institute on Aging.

There is also evidence that exercise, both physical and mental, could have a protective effect.

Still, another Alzheimer’s researcher said the bottom line is this: The same factors that affect heart health may also affect brain health.

“This study confirms that there is a bundle of risk factors for Alzheimer’s that we can modify,” said Dr. Malaz Boustani, director of the Center for Brain Care Innovation at Indiana University and a spokesman for the American Federation on Aging Research.

The study findings come from a long-term review of nearly 1,400 older adults who were free of dementia at the outset. Just over 10 percent were eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

The study can’t answer the question of why higher BMI — a calculation of body fat — in middle age was linked to earlier Alzheimer’s onset or to higher levels of brain tangles, Thambisetty said.

But, it’s “plausible” that obesity, itself, contributed, he said.

Many studies, he noted, have found that obesity can cause a state of chronic inflammation in the body, including the brain. And that inflammation might worsen the brain damage seen in people with Alzheimer’s.

While questions remain, there are already many health reasons to avoid mid-life obesity, Boustani pointed out. “This study gives people yet another reason to try to reduce their BMI,” he said.

Of course, he added, losing excess weight at the age of 40 or 50 is “no walk in the park.”

Thambisetty agreed, adding that’s why preventing obesity in the first place is key.

“We know that maintaining a healthy weight throughout life is important for a variety of reasons,” he said. “This study suggests that a healthy BMI, as early as mid-life, could also help delay Alzheimer’s disease.”

More information

The Alzheimer’s Association has advice on maintaining brain health.


4 Health Issues That Mess With Your Memory

 

Alzheimer’s isn’t the only condition that harms your memory. These four problems can also leave you feeling foggy.

 

 

Depression

People battling the blues have lower levels of serotonin and norepinephrine—two neurotransmitters that help boost attention and alertness, explains Majid Fotuhi, MD, chair of the Memosyn Neurology Institute and author of Boost Your Brain ($20, amazon.com). The disease is also linked to a smaller hippocampus, according to a 2004 Danish review.

Other symptoms:Â Fatigue, irritability, trouble sleeping, feeling hopeless, under- or overeating (lasting more than two weeks).

Rx:Â Your MD will refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist for counseling and possibly meds.

RELATED: 10 Signs You Should See a Doctor for Depression

 

 

Hypothyroidism

Your thyroid hormones control your metabolism, and if they’re low, it may take longer for nutrients to reach your brain.

Other symptoms:Â Weight gain, fatigue, dry skin, hair loss, feeling cold.

Rx:Â Your doc may prescribe synthetic thyroid hormone.

 

 

Sleep apnea

“When women in their 40s come to my office complaining of memory issues, one of the most common causes is sleep apnea,” says James Leverenz, MD, Cleveland director of the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health at the Cleveland Clinic. The condition causes a closing or narrowing of the airway passages, which can lower oxygen levels in the brain.

Other symptoms:Â Snoring, gasping, waking up exhausted, morning headaches, daytime sleepiness.

Rx:Â Remedies include losing weight, avoiding alcohol and possibly using a CPAP machine to keep your airway open with a stream of air.

 

 

Celiac disease

Researchers aren’t sure how this autoimmune disorder might affect memory, but one theory is that, left untreated, the disease may cause systemic inflammation that can have a negative effect on the brain.

Other symptoms:Â Fatigue, joint pain, migraines, possibly an itchy skin rash, diarrhea (in about a third of adult cases).

Rx:Â A small 2014 Australian study found that when celiac patients followed a gluten-free diet, brain-fog symptoms improved within a year.

RELATED: 12 Unexpected Things That Mess With Your Memory

 

Moderate Drinking May Benefit Early Stage Alzheimer's Patients

FRIDAY, Dec. 11, 2015 (HealthDay News) — A couple of drinks a day may lower the risk of premature death in people with early stage Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study.

The study included just over 320 people in Denmark with early stage Alzheimer’s disease. Those who had two to three alcoholic drinks a day had a 77 percent lower risk of dying during the study period than those who had one or fewer drinks a day, the investigators found.

“The results of our study point towards a potential, positive association of moderate alcohol consumption on mortality in patients with Alzheimer’s disease,” Sine Berntsen, from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, and colleagues wrote.

“However, we cannot solely, on the basis of this study, either encourage or advise against moderate alcohol consumption in [these] patients,” the study authors concluded.

