Eating Nuts May Improve Brain Health

Long-term, high nut consumption could be the key to better cognitive health in older people according to new research from the University of South Australia.

In a study of 4822 Chinese adults aged 55+ years, researchers found that eating more than 10 grams of nuts a day was positively associated with better mental functioning, including improved thinking, reasoning and memory.

Lead researcher, UniSA’s Dr Ming Li, says the study is the first to report an association between cognition and nut intake in older Chinese adults, providing important insights into increasing mental health issues (including dementia) faced by an ageing population.

“Population aging is one of the most substantial challenges of the twenty-first century. Not only are people living longer, but as they age, they require additional health support which is placing unprecedented pressure on aged-care and health services,” Dr Li says.

“In China, this is a massive issue, as the population is ageing far more rapidly than almost any other country in the world.

“Improved and preventative health care – including dietary modifications – can help address the challenges that an aging population presents.

“By eating more than 10 grams (or two teaspoons) of nuts per day older people could improve their cognitive function by up to 60 per cent– compared to those not eating nuts – effectively warding off what would normally be experienced as a natural two-year cognition decline.”

China has one of the fastest growing aging populations. In 2029, China’s population is projected to peak at 1.44 billion, with the ratio of young to old dramatically imbalanced by the rising ranks of the elderly. By 2050, 330 million Chinese will be over age 65, and 90.4 million will be over age 80, representing the world’s largest population of this most elderly age group.

More broadly, the World Health Organization says that by 2020, the number of people aged 60 years and older will outnumber children younger than five years old.

The UniSA study analysed nine waves of China Health Nutrition Survey data collected over 22 years, finding that 17 per cent of participants were regular consumers of nuts (mostly peanuts). Dr Li says peanuts have specific anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects which can alleviate and reduce cognitive decline.

“Nuts are known to be high in healthy fats, protein and fibre with nutritional properties that can lower cholesterol and improve cognitive health,” Dr Li says.

“While there is no cure for age-related cognition decline and neurogenerative disease, variations in what people eat are delivering improvements for older people.”

The World Health Organization estimates that globally, the number of people living with dementia is at 47 million.

By 2030, this is projected to rise to 75 million and by 2050, global dementia cases are estimated to almost triple. China has the largest population of people with dementia.

“As people age, they naturally experience changes to conceptual reasoning, memory, and processing speed. This is all part of the normal ageing process,” Dr Li says

“But age is also the strongest known risk factor for cognitive disease. If we can find ways to help older people retain their cognitive health and independence for longer – even by modifying their diet – then this absolutely worth the effort.”

Source: University of South Australia

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Stay Away From Sugary Sodas, Spare Your Heart

Amy Norton wrote . . . . . . . . .

People who regularly down sugar-laden sodas, juices and sports drinks aren’t doing their heart any favors.

A new study of more than 110,000 U.S. health professionals found that the more people drank sugary beverages, the higher their risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

People who consumed at least two per day were about one-third more likely to die of heart disease or stroke, versus those who rarely had sugar-sweetened drinks.

And it wasn’t just because that the latter group was more health-conscious. The risk remained when the researchers factored in overall diet and habits such as exercise, smoking and drinking.

While Americans eat plenty of junk food, there is reason to focus on sugary drinks in particular, according to Vasanti Malik, the lead researcher on the study.

“They’re the single biggest contributor of added sugar to Americans’ diets,” said Malik, a research scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The new findings do not prove that sugary drinks, per se, raise the odds of dying from cardiovascular disease, Malik said.

But, she added, many studies have linked the beverages to ill health effects — including weight gain and heightened risks of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

“If you look at the overall literature, the association is strong,” Malik said. “This study is offering another piece of evidence that we should reduce our intake of sugar-sweetened beverages.”

Debbie Petitpain, a registered dietitian not involved in the study, agreed.

“There’s no downside to cutting down on sugar-sweetened beverages,” said Petitpain, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

In fact, she added, it’s a simple way to slash excess calories — easier than, say, eating a smaller dinner every night.

That doesn’t just mean cutting out soda, though. “We used to only talk about soda,” Petitpain said. “But added sugars are lurking in many other beverages, too — juices, sports drinks, coffee drinks.”

Ideally, people should replace those beverages with water, Petitpain said. “But if you really need that sweet taste,” she added, “there are low-calorie alternatives.”

In this study, published online March 18 in the journal Circulation, there was evidence that replacing one sugary drink each day with an artificially sweetened version could trim the risk of dying from heart disease.

On the other hand, women who drank a lot of artificially sweetened beverages — four or more per day — had an increased risk of dying (from any cause) during the study period.

Does that mean artificial sweeteners somehow contributed? Malik did not discount that possibility, but also said there’s no proof of that from this study. She offered an alternative explanation: “reverse causation.”

That is, women who were trying to lose weight or manage health problems may have switched to artificially sweetened drinks.

A group representing the low-calorie beverage industry stressed that point. “These products are proven safe and beneficial for those managing their weight and blood glucose [sugar] levels,” said Robert Rankin, president of the Calorie Control Council.

