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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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Children who don’t like fruit and vegetables are 13 times more likely to be constipated

Primary school children who don't like eating fruit and vegetables are 13 times more likely to develop functional constipation than children who do, according to a study in the December issue of the Journal of Clinical Nursing. Drinking less than 400ml of fluid a day also significantly increases the risk. Dr Moon Fai Chan, assistant professor at the National University of Singapore, teamed up with Yuk Ling Chan, from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, to study the diet and toileting habits of 383 children aged from eight to ten from a school in Hong Kong. Fifty-one per cent were boys and children who were on regular medication or who paid regular hospital or clinic visits were excluded. Seventy per cent of the children who took part in the study were ten-years-old, 22 per cent were nine and eight per cent were eight.

“A number of studies have suggested that functional constipation – which is due to dietary habits, environmental habits and psychosocial factors rather than a particular health problem – is getting worse among school-age children” says Dr Moon Fai Chan from the Alice Lee Centre for Nursing Study at the University. “It is estimated that functional constipation accounts for 95 per cent of cases of constipation affecting children once they pass infancy. The condition has serious consequences, as it can cause a wide range of distressing emotional and physical problems such as stress, soiling, problems at school, damaged self-confidence and reduced social interaction.”

Key findings of the study included:

  • Seven per cent of the children who took part suffered from functional constipation and there were clear dietary differences between the children who did and did not have problems.
  • Girls were more likely to have functional constipation than boys (8.2 per cent versus 6.6 per cent) and nine-year-olds were more likely to report problems (13.3 per cent) than eight-year-olds (10 per cent) and ten-year-olds (5.2 per cent).
  • Children who only drank 200ml to 400ml of fluid a day were eight times more likely to experience problems than children who drank 600ml to 800ml and 14 times more likely than children who drank a litre or more.
  • Children who said they did not like fruit or vegetables were 13 times more likely to suffer from functional constipation than children who did.
  • Nine out of ten children refused to use the school toilets for bowel movements and the figure was the same for children with and without constipation.

The biggest problems with school toilets were that children preferred to go at home. They also cited lack of toilet paper and dirty toilets. “When we compared our findings with previous studies we found that the levels of functional constipation among Hong Kong school children was higher than those in the USA and UK, but similar to Italy” says Dr Chan. The authors have made a number of recommendations that they feel would help to tackle the problem. They suggest that:

  • Primary schools should work with healthcare professionals to make children more aware of the problem, with regular healthcare education sessions in classrooms and at assemblies.
  • Parents need to be educated about functional constipation so that they can spot problems in their children and make sure that their diet provides sufficient fluid, vegetables and fruit. They should also remind their children to pay regular toilet visits at school.
  • School tuck-shops should stock high-fibre snacks such as popcorn, fresh food and dried fruit, instead of crisps and sweets.
  • Children should be encouraged to drink plain water during lessons and drinking fountains should be installed.
  • School toilets should be more user-friendly, private and well stocked with paper so that children feel more comfortable using them.

“We hope that this study will help to raise awareness of functional constipation, which can cause children real physical and emotional distress and seriously affect their quality of life” says Dr Chan.

Source: Investigating factors associated with functional constipation of primary school children in Hong Kong. Chan MF and Chan YL. Journal of Clinical Nursing. 19, pp3390-3400. (December 2010). DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2010.03366.x

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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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Sugary juice and soft drinks increase risk of gout

A new study finds that drinking orange juice, soda and other beverages high in the sugar fructose could increase the small risk that middle-age and elderly women have of developing gout. Gout is a painful form of arthritis caused by too much uric acid in the blood. For women in the study who drank two or more servings of these beverages per day, the risk of gout was more than double that for women who drank sugary sodas and juices less than once per month. Because gout is relatively rare among women, the drinks probably contribute only moderately to a woman's chances of developing it. Still, this is the first study linking sodas and sweetened fruit juices to women's gout risk. Previous research found such a link for men.