The study did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between drinking and a lower risk of death from early Alzheimer’s, it only showed an association.

The report was published in the Dec. 10 edition of the online journal BMJ Open.

The study participants were followed for three years, and their caregivers let the researchers know how many drinks a day were consumed. During that time, 53 (16.5 percent) of the study patients died.

Most of the study volunteers had one or fewer alcoholic drinks daily. About 17 percent had two to three drinks a day. Eight percent didn’t drink at all, and about 4 percent drank more than three alcoholic drinks a day, the study authors reported.

The reduced risk of death among moderate drinkers remained after the researchers accounted for a number of significant factors, including age, gender, other health problems, education level, smoking, quality of life, and whether a person lived alone.

One explanation for the finding may be that moderate drinkers have a larger social network, which has been linked to improved quality of—and possibly longer—life, the study authors suggested.

But, they added, more research is needed to get a better idea of how alcohol affects mental decline and disease progression in people with early stage Alzheimer’s disease.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about Alzheimer’s disease.


Brain Games Improve Memory, But Only Under Some Circumstances

You’ve probably seen ads for computer games designed to make you smarter and keep you feeling young—mentally, at least. But maybe you’ve also heard that their benefits have been exaggerated, if not debunked entirely. So what’s the deal with these brain training games? Are they worth the time and money?

Well, a new review of research found they can improve memory and mood in older adults who’ve begun to experience a decline in their mental abilities. The caveat: Most of the research involved supervised group training—which means the games may not be as helpful to folks playing them at home.

The new review also showed that brain training, even in a group setting, didn’t do any good for people already diagnosed with .

The idea behind brain training is to enhance memory and thinking skills by practicing mentally challenging exercises designed to look and feel like video games. Several software programs and websites have been marketed for these purposes in recent years, but some have faced criticism or legal action for overstating their benefits. And some studies have suggested that any mental boost from such programs could be due to a placebo effect.    

RELATED: 7 Ways to Protect Your Memory

Indeed, there has been a lack of consensus in the scientific community about the true value of these programs. So to take a big-picture look, researchers from the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre combined data from previously published randomized clinical trials, including nearly 700 participants and spanning more than 20 years, into one large pool known as a meta-analysis.

Of those studies, 17 included adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI)—a decline in thinking and memory that has not yet affected daily living skills—and 12 included adults with full-blown dementia. MCI has at least a 10% chance of progressing to dementia within a year.

When the researchers combined and analyzed data only involving people with MCI, they found that brain training led to improvements in global cognition, memory, learning and attention, mood, and self-perceived quality of life. However, when they added in data from the 12 studies on people with dementia, that association disappeared.

Lead author Amit Lampit, PhD, a research fellow in the School of Psychology, says that brain training can play an important role in helping to reduce early symptoms of memory loss. “Our research shows that brain training can maintain or even improve cognitive skills among older people at very high risk of cognitive decline,” he said in a press release, “and it’s an inexpensive and safe treatment.”

RELATED: Can Probiotics Help People With Alzheimer’s? Study Shows Promise

But, Lampit says, most large trials have been done in supervised settings—and it’s unknown whether online programs used at home use would have the same effects. In fact, the researchers did compare computerized brain training in the two types of settings in an earlier meta-analysis from 2014. The results weren’t promising: They found that doing these exercises in a group and with a trainer provided significant benefits, but doing so at home did not.

“Think of it this way: For most people, joining a gym or aerobic class are more likely to help them achieve the results they want than buying home fitness equipment,” Lampit told Health. “Similarly, doing cognitive training in a supervised format will help people to persevere with their training program, do the exercises that fit them best, and problem-solve on the fly.”

Rather than recommend at-home brain training at this time, Lampit says he would like to see more community centers and clinicians establish group facilities similar to those with evidence already behind them.

RELATED: 9 Foods That May Help Save Your Memory

Michael Valenzuela, PhD, leader of the Regenerative Neuroscience Group at the Brain and Mind Centre, says that new technology may also make effective brain training accessible to more people.

“The great challenges in this area are maintaining training gains over the long term and moving this treatment out of the clinic and into people’s homes,” he said in a press release. “This is exactly what we are working on right now.”

While there’s evidence that memory exercises can improve memory-related tasks, Lampit cautions that it’s still hard to tell what that means for noticeable, real-life symptoms.

