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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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Soft drinks high blood pressure

Soft drinks high blood pressure

Drinking soft drinks is associated with higher blood pressure, according to a study of over 2,500 people reported this week in the journal Hypertension. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease, which is the leading cause of death worldwide. Someone with a blood pressure level in millimetres of mercury (mmHg) of 135 over 85 is twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke as someone with a reading of 115 over 75.

The new research shows that for every extra can of soft drink consumed per day, participants on average had a higher systolic blood pressure by 1.6 mmHg and a higher diastolic blood pressure by 0.8 mmHg. This difference was statistically significant even after adjusting for factors such as weight and height. The study did not examine the mechanism that might link soft drinks with blood pressure. However, the researchers suggest that raised uric acid, which has been linked to soft drink consumption, might raise blood pressure by reducing the levels of nitric oxide, a chemical that relaxes the lining of the blood vessels.

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The association between soft drinks and higher blood pressure was especially strong in people who consumed a lot of salt as well as sugar. Diet drinks were linked with lower blood pressure levels in some analyses, but the association was not consistent or strong. Professor Paul Elliott, senior author of the study, from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, said: “It’s widely known that if you have too much salt in your diet, you’re more likely to develop high blood pressure. The results of this study suggest that people should be careful about how much sugar they consume as well.”

The researchers analysed data from 2,696 volunteers aged between 40 and 59, in eight areas of the US and two areas of the UK. On four separate occasions over a period of three weeks on average, the participants reported what they had eaten in the preceding 24 hours, as well as giving urine samples and having their blood pressure measured. The volunteers were taking part in INTERMAP, the International Study of Macronutrients, Micronutrients and Blood Pressure.

The researchers also found that people who drink more soft drinks tended to have more unhealthy diets in general. As well as consuming more sugar, those consuming more than one soft drink a day consumed more calories by 397 kilocalories per day on average, and less fibre and minerals. Those who did not consume soft drinks had a lower body mass index (BMI) on average than those who consumed more than one drink per day. “Individuals who drink a lot of sugar-sweetened beverages appear to have less healthy diets,” said Dr Ian Brown, the study’s first author, also from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London. “They are consuming empty calories without the nutritional benefits of real food. They consume less potassium, magnesium and calcium.” “This is a population study,” Dr Brown added. “It can’t say definitively that sugary drinks raise your blood pressure, but it’s one piece of the evidence in a jigsaw puzzle that needs to be completed. In the meantime, we would advise people who want to drink sugar-sweetened beverages should do so only in moderation.”

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Omega-3 foods prevent eye disease

Eating a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids appears to protect seniors against the onset of a serious eye disease known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD).  Researchers did a fresh analysis of a one-year dietary survey conducted in the early 1990s. The poll involved nearly 2,400 seniors between the ages of 65 and 84 living in Maryland’s Eastern Shore region, where fish and shellfish are eaten routinely.

While participants in all groups, including controls, averaged at least one serving of fish or shellfish per week, those who had advanced AMD had consumed less fish and seafood containing omega-3 fatty acids. After their food intake was assessed, participants underwent eye examinations. About 450 had AMD, including 68 who had an advanced stage of the disease, which can lead to severe vision impairment or blindness. Prior evidence suggested that dietary zinc is similarly protective against AMD, so the researchers looked to see if zinc consumption from a diet of oysters and crabs reduced risk of AMD, but no such association was seen.

The researchers believe that the low dietary zinc levels relative to zinc supplements could account for the absence of such a link. However, they cautioned against people to start taking omega-3 supplements to protect against AMD based on this study because they are not sure that the above results have sufficient power to draw any conclusions. The correlation is important but larger studies with longer term follow-up are needed before being able to properly assess the impact.

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Mediterranean Diet May Keep Aging Mind Sharp

A new study shows following a Mediterranean style diet rich in vegetables, olive oil, and fish may keep the mind sharp and slow age-related cognitive decline.The diet typified by the Italians, Greeks, and other Mediterranean cultures has already been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer. But this and other studies are now suggesting that the diet may also have healthy benefits for the mind.