Alice Lichtenstein is a professor of nutrition science at Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy in Boston, and a spokesperson for the American Heart Association.

She said it’s hard to interpret the finding on artificially sweetened drinks. But in general, Lichtenstein said, “the best advice we can give to people is to drink mainly water.”

And if you need more zip, she added, add a slice of orange or lime — or try an unsweetened flavored water.

The findings are based on over 37,700 male health professionals and 80,000-plus female nurses who were followed from the 1980s until 2014. During that time, nearly 7,900 died of heart disease or stroke.

People who regularly downed sugary drinks did tend to eat more red meat and sugar, and fewer fruits and vegetables. They also got less exercise, weighed more and were more likely to smoke, versus people who rarely had the drinks.

But even when Malik’s team accounted for those factors, the link between sugary drinks and cardiovascular deaths remained.

It’s important to cut added sugar from food, too. But liquid sugar can be particularly problematic, Petitpain said, because it’s not as filling as solid food — making it easier to load up on excess calories.

“You can easily drink a 200-calorie beverage, then turn around and say, ‘What’s for lunch?'” Petitpain said.

Source: HealthDay


Today’s Comic

Editing Genes Shouldn’t be too Scary – Unless They Are the Ones that Get Passed to Future Generations

Eleanor Feingold wrote . . . . . . . . .

Gene editing is one of the scarier things in the science news, but not all gene editing is the same. It matters whether researchers edit “somatic” cells or “germline” cells.

Germline cells are the ones that propogate into an entire organism – either cells that make sperm and eggs (known as germ cells), or the cells in an early embryo that will later differentiate into different functions. What’s critical about those particular cells is that a change or mutation in one will go on to affect every cell in the body of a baby that grows from them. That’s why scientists are calling for a moratorium on editing the genes of germ cells or germline cells.

Somatic cells are everything else – cells in particular organs or tissues that perform a specific function. Skin cells, liver cells, eye cells and heart cells are all somatic. Changes in somatic cells are much less significant than changes in germline cells. If you get a mutation in a liver cell, you may end up with more mutant liver cells as the mutated cell divides and grows, but it will never affect your kidney or your brain.

Our bodies accumulate mutations in somatic tissues throughout our lives. Most of the time humans never know it or suffer any harm. The exception is when one of those somatic mutations grows out of control leading to cancer.

I am a geneticist who studies the genetic and environmental causes of a number of different disorders, from birth defects – cleft lip and palate – to diseases of old age like Alzheimer’s. Studying the genome always entails thinking about how the knowledge you generate will be used, and whether those likely uses are ethical. So geneticists have been following the gene editing news with great interest and concern.

In gene editing, it matters enormously whether you are messing with a germline cell, and thus an entire future human being and all its future descendants, or just one particular organ. Gene therapy – fixing faulty genes in individual organs – has been one of the great hopes of medical science for decades. There have been a few successes, but more failures. Gene editing may make gene therapy more effective, potentially curing important diseases in adults. The National Institutes of Health runs a well-respected and highly ethical research program to develop tools for safe and effective gene editing to cure disease.

But editing germline cells and creating babies whose genes have been manipulated is a very different story, with multiple ethical issues. The first set of concerns is medical – at this point society doesn’t know anything about the safety. “Fixing” the cells in the liver of someone who might otherwise die of liver disease is one thing, but “fixing” all of the cells in a baby who is otherwise healthy is a much higher-risk proposition. This is why the recent announcement that a Chinese scientist had done just that created such an uproar.

But even if we knew the procedure was safe, gene editing of the germline would still catapult us straight into all of the “designer baby” controversies and the problems of creating a world where people try to micromanage their offspring’s genes. It does not take much imagination to fear that gene editing will could bring us a new era of eugenics and discrimination.

Does gene editing still sound scary? It should. But it makes a big difference whether you are manipulating individual organs or whole human beings.

Source: The Conversation

What Works Best for Women Struggling With a Leaky Bladder?

Amy Norton wrote . . . . . . . . .

For women who need relief from bladder control problems, behavioral therapies are a better bet than medication, a new research review finds.

In an analysis of 84 clinical trials, researchers found that overall, women were better off with behavioral approaches to easing urinary incontinence than relying on medication.

Study patients were over five times more likely to see their symptoms improve with behavioral therapy, compared with no treatment.

Medication also helped, but not as much. Women treated with drugs alone were twice as likely to improve, compared to doing nothing.

“I think women with urinary incontinence should be encouraged to seek treatment,” said senior researcher Dr. Peter Jeppson, a urogynecologist at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

“There are a variety of treatment options, almost all of which are better than doing nothing,” Jeppson said.

The findings were published online in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Almost half of women have problems with urine leakage at some point in their lives, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. And while men develop urinary incontinence, too, it’s more common among women, often arising during or after pregnancy, or after menopause.

The good news is, lifestyle changes often help, said Dr. Brian Stork. He’s a urologist and assistant clinical professor at Michigan Medicine West Shore Urology in Muskegon, Mich.

Stork, who is also a spokesman for the American Urological Association, was not involved in the review.