“Whether training gains transfer into everyday function is difficult to know,” he says. “As recently noted by FDA officials, we simply do not have outcome measures that are objective and sensitive enough to detect functional change in people who do not have dementia.”

RELATED: 12 Unexpected Things That Mess With Your Memory

And there’s still no evidence that brain training can actually prevent dementia. “This will require very large trials with long follow-ups and training periods,” Lampit says, “and the results of our meta-analysis provide the necessary evidence to motivate such studies.”

In fact, Lampit and Valenzuela are part of a large Australian trial that will test whether a tailored program of lifestyle modification, including weekly brain training over four years, can indeed stave off dementia.

The new study results were published this week in the American Journal of Psychiatry. In previous meta-analyses, the researchers have also found that brain training can be beneficial to other groups such as healthy older adults, people with depression, and people with Parkinson’s disease.

“Taken together, these wide-ranging analyses have provided the necessary evidence to pursue clinical implementation of brain training in the aged-care sector,” Lampit says, “while continuing research aimed at improving training effectiveness.”

2 in 10 Alzheimer's Cases May Be Misdiagnosed

TUESDAY, July 26, 2016 (HealthDay News) — Alzheimer’s disease is often misdiagnosed, possibly causing undue stress for those who don’t have the disease but are told they do, and delays in treatment for others, two new studies reveal.

Although no cure or effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease exists, a correct diagnosis is essential because some drugs can delay its progress and help preserve quality of life for as long as possible. An early diagnosis also gives patients time to plan for their end-of-life care, experts say.

“There are drugs that are beneficial for at least a short amount of time that can be given at a very early stage and possibly boost memory,” said Dean Hartley, director of science initiatives, medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer’s Association.

“Planning your care and finances is extremely important,” he said. “With a correct diagnosis people can also be put into a clinical trial to see if new drugs will work.”

The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is made based on symptoms. No blood test or imaging test is currently available to diagnose the disease with 100 percent accuracy, which is why misdiagnoses occur. In addition, Alzheimer’s is a much more complex disease than once thought, making a correct diagnosis even harder. However, progress is being made in finding better ways to diagnose the disease, Hartley said.

In the first study, a team of researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., led by Melissa Murray, found that men may be misdiagnosed more often.

One reason may be that men in the study seemed to develop Alzheimer’s at a younger age than women and had a more aggressive form of the disease. Men tended to develop Alzheimer’s in their 60s, while women developed it in their 70s, 80s and 90s, said Murray, an assistant professor of neuroscience.

Men also seemed to have Alzheimer’s in different areas of the brain than women. This may account for the misdiagnosis among men, because their symptoms can be different than those of women, Murray said. She said men’s symptoms may be behavioral, or there may be language difficulty or motor problems instead of the memory problems usually associated with Alzheimer’s.

“Age and sex interact,” Murray said.

This study included information from the State of Florida brain bank. The researchers examined more than 1,600 brains of people who had Alzheimer’s. The people had ranged in age from 37 to 102.

Diagnosis is important so people can take care of financial planning and end-of-life wishes, Murray suggested.

In the second study, researchers from the Keenan Research Center for Biomedical Science at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Canada, looked at inconsistencies between clinical and autopsy diagnoses in more than 1,000 people listed in the National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center database.

“Even with all the latest diagnostic methods, the discrepancy between the clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and the pathological diagnosis is about 20 percent,” said senior researcher adjunct scientist Dr. David Munoz.

Munoz and his colleagues found that 78 percent of the patients had a correct diagnosis in the clinic, which was later confirmed in an autopsy of the brain. However, nearly 11 percent of those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in the clinic didn’t have the disease. And, another nearly 11 percent who weren’t diagnosed with Alzheimer’s actually had the disease.

Those falsely diagnosed with Alzheimer’s had other conditions that accounted for their symptoms, including Lewy body dementia, brain atrophy and other types of dementia, the researchers found.

People whose Alzheimer’s diagnosis was missed also may have had other types of dementia, such as Parkinson’s disease dementia, vascular dementia or Lewy body dementia, the study authors reported.

The results of both studies were scheduled for presentation July 26 at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, in Toronto. Findings from meetings are generally considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

For more about Alzheimer’s disease, visit the Alzheimer’s Association.