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes fruits and vegetables, fish, legumes, non-refined cereals, olive oil, and moderate wine consumption, usually at meals. Researchers found older adults who followed the diet more closely had slower rates of age-related cognitive decline than those who didn't, even after adjusting for other factors such as educational level. “The more we can incorporate vegetables, olive oil, and fish into our diets and moderate wine consumption, the better for our aging brains and bodies,” says Christy Tangney, PhD, associate professor of clinical nutrition at Rush University, in a news release.

In the study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers analyzed information gathered by the ongoing Chicago Health and Aging Project, which follows 3,759 adults over the age of 65 living on the South Side of Chicago. Every three years, the participants took tests of memory and basic math skills and filled out a questionnaire on how often they eat 139 different foods. The study follow-up time was 7.6 years on average.

Researchers looked at how closely the participants followed a Mediterranean diet and then compared it to their scores on age-related cognitive decline. Out of a maximum score of 55 for total adherence to a Mediterranean diet, the average score was 28. The results showed those with higher than average scores had a slower rate of age-related mental decline than those with lower scores. Researchers also looked at how closely the participants followed the Healthy Eating Index-2005, which is based on the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. They found no relationship between adherence to this type of diet and the rate of age-related cognitive decline.

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Tomato juice helps stop osteoporosis

Tomatoes are rich in cell-protecting antioxidants. Antioxidants are known cancer-fighters, such as prostate and breast cancer. And now lycopene – one of the antioxidants found in tomatoes – is being linked to reduce risk of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a degenerative bone disease, usually developing in old age, especially in post-menopausal women.

But the new study at the University of Toronto in Canada, says drinking tomato juice may help stave off osteoporosis. Published in the journal Osteoporosis International, scientists claim consuming 30mg of lycopene from tomato juice (about two glasses) is enough to help prevent osteoporosis. For the research, experts restricted a group of post-menopausal women, ages 50 to 60, from consuming anything containing lycopene for one month, then the study participants were split into four groups for four months. Groups were given either a 15mg lycopene supplement, a glass of tomato juice naturally containing 15mg of lycopene, a gourmet tomato juice with 35mg of lycopene, or a placebo.

After four months, results showed supplementing with lycopene raised serum lycopene, compared to the placebo group. The women consuming lycopene had significantly increased antioxidant capacity, decreased oxidative stress, and decreased bone markers for osteoporosis.

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Stroke deaths higher where fried fish aplenty

The steep rate of death from stroke in a swath of Southern states often referred to as America's “stroke belt” may be linked to a higher consumption of fried fish in that region, new research suggests. A study published in the journal Neurology shows people living in the stroke belt — which comprises North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas and Louisiana — eat more fried fish and less non-fried fish than people living in the rest of the country, and African-Americans eat more fried fish than Caucasians. “Differences in dietary fish consumption, specifically in cooking methods, may be contributing to higher rates of stroke in the stroke belt and also among African Americans,” says study author Fadi Nahab, medical director for the Stroke Program at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

The research, part of a large government-funded study, Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS), involved 21,675 participants from across the country; the average age was 65. Of the participants, 21% were from the “stroke buckle,” the coastal plain region of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia where stroke mortality rates are even higher than they are in the rest of the stroke belt. Another 34% were from the rest of the stroke belt and 44% were from the other states.

Participants were interviewed by phone and then given an in-home physical exam. The questionnaire asked how often they ate oysters, shellfish, tuna, fried fish and non-fried fish. The American Heart Association recommends people eat fish high in omega-3 fatty acids—essential fatty acids humans get through their diet—at least twice a week, baked or grilled but not fried. Fewer than one in four overall ate two or more servings of non-fried fish a week. Stroke belt residents were 32% more likely to eat two or more servings of fried fish each week than those in the rest of the country.

African-Americans were more than 3.5 times more likely to eat two or more servings of fried fish each week than Caucasians, with an overall average of about one serving per week of fried fish compared with about half a serving for Caucasians. When it came to eating non-fried fish meals, stroke belt residents ate an average of 1.45 servings per week, compared with 1.63 servings eaten by people elsewhere.