The study will be published in the Nov. 24 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, and is being presented today (Nov. 10) at the American College of Rheumatology annual scientific meeting.

Gout grief

Gout occurs when levels of uric acid in the blood become too high, and uric acid crystallizes around the joints, leading to inflammation, swelling and pain. Foods than can increase the levels of uric acid in the blood include organ meats (such as kidneys and livers), asparagus and mushrooms, according to the Mayo Clinic. Fructose is also known to increase blood uric acid levels, the researchers said. While gout is not common in the United States, the rate of incidences has more than doubled over a 20-year period, from 16 cases per 100,000 Americans in 1977 to 42 per 100,000 in 1996. Over this period, the researchers noted, the population also consumed increasing amounts of soda and other drinks sweetened with fructose.

The new study followed 78,906 women for 22 years, from 1984 to 2006, as part of the Nurses' Health Study. At the beginning of the study, none of the women had gout. By the end, 778 had developed it. Women who drank one serving of soda per day were 1.74 times more likely to develop gout than those who drank less than one serving per month. Those who drank two or more servings per day were 2.4 times more likely to develop gout. Drinking two or more servings of soda per day caused an additional 68 cases of gout per 100,000 women per year, compared with drinking less than one serving of soda per month, the researchers said. Drinking orange juice also increased the risk. Women who drank one serving of orange juice per day were 1.41 times more likely to develop gout, and those who drank two or more servings were 2.4 times more likely to report gout.

Lifestyle and diet

The rise in gout cases is most likely due to changes in lifestyle and diet and an increase in conditions associated with gout, such as metabolic syndrome, said study researcher Dr. Hyon K. Choi of the Boston University School of Medicine. The results held even after the researchers took into account factors that could have influenced the findings, such as age, body mass index and whether the women had gone through menopause, Choi said.

The findings suggest diets to prevent gout should reduce fructose intake, the researchers said.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

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Tylenol linked to asthma

A new study shows that adolescents who take acetaminophen, better known as Tylenol, have a higher risk of asthma, allergic nasal conditions and the skin disorder eczema.

Acetaminophen is widely viewed as a very safe drug—one reason why hospitals use it routinely as a painkiller instead of aspirin or ibuprofen. The major problem associated with it is liver damage caused by overdoses. Recently, however, there has been a growing drumbeat about possible dangers from the drug. One study, for example, found that acetaminophen increased the risk of hearing loss in men. And some others have hinted that the drug is linked to asthma in newborns whose mothers used the drug during pregnancy and in young children exposed to it.

The new findings were reported in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine by researchers in the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood. The team, headed by epidemiologist Richard Beasley of the Medical Research Institute in Wellington, New Zealand, gave written questionnaires to 322,959 13- and 14-year-olds in 50 countries exploring their use of acetaminophen, other drugs, and asthma symptoms. They were also shown a video containing five scenes of clinical asthma and asked whether they had experienced any symptoms similar to those shown. About 73% of the teens said they had used acetaminophen at least once in the previous year and 30% said they had used it monthly.

Taking into account maternal education, smoking, diet and siblings, the team found that those subjects who had used the drug at least once per year were 43% more likely to have asthma, while those who used it at least monthly were 2.5 times as likely to suffer from the condition. The risk of rhinoconjunctivitis (a severe nasal congestion) was 38% higher for those who used it once per year and 2.39 times as high for those who used it at least monthly. The comparable increases in risk for eczema were 31% and 99%, respectively.

Overall, the increased risk of asthma associated with acetaminophen was 41%, the authors found. That could, at least in part, explain why there has been an increase in the prevalence of asthma in the 50 years since the drug was introduced. Given the widespread use of the drug, it could also represent a large public health problem.

But—and it is a very big but—the study shows only an association, not causality. That could only be determined by a randomized clinical trial, which the authors recommend. Furthermore, the study relies on the recall of teenagers. Recall is notoriously inaccurate in adults, and it is probably worse in adolescents, clouding the results. For the time being then, you can probably continue to feel comfortable giving the drug to your children.