Ibuprofen No Better at Reducing Alzheimer's Risk

WEDNESDAY, May 28 (HealthDay News) — The painkillers called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) appear to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, but no one medication in the class works better than the others, a new analysis finds.

Data from the study, the largest of its kind, contradicts some previous studies that found that ibuprofen might exceed others in its class when it comes to preventing this type of dementia. Besides ibuprofen, other types of NSAIDs include naproxen and aspirin.

But the bottom line, the study authors said, is that the findings don’t support the use of NSAIDs to prevent or treat Alzheimer’s, at least not yet anyway.

“You do not want to take NSAIDs to prevent against Alzheimer’s,” said study senior author Peter P. Zandi, an assistant professor of mental health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. “We don’t have any sufficient data to make any recommendations like that, but we need to figure out what’s going on so we can better understand the explanation for this finding.”

Added Dr. Gary Kennedy, head of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City: “The reader should be aware that what was conveyed [by the NSAIDs in the study] was a fraction of a benefit.”

The findings are published in the May 28 online issue of Neurology.

While some observational studies have indicated that NSAIDs — especially ibuprofen — might lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, a recent large, randomized, controlled trial found no effect in treating the disease. Meanwhile, some basic science studies have indicated that certain NSAIDs might reduce production of a peptide fragment called A beta 42, which is a key component of the plaques that develop in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.

The researchers behind the new study combined data from six prospective studies involving 13,499 people to compare the group of NSAIDs known as selective A beta-lowering agents (SALAs) to non-SALA NSAIDs. SALAs have been found to lower A beta 42 levels.

Overall, people who regularly took NSAIDs had a 23 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s. But there didn’t appear to be any difference in the effectiveness of the different types of NSAIDs.

And ibuprofen, a commonly used SALA, was no more or less effective than naproxen, a commonly used non-SALA, Zandi said.

The findings do cast doubt on the theory that NSAIDs may help prevent Alzheimer’s by reducing production of A beta 42, he said.

“That leaves a conundrum, a scientific mystery,” Zandi said. “What’s very clear is that observational data is very consistent, that there is a reduction in risk among people using NSAIDs, so there’s something going on.”

What exactly is going on, however, is unclear.

“The question of anti-inflammatory drugs being used as a protective mechanism against Alzheimer’s has been investigated for over a decade now,” said Maria Carrillo, director of medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago. “We know that there have been some controversial results out there, so currently what we also know is that they [NSAIDs] are not approved for the treatment or prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Association does not recommend you take NSAIDs on a daily basis because there are a lot of side effects… The jury is still out on whether NSAIDs can be protective against Alzheimer’s.”

More information

Visit the Alzheimer’s Association for more on this condition.

SOURCES: Peter P. Zandi, Ph.D., assistant professor, mental health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore; Maria Carrillo, Ph.D., director, medical and scientific relations, Alzheimer’s Association, Chicago; Gary J. Kennedy, M.D., director, geriatric psychiatry, Montefiore Medical Center, New York City; May 28, 2008, Neurology, online

By Amanda GardnerHealthDay Reporter

Last Updated: May 28, 2008

Copyright © 2008 ScoutNews, LLC. All rights reserved.

Sleep Apnea May Damage Brain Cells Associated With Memory

June 11, 2008 — People with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a common sleep disorder linked to heavy snoring, may lose tissue in brain regions that store short-term memories—the type used to recall a recent joke or recognize a person you met at a party—say researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Daytime confusion and memory loss are known symptoms of sleep apnea; people with the condition often rouse hundreds of times a night (without fully waking) and are tired and forgetful the next day. But a study in the June 27, 2008, edition of the journal Neuroscience Letters suggests that there may be more to it than just that.

Why sleep apnea may affect memoryMemories are formed in the mammillary bodies, structures on the underside of the brain that resemble small breasts. When UCLA neuroscientists scanned the brains of 43 sleep apnea patients and 66 healthy volunteers using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), they discovered that the sleep apnea patients’ mammillary bodies were nearly 20% smaller than those of the untroubled sleepers.

“People always thought the memory deficit was just because their sleep was disturbed and they felt terrible,” says study coauthor Ronald Harper, PhD, distinguished professor of neurobiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “But it looks to be that the brain is actually injured, and the particular brain structure that’s damaged is one of several that transfer recent memories into long-term memories.”

