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Friday, February 3, 2012

Soy Supplements May Not Shield Against Breast Cancer

HealthDay News

Friday, February 3, 2012

FRIDAY, Feb. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Soy supplements do not protect women against breast cancer, a new study suggests.

The findings are consistent with the results of previous studies that examined the cancer prevention benefits of the dietary supplements, said lead researcher Dr. Seema Khan, a professor of surgery at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.

The study included 98 women who were randomly assigned to receive a mixed soy isoflavones supplement or placebo. Isoflavones are components of soy foods thought to have anti-estrogen activity (estrogen is "fuel" for many breast cancers).

After six months, the researchers examined levels of Ki-67 -- a protein marker of cancer cell growth -- in certain breast cancer cells taken from the women. Overall, there were no differences in Ki-67 levels between women who took the soy supplement and those who took the placebo.

However, the level of Ki-67 increased from 1.71 to 2.18 in premenopausal women taking the soy supplement, which suggests the supplement might even have a negative effect, according to the study published in February issue of the journal Cancer Prevention Research.

"This was a small finding," Khan stressed in a news release from the American Association for Cancer Research, "but one that should suggest caution."

"Simply put, supplements are not food. Although soy-based foods appear to have a protective effect, we are not seeing the same effect with supplementation using isolated components of soy, so the continued testing of soy supplements is likely not worthwhile," Kahn concluded.

But one expert said the study, while valuable, had limitations.

Dr. Patrick Borgen, director of Breast Cancer Care Services at the Maimonides Cancer Center in New York City, called the study "thought provoking and well-executed."

But he added that uncertainties remain. For example, the area of the breast from which the cells were taken and studied matters, because cancer develops in different ways across the geography of the breast. Furthermore, other potential risk factors, such as diet, exercise, alcohol intake and stress, could play a role in the women's breast cancer risk as well and "are extremely hard to control for in this kind of study," Borgen said.

Finally, Borgen said, it is still difficult to predict the "long-term consequences" of the cell changes captured by Ki-67 testing.

For all of those reasons, "the conclusions -- that further study may not be warranted or that use of these supplements in premenopausal women may be dangerous -- should therefore be taken in the context of the limitations of the study," Borgen said.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about soy.

Regular Use of Vitamin and Mineral Supplements Could Reduce the Risk of Colon Cancer, Study Suggests


Friday, February 3, 2012

ScienceDaily (Feb. 3, 2012) — Could the use of vitamin and mineral supplements in a regular diet help to reduce the risk of colon cancer and protect against carcinogens? A study published in the Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology (CJPP) found that rats given regular multivitamin and mineral supplements showed a significantly lower risk of developing colon cancer when they were exposed to carcinogens.

"It has been unclear whether multivitamin supplementation to cancer patients is helpful, has no effect, or is even detrimental during therapy," commented Dr. Grant Pierce, Editor of CJPP. "This study is important because it gives some direction to cancer patients in desperate need of guidance on the value of multivitamins and minerals administered during cancer."

The authors studied rats that were fed a high-fat diet (20% fat) over a 32 week period. The rats were divided into 6 groups, which were exposed to different combinations of supplements and carcinogens; the colon carcinogenisis induced in the study rats has characteristics that mimic human colon cancer. Rats fed a high-fat plus low-fibre diet and exposed to carcinogens developed pre-cancerous lesions; whereas, rats undergoing similar treatment, but provided with daily multivitamin and mineral supplements, showed a significant (84%) reduction in the formation of pre-cancerous lesions and did not develop tumours.

The authors conclude that "multivitamin and mineral supplements synergistically contribute to the cancer chemopreventative potential, and hence, regular supplements of multivitamins and minerals could reduce the risk of colon cancer."

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Canadian Science Publishing (NRC Research Press).

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Journal Reference:

Albert Baskar Arul, Ignacimuthu Savarimuthu, Mohammed A. Alsaif, Khalid S. Al Numair. Multivitamin and mineral supplementation in 1,2-dimethylhydrazine induced experimental colon carcinogenesis and evaluation of free radical status, antioxidant potential, and incidence of ACF. Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, 2012; 90 (1): 45 DOI: 10.1139/y11-100

Asthmatic Moms Who Breast-feed May Help Their Children's Lungs

HealthDay News

Friday, February 3, 2012

FRIDAY, Feb. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Breast-feeding is associated with improved lung function in school-age children, particularly those with asthmatic mothers, a new study says.

Swiss and U.K. researchers analyzed data from nearly 1,500 U.K. children who were born between 1993 and 1997. Questionnaires were used to assess the duration of breast-feeding, other exposures, and respiratory symptoms.

The children's lung function was measured when they were 12 years old.

Breast-fed kids overall had a "modest improvement" in forced mid-expiratory flow (FEF50), which measures the amount and speed of air that comes out of the lung during the middle portion of a forced exhale.

But breast-fed kids whose mothers also had asthma also did better on two other lung function tests, forced vital capacity (FVC) and forced expiratory volume at 1 second (FEV1), according to Dr. Claudia Kuehni, a professor at the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Bern in Switzerland.