In a statement, McNeil Consumer Healthcare, which manufactures Tylenol, said that the drug “has over 50 years of clinical history to support its safety and effectiveness” and that no clinical trial has demonstrated that the drug causes asthma.

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Food Advertising Promotes Imbalanced Diets

Researchers analyzed 84 hours of primetime and 12 hours of Saturday morning broadcast television over a 28-day period in 2004. ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC were sampled on a rotating basis to develop a complete profile of each network. The Saturday-morning cartoon segment (from 8:00 am to 11:00 am) was included to capture food advertisements marketed primarily to children.

All 96 hours of observations were videotaped and reviewed later to identify food advertisements and specific food items being promoted. Only food items that were clearly promoted for sale during an advertisement were recorded. Each food item was then analyzed for nutritional content. Observed portion sizes were converted to the number of servings.

The article indicates that the observed food items fail to comply with Food Guide Pyramid recommendations in every food group except grains. The average observed food item contained excessive servings of sugars, fat, and meat and inadequate servings of dairy, fruit and vegetables. The situation was similar for essential nutrients, with the observed foods oversupplying eight nutrients: protein, selenium, sodium, niacin, total fat, saturated fat, thiamin and cholesterol. These same foods undersupplied 12 nutrients: iron, phosphorus, vitamin A, carbohydrates, calcium, vitamin E, magnesium, copper, potassium, pantothenic acid, fiber, and vitamin D.

The authors advocate nutritional warnings for imbalanced foods similar to those mandated on direct-to-consumer drug advertisements. They recommend investigating health promotion strategies that target consumers, the food industry, public media, and regulation focusing on a three-pronged approach.

“First, the public should be informed about the nature and extent of the bias in televised food advertisements. Educational efforts should identify the specific nutrients that tend to be oversupplied and undersupplied in advertised foods and should specify the single food items that surpass an entire day's worth of sugar and fat servings. Second, educational efforts should also provide consumers with skills for distinguishing balanced food selections from imbalanced food selections. For example, interactive websites could be developed that test a participant's ability to identify imbalanced food selections from a list of options. This type of game-based approach would likely appeal to youth and adults. Third, the public should be directed to established nutritional guidelines and other credible resources for making healthful food choices.”

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Popular Fruit and Veg Not The Healthiest

Obvious choices of fruit and vegetables are not necessarily the healthiest, new research has suggested. Scientists have come up with a list of five “powerhouse” foods that may be better alternatives. Experts recommend five portions a day of fruit and veg in a healthy diet – plant foods are known to contain “phytonutrient” chemicals that can protect the heart and arteries and prevent cancers – but the most popular varieties may not be the best, according to US researchers.

Scientists analysed data from US health surveys of people's dietary habits to examine sources of phytonutrients. They found that for 10 of the 14 phytonutrients studied, a single food type accounted for two-thirds or more of an individual's consumption. It made no difference whether or not a person was a high or low consumer of fruit and veg.

The most common food sources for five key phytonutrients were: carrots (beta-carotene), oranges / orange juice (beta-cryptoxanthin), spinach (lutein/zeaxanthin), strawberries (ellagic acid) and mustard (isothiocyanates).

However, for each of these phytonutrients there was a better food source available.

These were listed as follows: sweet potatoes (nearly double the beta-carotene of carrots), papaya (15 times more beta-cryptoxanthin than oranges), kale (three times more lutein/zeaxanthin than spinach), raspberries (three times more ellagic acid than strawberries), and watercress (one cup contains as much isothiocyanate as four teaspoonfuls of mustard)

Study leader Keith Randolph, technology strategist for the supplement company Nutrilite, said: “These data highlight the importance of not only the quantity but also the significant impact the quality and variety of the fruits and vegetables you eat can have on your health.”

The findings were presented at the 2010 Experimental Biology conference in Anaheim, California.

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