“This is good stuff. It's a well-done study, but I think one thing to bear in mind is that it's not specifically a study of stroke risk. You're looking at a community and seeing how it's behaving on the whole,” says Daniel Labovitz, a stroke neurologist at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. “This study can't tell you causation. It can't tell you there's a direct link between one thing and another, it just tells you they're associated,” says stroke neurologist Victor Urrutia, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

How might eating fried fish impact stroke?

It could be that frying the fish leaches out the omega-3s, says Jeremy Lanford, stroke director at Scott & White Healthcare in Roundrock, Texas. Or the increased fat calorie content from the frying oil may contribute to stroke, says author Nahab. He also notes that fish used for frying, such as cod and haddock, tend to be the types lower in healthy fats. More research is needed to tease out whether cooking methods affect stroke risk, Labovitz says. “In other words, is fried fish a problem, or is it another red herring?” he says.

The study was supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Health and Human Services. Funding was provided by General Mills for coding of the food frequency questionnaire.

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Meal replacements may not help teens keep weight off

A new study at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia found that meal replacements like shakes, bars and prepackaged entrees aren't a good long-term solution for obese teens. For the new study, researchers randomly assigned 113 obese teens and their families to different diets for a year. One group of teens ate self-selected low-calorie meals not exceeding 1,300 to 1,500 total calories per day. The other group ate meal replacements (three SlimFast shakes and one prepackaged entree), along with five servings of fruits and vegetables. Four months into the study, participants in second group were randomized to a second-phase diet: some were put on the low-calorie self-selected diet, while the rest stayed on meal replacements.

At the four-month mark, all participants had lost weight, but the teens on meal replacements lost more — a 6.3% reduction in body mass index (BMI) versus 3.8% for the low-calorie group. But by the end of the one-year study, many participants had regained much of the weight they had lost, resulting in no significant differences in weight loss between the groups: on average, the teens had reduced their BMI 3.4% since the beginning of the study.

The results underscore one of the many difficulties of dieting: keeping the weight off long term. Many dieters regain weight because they can't stick to rigid eating programs for long: one-third of the participants in the current study dropped out before its conclusion. The monotony of the meal-replacement diet couldn't have helped either: teens in the meal-replacement group started out drinking SlimFasts 5.6 days a week (in Month 2); by the end of the study, they were only able to tolerate the shakes 1.6 days each week.

“The potential benefit of (meal replacement) in maintaining weight loss was not supported,” the researchers concluded. So for those of you who are gearing up to begin a weight-loss program in the New Year, it helps to remember that austerity isn't the best strategy long-term. Focus on variety — both with your diet and your exercise regimen — and manageability instead. A regular visit with Nastaran can ensure that you stay on track and keep the weight off long term.

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Milk and cheese reduce diabetes risk

Whole-fat dairy products containing high levels of a natural fatty acid might help lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, according to a recent research by U.S. scientists. A diet rich in milk, cheese, yogurt and butter contains trans-palmitoleic acid which is known to shield against insulin resistance and diabetes. “Our results demonstrate an inverse relationship between levels of trans-palmitoleate and metabolic risk factors and diabetes incidence,” Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH, of the Harvard School of Public Health, and coauthors wrote in conclusion. “The small differences in trans-palmitoleate levels raise questions about whether this is the active compound or a marker for some other, unknown protective constituent of dairy or other ruminant foods.”

The study
The study looked at 3,736 American seniors from Medicare eligibility lists aged 65 years or older. Physical tests, diagnostic testing, questionnaires on health status, and laboratory evaluation was conducted to evaluate the levels of 45 different fatty acids in the participants. They were further followed for 10 years with the help of annual clinic visits and interim telephone calls.

