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Languages Protect from Memory Loss

People who speak more than two languages may lower their risk of memory loss or developing other memory problems, according to a study released today that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 63rd Annual Meeting in Honolulu April 9 to April 16, 2011. “It appears speaking more than two languages has a protective effect on memory in seniors who practice foreign languages over their lifetime or at the time of the study,” said study author Magali Perquin, PhD, with the Center for Health Studies from the Public Research Center for Health (“CRP-Santé”) in Luxembourg. Perquin is helping to lead the MemoVie study which involves a consortium of partners from different hospitals and institutions.

The study involved 230 men and women with an average age of 73 who had spoken or currently spoke two to seven languages. Of the participants, 44 reported memory loss or cognitive problems; the rest of the group had no memory issues. Researchers discovered that those people who spoke four or more languages were five times less likely to develop memory loss or cognitive problems compared to those people who only spoke two languages. People who spoke three languages were three times less likely to have memory loss or cognitive problems compared to bilinguals. In addition, people who currently spoke more than two languages were also four times less likely to have memory loss or cognitive impairment. The results accounted for the age and the education of the participants.

“Further studies are needed to try to confirm these findings and determine whether the protection is limited to thinking skills related to language or if it also extends beyond that and benefits other areas of cognition,” said Perquin. The research was conducted in Luxembourg, where there is a dense population of people who speak more than two languages. The MemoVie study was supported by The National Research Fund (FNR) from Luxembourg.

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Placebos may work – even when the patient knows

For most of us, the “placebo effect” is synonymous with the power of positive thinking; it works because you believe you're taking a real drug. But a new study rattles this assumption.Researchers at Harvard Medical School's Osher Research Center and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) have found that placebos work even when administered without the seemingly requisite deception.

Placebos—or dummy pills—are typically used in clinical trials as controls for potential new medications. Even though they contain no active ingredients, patients often respond to them. In fact, data on placebos is so compelling that many American physicians (one study estimates 50 percent) secretly give placebos to unsuspecting patients. Because such “deception” is ethically questionable, HMS associate professor of medicine Ted Kaptchuk teamed up with colleagues at BIDMC to explore whether or not the power of placebos can be harnessed honestly and respectfully.

To do this, 80 patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) were divided into two groups: one group, the controls, received no treatment, while the other group received a regimen of placebos—honestly described as “like sugar pills”—which they were instructed to take twice daily. “Not only did we make it absolutely clear that these pills had no active ingredient and were made from inert substances, but we actually had 'placebo' printed on the bottle,” says Kaptchuk. “We told the patients that they didn't have to even believe in the placebo effect. Just take the pills.”

For a three-week period, the patients were monitored. By the end of the trial, nearly twice as many patients treated with the placebo reported adequate symptom relief as compared to the control group (59 percent vs. 35 percent). Also, on other outcome measures, patients taking the placebo doubled their rates of improvement to a degree roughly equivalent to the effects of the most powerful IBS medications. “I didn't think it would work,” says senior author Anthony Lembo, HMS associate professor of medicine at BIDMC and an expert on IBS. “I felt awkward asking patients to literally take a placebo. But to my surprise, it seemed to work for many of them.”

The authors caution that this study is small and limited in scope and simply opens the door to the notion that placebos are effective even for the fully informed patient—a hypothesis that will need to be confirmed in larger trials. “Nevertheless,” says Kaptchuk, “these findings suggest that rather than mere positive thinking, there may be significant benefit to the very performance of medical ritual. I'm excited about studying this further. Placebo may work even if patients knows it is a placebo.”

This study was funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Osher Research Center, Harvard Medical School.

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White rice increases diabetes risk

Japanese women who eat three or more bowls of rice a day face a 50 percent greater risk of developing diabetes than those who eat one bowl, according to research by the National Cancer Center and other institutions. Although it has long been known that consuming large amounts of carbohydrates can increase the risk of developing the disease, the study was the first of its kind to explore the connection between eating rice and developing diabetes.

Conducted over five years from the early 1990s, the study covered about 60,000 people aged 45 to 74 in Iwate, Nagano, Ibaraki, Okinawa and four other prefectures. Of the subjects, 1,103–625 men and 478 women–developed diabetes during the study period.

Women who ate three bowls of rice a day were 1.48 times more likely to develop diabetes than those who ate one serving daily, the study found. Eating four or more bowls of rice a day raised the risk of women developing diabetes to 1.65 times that of women who ate only one bowl of rice a day. However, among women who performed physical labor or exercised vigorously for at least one hour a day, there was no significant difference in their risk of developing diabetes regardless of whether they habitually gorged on the grain.

For men, there was less evidence of a connection between rice intake and diabetes risk.

But regardless of gender, the less physical exercise a person did, the higher their risk of developing the disease.

While it is possible that eating a lot of rice can contribute to the onset of diabetes in some women, the study produced no conclusive evidence that overindulging is a direct cause of diabetes. Researchers at the National Center for Global Health and Medicine who analyzed the study’s results said it was important to monitor rice intake as part of maintaining a balanced diet.