“Most urologists will prescribe behavioral approaches first, and then medication if needed,” he said.

Diet changes to cut out bladder irritants — like caffeine and alcohol — can be highly effective, according to Stork. So can exercises to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor. For some patients, he said, weight loss improves incontinence by relieving pressure on the bladder.

“Bladder training,” which involves scheduled bathroom trips, may also help, according to Dr. Anne Hardart, co-director of urogynecology at Mount Sinai West Hospital in New York City.

There are two main forms of urinary incontinence: stress incontinence, which causes urine to leak when the bladder is under pressure — from coughing, laughing or lifting a heavy object, for example; and urge incontinence, which causes a sudden, uncontrollable need to urinate.

Lifestyle changes can help both kinds of incontinence, Hardart said, but exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles are particularly effective for the stress form.

In her experience, Hardart said, some women are able to perform the exercises on their own, with the help of written instructions. Other women benefit from physical therapy to help them “find” those deep muscles, she said.

“In general, we’re going to start with behavioral approaches because they’re risk-free,” Hardart said. But that doesn’t mean they’re “easy,” she added, since they take some commitment.

And some patients, such as those with mild dementia or the after-effects of a stroke, may not be able to learn and consistently perform exercises, Stork said. They may need medication.

For urge incontinence, medications that can calm an overactive bladder include oxybutynin (Ditropan XL), tolterodine (Detrol) and darifenacin (Enablex).

The review found that those drugs worked better than doing nothing, but behavioral tactics were generally more effective for easing urge incontinence.

There are also potential side effects, Jeppson’s team pointed out, including dry mouth, nausea and fatigue.

In the United States, no medications are specifically approved for stress incontinence, Hardart said.

But, she added, there are non-drug options beyond exercise and lifestyle changes. Some women, for example, find relief from vaginal inserts that support the bladder.

If behavior changes and medication are not enough, Stork said, another option is neuromodulation, electrical stimulation of the nerves that control the bladder.

It can be done two ways, Hardart explained. A doctor can use a needle, inserted into the skin near the ankle, to deliver electrical impulses that reach the spinal nerves controlling the bladder. In more severe cases, a device can be implanted in the buttocks to stimulate sacral nerves that affect the bladder.

The review found that when neuromodulation was used as a third-line option, women were about four times more likely to see their symptoms improve, compared with no treatment.

The bottom line, according to Hardart, is that women don’t have to live with incontinence.

“There are a lot of options to try, and many are non-invasive,” she said

Source: HealthDay


Today’s Comic

Hormonal Therapy for Prostate Cancer Might Raise Depression Risk

Steven Reinberg wrote . . . . . . . . .

Hormonal treatment can help control prostate cancer but may increase a man’s risk of depression, a new study by Danish researchers suggests.

Male hormones, such as testosterone, are known to fuel the growth of prostate tumors. So doctors use drugs to reduce hormone production. But that can bring on tough side effects, such as incontinence or impotence.

The new study found that men on hormone-reducing therapy after having their prostate removed were 80 percent more likely to develop depression than other prostate cancer patients.

“Continuous awareness about signs of depression in prostate cancer patients, even many years after diagnosis — and in particular, in case of treatment with androgen-deprivation therapy — is warranted,” said lead researcher Dr. Anne Sofie Friberg, of Copenhagen University Hospital.

Many men with cancer become depressed, but it’s especially true for those with prostate cancer because treatment often affects their sexual functioning.

This study can’t prove that hormonal treatment alone is a cause of depression, but it likely plays a part, Friberg said.

“Our results indicate that prostate cancer patients are vulnerable to depression,” she said. “The association depends on many factors, and our results imply that treatment for recurrence contributes substantially to the risk.”

For the study, Friberg’s team collected data on nearly 5,600 men listed in the Danish Prostate Cancer Registry.

Just over 770 of them were treated for depression. The study found that men who were treated with hormone-reducing medicines had nearly twice the risk of depression, compared with other patients. The increased risk remained for all 18 years of follow-up, Friberg said.

The findings were strongest for men whose prostate was surgically removed. The results were inconclusive for men who had radiation therapy, the researchers said.

Men who have their prostate removed often suffer side effects such as erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence that increase their likelihood for depression. As many as one-quarter of these surgical patients will see their cancer return and may then undergo hormone-reducing treatment.

The treatment blocks testosterone, can alter libido, cause hot flashes and affect mood, all of which add to depression risk, the study authors said.

The study findings were presented Monday at a meeting of the European Association of Urology, in Barcelona, Spain. Research presented at medical meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Dr. Anthony D’Amico, a professor of radiation oncology at Harvard Medical School in Boston, called the study conclusions into question. He noted that many men on hormone-reducing therapy are prescribed the antidepressant Effexor (venlafaxine) to control resulting hot flashes.

“This study is not definitive, because the number one treatment for hot flashes is antidepressant medication,” D’Amico said.

The prostate patients most likely to develop depression are those with a history of depression, he added.

Although the study may overstate the effect of hormone-reducing treatment on depression, D’Amico said doctors should be aware that their patients are at risk and may need treatment for it.

Source: HealthDay


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