Study implications
Trans-palmitoleate was responsible for an average of 0.18 percent of total fatty acid levels, with whole-fat dairy consumption accounting for the highest trans-palmitoleatele proportions. Participants who had consumed high levels of whole-fat dairy products revealed higher levels of trans-palmitoleate acid in their blood three years later, Dariush and his co-authors reported in the December issue of the journal ‘Annals of Internal Medicine.’ Further, participants with the highest levels of the acid circulating in their blood faced two-third the risk of suffering from type 2 diabetes as compared to the ones with the lowest levels. Such people also had lesser fat on their bodies, higher proportions of good cholesterol and lower levels of C-reactive protein.

“This is an extremely strong protective effect, stronger than other things we know can be beneficial against diabetes,” said Gökhan Hotamisligil, the study’s senior author and chair of the department of genetics and complex diseases at Harvard School of Public Health. “The next step is to move forward with an intervention trial to see if there is therapeutic value in people,” he added in a statement.

The research has been funded by the U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the National Institute of Health Office of Dietary Supplements and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

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Smoking is behind one third of rheumatoid arthritis

Smoking accounts for more than a third of cases of the most severe and common form of rheumatoid arthritis, indicates research published online in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases. And it accounts for more than half of cases in people who are genetically susceptible to development of the disease, finds the study.

The researchers base their findings on more than 1,200 people with rheumatoid arthritis and 871 people matched for age and sex, but free of the disease. The patients came from 19 health clinics in south and central Sweden, while their healthy peers were randomly selected from the population register. All the participants were aged between 18 and 70. They were quizzed about their smoking habits and grouped into three categories, depending on how long they had smoked. Blood samples were taken to assess all the participants' genetic profile for susceptibility to rheumatoid arthritis and to gauge the severity of their disease, as indicated by their antibody levels.

More than half of those with rheumatoid arthritis (61%) had the most severe form of the disease, which is also the most common form, as judged by testing positive for anticitrullinated protein/peptide antibody (ACPA). Those who were the heaviest smokers – 20 cigarettes a day for at least 20 years – were more than 2.5 times as likely to test positive for ACPA. The risk fell for ex-smokers, the longer they had given up smoking. But among the heaviest smokers, the risk was still relatively high, even after 20 years of not having smoked.

Based on these figures, the researchers calculated that smoking accounted for 35% of ACPA positive cases, and one in five cases of rheumatoid arthritis, overall. Although this risk is not as high as for lung cancer, where smoking accounts for 90% of cases, it is similar to that for coronary artery heart disease, say the authors. Among those with genetic susceptibility to the disease, and who tested positive for ACPA, smoking accounted for more than half the cases (55%). Those who smoked the most had the highest risk.

The authors point out that several other environmental factors may contribute to an increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis, including air pollutants and hormonal factors. But they suggest that their findings are sufficient to prompt those with a family history of rheumatoid arthritis to be advised to give up smoking.

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Link between snoring and heart disease

Many people snore. Many people have heart attacks. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh say they have found a connection between the two conditions. “People often report in primary care offices that they or their spouse complains of loud snoring, that they have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. And we as sleep researchers were interested in how this broad array of sleep symptoms that are often reported might relate to later cardiovascular risk,” lead research author Wendy Troxel of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine said.

Previous research has looked at the link between heart disease and obstructive sleep apnea, a problem where excess tissue blocks the airway during sleep. But this study looked purely at snoring. “There are some people with loud snoring who don't have obstructive sleep apnea,” Troxel continued.

In Troxel's government-funded study, more that 800 relatively healthy people ages 45 to 78 were followed for three years. High blood sugar and low levels of good cholesterol, both risk factors for heart disease, were twice as likely to present in the participants who reported frequent, loud snoring.

In addition to snorers, participants who had trouble falling asleep and had unrefreshing sleep were also at increased risk for metabolic syndrome, when additional heart disease risk factors like obesity, high blood pressure, and high levels of triglyceride fats are present. “Sleep complaints aren't just benign annoyances but something that can really foretell important health consequences,” Troxel stressed, “and they should really be discussed with [medical] providers and referred for further treatment if necessary.”

The research conducted at Pitt was an observational study. Patients were not treated to see whether decreasing snoring could lower the risk of heart disease. Rather, the study shows that snorers should pay particular attention to their heart disease risk factors.

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