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Low Level of “Good” Cholesterol Associated with Alzheimer’s

A low level of “good” cholesterol is a well-known risk factor for heart disease. A new study by investigators at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons now suggests that a low level of good cholesterol may also raise the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

“Low levels of 'good' cholesterol (a.k.a. high-density lipoproteins or HDL) are very common in the United States,” says the study's lead author, Christiane Reitz, MD, PhD, assistant professor of neurology (in the Sergievsky Center and Taub Institute). “If raising HDL can lower a person's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, that means we may be able to significantly reduce the rate of Alzheimer's disease in the population,” Reitz says, though she cautions that the finding still must be confirmed in other studies.

The study, which appears in the December issue of Archives of Neurology, is co-authored with Jose Luchsinger, MD, MPH, associate professor of medicine and epidemiology, and Richard Mayeux, MD, director of the Gertrude Sergievsky Center and Sergievsky Professor of Neurology, Psychiatry, and Epidemiology.

Previously, the relationship between HDL and Alzheimer's disease had been unclear. Some studies found an association, but others, including one of Reitz's own, found no connection. The new study, Reitz says, follows subjects for a longer period of time than previous studies, resulting in a more accurate account of the number of subjects who ultimately develop Alzheimer's.

After monitoring 1130 elderly residents of northern Manhattan for an average of four years, the researchers found a 40 percent higher incidence of Alzheimer's in residents with low HDL (less than 55 mg/dl). The reason that low HDL is associated with a higher rate of Alzheimer's isn't understood. One possibility is that it works through stroke. “We know low HDL raises the risk of stroke and that stroke is associated with Alzheimer's, so stroke may be the mediator,” Reitz says. “But there's also evidence that HDL works by itself to clear amyloid proteins [the proteins believed to cause Alzheimer's] from the brain.”

Because the study included a large number of African Americans and Hispanics, unlike previous studies that focused on whites, the finding may indicate that low HDL is linked to a high risk of Alzheimer's in many different ethnicities.

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Picky Eating: Its not just for kids

As an example of a picky eater who would not be classified as having an eating disorder, Marcus referenced a woman who spoke on a radio program recently. The woman declared herself “the pickiest eater I've ever met” and explained that the thought of eating any cooked vegetable made her sick, though she didn't mind them raw.

“That is not a disorder,” said Marcus. “She has plenty of other foods to choose from and it's not affecting her health or well-being.”

In her practice at Western Psych, Marcus doesn't see many adults that she would classify as having such a disorder. “I think people don't identify themselves as having an eating disorder and it hasn't been considered an eating disorder,” she said. “They don't come to us.”

At Duke, Zucker encounters adult picky eaters mainly as the parents of children that she is treating for picky eating or other eating disorders.

Adults who are picky tend to like bland foods that are comfortable and colorless, said Marcus, such as plain pasta or french fries.

In both children and adults, picky eating can be caused by “food neophobia,” otherwise known as the fear of new foods, by sensory sensitivity to particular textures, or by traumatic experiences such as forced eating.

Still, the vast universe of picky eaters is poorly defined, Zucker said.

“It's been a pretty poorly operationalized construct — what it means to be a picky eater,” she said. “There's a lot of different definitions floating around. What we'll find is a huge continuum — we all have food quirks.”

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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Broccoli Component Limits Breast Cancer Cells

Broccoli Component Limits Breast Cancer Cells

Current chemotherapies do not work against cancer stem cells, which is why cancer recurs and spreads. Researchers believe that eliminating the cancer stem cells is key to controlling cancer.

In the current study, researchers took mice with breast cancer and injected varying concentrations of sulforaphane from the broccoli extract. Researchers then used several established methods to assess the number of cancer stem cells in the tumors. These measures showed a marked decrease in the cancer stem cell population after treatment with sulforaphane, with little effect on the normal cells. Further, cancer cells from mice treated with sulforaphane were unable to generate new tumors. The researchers then tested sulforaphane on human breast cancer cell cultures in the lab, finding similar decreases in the cancer stem cells.

“This research suggests a potential new treatment that could be combined with other compounds to target breast cancer stem cells. Developing treatments that effectively target the cancer stem cell population is essential for improving outcomes,” says study author Max S. Wicha, M.D., Distinguished Professor of Oncology and director of the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The concentrations of sulforaphane used in the study were higher than what can be achieved by eating broccoli or broccoli sprouts. Prior research suggests the concentrations needed to impact cancer can be absorbed by the body from the broccoli extract, but side effects are not known. While the extract is available in capsule form as a supplement, concentrations are unregulated and will vary.

This work has not been tested in patients, and patients are not encouraged to add sulforaphane supplements to their diet at this time.

Researchers are currently developing a method to extract and preserve sulforaphane and will be developing a clinical trial to test sulforaphane as a prevention and treatment for breast cancer. No clinical trial is currently available.

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