Harper hypothesizes that repeated drops in oxygen lead to this brain injury and says that the more severe cases or those that go untreated may lead to greater damage in the mammillary bodies.

“You only have to watch a sleep apnea patient try to breathe at night to know the danger,” Harper says. “It’s strikingly clear that their brain is not getting enough oxygen.” He explains that oxygen in the blood drops to dangerous levels when the throat collapses during sleep, a person rouses enough to gasp for breath (without fully waking), then the blood oxygen level shoots back up when breathing starts again. When the brain is flushed with oxygen over and over again after these drops, free oxygen radicals are produced and damage the brain.

How short-term memory worksIn the movie 50 First Dates, Drew Barrymore’s character wakes up every morning unable to remember the previous day. And so each day when she encounters Adam Sandler’s character, it’s as if she is meeting him for the first time. This is an exaggerated case, says Harper, but it’s an example of what might happen if the mammillary bodies didn’t function properly in the brain.

“It’s a very particular kind of memory loss, associated with memories that you’ve incorporated very recently. After five minutes or so, these are turned into long-term memories, but for some reason folks with recent memory deficits can’t turn those into long-term memories,” says Harper. “So when they’re introduced to someone or told a joke or explained a relationship between two things, after about five minutes they will no longer recall it. Everybody they meet will seemingly be for first time after five minutes; you can tell them a joke and it will always be funny to them because they’re not able to store it as a long-term memory.”

This type of recall problem, and the telltale shrunken mammillary bodies, have also been found in patients with chronic alcoholism and Alzheimer’s disease.

Who is at riskSleep apnea affects more than 20 million Americans, although many people don’t know they have the disorder because most symptoms occur at night. You may have sleep apnea if you snore or gasp for breath while sleeping at night, or if you wake frequently to use the bathroom. If you are a heavy drinker, overweight, or have a thick neck, your risk is also higher. (Read more risk factors for sleep apnea.)

Often spouses or bed partners are the people who first recognize nighttime signs of sleep apnea. Daytime symptoms, such as excessive sleepiness, trouble focusing, headaches, and sore throats, may also be warning signs. Without treatment, sleep apnea very rarely goes away on its own, so it’s important to know when to seek medical attention.

What you can do to protect yourselfUCLA researchers plan to study whether vitamin B1 (also known as thiamin) supplements might help sleep apnea patients regain some of their lost brain tissue. The vitamin helps move glucose into the cells, preventing their death from oxygen starvation, and physicians currently use it to treat this type of memory loss in alcoholic patients.

It’s too soon to say whether vitamin B1 can help sleep apnea patients, says Harper, but he notes that getting your daily recommended dose can’t hurt. Foods rich in vitamin B1 include whole grains, lean meats, fish, and dried beans. (Talk to your doctor before taking any over-the-counter supplements.)

What is proven to help stimulate new brain growth, however, is regular exercise. “The evidence is pretty strong that if you exercise, you generate new cells in the hippocampus,” says Harper. “And that’s very encouraging because the hippocampus is also very important to memory.”

Sleep apnea can be treated with dental devices, surgery, or a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine—a mask worn at night to help keep airways open.

Previous research has shown that sleep apnea can contribute to high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, automobile accidents, and other health concerns. The UCLA findings highlight yet another reason the condition is so dangerous when left untreated, Elizabeth G. Nabel, director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, said in a statement. “These results underscore the importance of early diagnosis and treatment of sleep-disordered breathing, which can have long-term effects on patients’ health and well-being.”

By Amanda MacMillan


Related Links:What You Need to Know: Snoring and Sleep ApneaVideo: “When I’m on the CPAP Machine, I Will Wake Up”Printable List: 5 Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Sleep Apnea


(PHOTO: THE SAURELAND TEAM/DR. EBERHARDT AND WANDA SAURELAND)

News Roundup: Dense Bones and Breast Cancer, Detox

Hip-bone density, breast cancer propensityWomen with stronger bones after menopause may be at greater risk of breast cancer than those with thinner bones. This doesn’t mean that frail bones are good, or that you should skip osteoporosis-preventing medicine, according to the study in Cancer. But the University of Arizona researchers suggest that it does mean that postmenopausal bone-density tests can serve a dual purpose: an indicator of breast cancer risk and of bone-fracture risk. Why the link? Lifelong factors that result in stronger bones—such as hormone exposure—may also increase the cancer risk. (Find other breast cancer risk factors.)

Woman damages brain on detox dietA British woman suffered brain damage after going on the Amazing Hydration Diet, according to reports. Dawn Page, 52, was awarded about $1.6 million after going on the diet (on the advice of a “nutritional therapist”), which recommended drinking large amounts of water and limiting salt intake. She suffered severe vomiting and a major epileptic seizure, and now has memory, concentration, and speech problems. Another example of harmful water intake: Last year a 28-year-old California woman died after participating in a radio-station contest in which she consumed copious amounts of water.

They want to get into your genesA Switzerland-based company has launched a DNA-based dating service, according to TechCrunch. For just $199 the company can help you find your perfect DNA match. Wait a minute, wouldn’t that be your second cousin? According to GenePartner, the company doesn’t actually use your DNA to match you up with someone else—instead, it claims it has analyzed “hundreds of couples” to derive a genetic-based algorithm for successful relationships. Sounds like a bad case of cupidity to us.

Will McDonald’s introduce the Big Mackerel?There have been lots of examples of immigrants adopting the diets of Western countries and then suffering the dietary consequences. Here’s another: A new study shows that middle-aged men in Japan have twice the blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids as Japanese-American men (and white men) living in the United States. They also have a lot less clogging of the arteries—supporting the argument that fish oil is a protective fat, heart-wise. The article in Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggests that the Japanese appetite for oily fish may explain the advantage.

Brain scan may pick up Alzheimer’s earlyResearchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee performed functional MRI bran scans on 28 healthy people aged 45 to 65. And they found that the “functional connectivity” between two memory-processing brain structures was 65% lower in people who carried a common gene variant associated with an increased risk of both heart disease and Alzheimer’s. The results were presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Chicago.

(PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO)

News Roundup: Gel Cuts Mammogram Pain, Wii Therapy for Burn Patients, and More

Anesthetic gel numbs mammogram painAn over-the-counter numbing gel (similar to the stuff used for sunburn pain) could make mammograms more tolerable, according to a study in Radiology. Researchers from St. Luke’s Mountain State’s Tumor Institute in Boise, Idaho, pretreated 418 women aged 32 to 89 with ibuprofen, acetaminophen, a 4% lidocaine gel, a placebo pill, or placebo gel (either alone or in combination) prior to mammograms. Only the lidocaine gel reduced discomfort more than a placebo. The gel is applied 30-65 minutes before a mammogram and washed off just before the procedure; it doesn’t affect mammogram quality, the researchers say. You may not find this at local clinics anytime soon, though: The medical establishment doesn’t always pay as much attention to pain-killing measures as it should. (Learn more about breast cancer tests here.)

Wake up! Too much sleep linked to stroke?A recent study in the journal Stroke suggested that postmenopausal women who slept more than nine hours a night had a greater risk of stroke than those who did not. In the study of 93,000 women, researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that sleeping nine or more hours a night was associated with a 1.6- to 1.7-fold higher risk of stroke in women aged 50-79. (In comparison, migraine headaches increase stroke risk 3- to 4-fold, and a combination of smoking, oral contraceptives, and migraines is linked to 34-fold higher risk.) But don’t read too much into this statistical analysis: Correlation doesn’t prove cause. It’s possible that some other factor, such as sleep apnea or another health condition, could be responsible for the stroke risk. For now, stay tuned, but don’t lose any sleep over it. (Learn more about sleep and your health here.)

New York City calorie-posting law finally has teethHow many calories in a Big Apple? Well, if it’s baked into a McDonald’s pie you’ll get the calorie count along with the food in New York: The city’s long-publicized law requiring fast-food and chain restaurants to post calories is now being enforced (it’s been in place since May, and went through a round of legal appeals, but Saturday was the deadline for postings to go up). Restaurants that don’t pony up risk a $2,000 fine. We’ve blogged about this and shown photos of the new postings, and now we hope that other cities—including those in the South with supersize rates of obesity—will hop on the bandwagon. (McDonald’s apple pie answer: 250.)

Alzheimer’s news: The good, the bad, and the depressingFor anyone who knows a person with Alzheimer’s, it’s been a frustrating week to follow the progress of research. First there was a promising vaccine that cleared amyloid plaques (thought to cause the disease) from patient’s brains—but didn’t improve their symptoms. Then a 12-person study captured attention because it suggested that treating patients with the rheumatoid arthritis drug etanercept (Enbrel) could restore speech. The problem? Questions about methodology and conflict of interest arose, according to the Reuters report. And a video released as evidence of the treatment’s success did not offer much encouragement. In it, a nearly nonverbal patient appears to recover the ability to name objects, such as canoe and bench, but not much more. (Learn more about Alzheimer’s Disease here.)

Wii-hab therapy: Video games for burn patientsWe’ve already raved about the Nintendo Wii’s fun games and health potential. It’s been used as a tool for rehabbing seniors recovering from strokes and broken bones, and now therapists from the William Randolph Hearst Burn Center at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center are using the Wii to help burn patients recover from their injuries. Unlike traditional video-game consoles, which engage only the thumbs and fingers, the Wii requires broader swinging and stretching motions (think tennis, baseball, bowling)—the kind of movements that are the most valuable (if the most painful) to recovering burn victims or patients with skin grafts. Also used at Cornell: Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock.

Belly-button incision could make kidney donation easierCleveland Clinic surgeons have pioneered a new kidney-removal procedure that requires only one small incision to a donor’s belly button. As the AP reports, the benefits of the novel navel job—compared with today’s standard four-incision laparoscopic procedure—have been dramatic: You need one month to recover, down from three; you get back to work faster; and you take less pain medication. During the procedure, doctors insert a tube containing a camera and surgical tools into the navel and inflate the belly with carbon dioxide. The doctors cut the kidney from its surrounding connecting tissue, wrap it in plastic (it shrinks when the blood supply is cut), and pull it out.

(PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES)

Alcohol: Does Drinking Shrink Your Brain?

By Theresa TamkinsMONDAY, Oct 13 (Health.com) — What’s good for the heart may hurt the brain, according to a new study of the effects of alcohol.

People who drink alcohol—even the moderate amounts that help prevent heart disease—have a smaller brain volume than those who do not, according to a study in the Archives of Neurology.

While a certain amount of brain shrinkage is normal with age, greater amounts in some parts of the brain have been linked to dementia.

“Decline in brain volume—estimated at 2% per decade—is a natural part of aging,” says Carol Ann Paul, who conducted the study when she was at the Boston University School of Public Health. She had hoped to find that alcohol might protect against such brain shrinkage.

“However, we did not find the protective effect,” says Paul, who is now an instructor in the neuroscience program at Wellesley College. “In fact, any level of alcohol consumption resulted in a decline in brain volume.”

In the study, Paul and colleagues looked at 1,839 healthy people with an average age of about 61. The patients underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain and reported how much they tippled.

Overall, the more alcohol consumed, the smaller the brain volume, with abstainers having a higher brain volume than former drinkers, light drinkers (1–7 per week), moderate drinkers (8–14 per week), and heavy drinkers (14-plus per week).

Men were more likely to be heavy drinkers than women. But the link between brain volume and alcohol wasn’t as strong in men. For men, only those who were heavy drinkers had a smaller brain volume than those who consumed little or no alcohol.

In women, even moderate drinkers had a smaller brain volume than abstainers or former drinkers.

Next: Why would alcohol encourage brain shrinkage?

It’s not clear why even modest amounts of alcohol may shrink the brain, although alcohol is “known to dehydrate tissues, and constant dehydration can have negative effects on any sensitive tissue,” says Paul.

“We always knew that alcohol at higher dosages results in shrinking of the brain and cognitive deficit,” says Petros Levounis, MD, director of the Addiction Institute of New York at St. Luke’s – Roosevelt Hospital Center, who was not involved in the study. “What is new with this article is that it shows brain shrinking at lower doses of alcohol.”

However, the study did not demonstrate that the smaller brain volume actually impaired memory or mental function, notes James Garbutt, MD, professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

And the differences between brain volumes in drinkers and nondrinkers were quite small—less than 1.5% between abstainers and heavy drinkers.

“We’re talking very small differences here,” says Dr. Garbutt, who was not involved in the study. “We’re not seeing 10%–20% shrinkage.”

However, he says, reduction in brain mass is an interesting finding. “But we have a long way to go to figure out the implications of it.”

(PHOTO: FOTOLIA)


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