"In contrast, some earlier studies have suggested that breastfeeding might be harmful in the offspring of mothers with asthma," she noted in a journal news release.

The study appears online ahead of print in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has more about breastfeeding.

Lower Levels of Sunlight Exposure Link to Allergy and Eczema in Children, Study Suggests


Friday, February 3, 2012

ScienceDaily (Feb. 3, 2012) — Increased exposure to sunlight may reduce the risk of both food allergies and eczema in children, according to a new scientific study published this week.

Researchers from the European Centre for Environment & Human Health, along with several Australian institutions, have found that children living in areas with lower levels of sunlight are at greater risk of developing food allergies and the skin condition eczema, compared to those in areas with higher UV.

The research team used data from a study of Australian children and analysed how rates of food allergy, eczema and asthma varied throughout the country. As well as finding a link between latitude and allergies to peanut and egg, the results showed that on average children in the south of the country are twice as likely to develop eczema as those in the north.

The report builds upon existing evidence that suggests exposure to the sun may play a role in rising levels of food allergy and eczema. Sunlight is important because it provides our body with the fuel to create vitamin D in the skin, and locations closer to the equator typically receive higher levels of sunshine. Australia is a particularly good place for this type of study as it spans nearly 3000 miles from north to south, with a large variation in climate, day length and sun strength -- from Queensland in the north to Tasmania in the south.

Dr Nick Osborne, who led the research, believes these findings provide us with an important insight into the prevalence of food allergies and eczema, which appear to be on the increase. Dr Osborne also cautioned that exposure to sunlight can vary for a host of reasons beyond latitude, such as local climate variations and behaviours, and these factors will also need to be considered.

He said "This investigation has further underlined the association between food allergies, eczema and where you live. We're now hoping to study these effects at a much finer scale and examine which factors such as temperature, infectious disease or vitamin D are the main drivers of this relationship. As always, care has to be taken we are not exposed to too much sunlight, increasing the risk of skin cancer."

Dr Osborne will be presenting the findings of the study at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology in Orlando on March 6th 2012.

The study is published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology this week.

 Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by The Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Green tea drinkers show less disability with age: study

Reuters Health

Friday, February 3, 2012

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Elderly adults who regularly drink green tea may stay more agile and independent than their peers over time, a large study of Japanese adults suggests.

Green tea contains certain antioxidant chemicals -- particularly a compound known as EGCG -- that may help ward off the body-cell damage that can lead to disease. And researchers have been studying green tea's effects on everything from cholesterol to the risk of certain cancers -- with mixed results so far.

For the new study, Japanese researchers looked at a different question: Do green-tea drinkers have any lower risk of frailty and disability as they grow old?

Following nearly 14,000 adults age 65 and older, they found that people who drank the most green tea were the least likely to develop "functional disability" over the next three years.

Functional disability refers to problems with daily activities like going to the store or doing housework, or difficulty with more-basic needs like dressing and bathing.

In this study, almost 13 percent of adults who drank less than a cup of green tea per day became functionally disabled. That compared with just over 7 percent of people who drank at least five cups per day.

That alone does not prove that green tea keeps you spry into your golden years.

But the study, reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, did account for a range of factors that could explain the connection.

Green-tea lovers generally had healthier diets -- more fish, vegetables and fruit -- as well as more education, lower smoking rates, fewer heart attacks and strokes and greater mental sharpness.

They also tended to be more socially active and have more friends and family to rely on. (Studies have found that older adults with more "social support" are less likely to become disabled.)

But even with those factors considered, green tea itself was tied to a lower disability risk, according to the researchers, led by Yasutake Tomata of Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine.

People who drank at least five cups a day were one-third less likely to develop disabilities than those who had less than a cup a day. And people who averaged three or four cups a day had a 25 percent lower risk.

All of that hints at a real effect of green tea. But ultimately, Tomata's team writes, definitive proof can come only from clinical trials testing the effects of green tea, or green tea extracts, on disability risk.

If green tea does offer a buffer against disability, it's not clear how.

But one recent study found that green tea extracts seemed to boost leg muscle strength in older women, notes Tomata's team, who could not be reached for comment.

In general, green tea is considered safe in moderate amounts. But the tea and its extracts do contain caffeine, which some people may need to avoid.

Green tea also contains small amounts of vitamin K, which means it could interfere with drugs that prevent blood-clotting, like warfarin. Since many elderly people are on multiple medications, it's wise for them to talk with their doctors before using green tea as a health tonic.


American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online January 25, 2012.

Diabetes Takes Toll on Women's Hearing: Study

By Ellin Holohan
HealthDay Reporter

HealthDay News

Friday, February 3, 2012

FRIDAY, Feb. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Diabetes is associated with hearing loss in women, especially if the blood sugar disease isn't well-controlled, new research indicates.

The study, done by researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, examined the medical records of 990 men and women who had hearing tests between 2000 and 2008. Patients with diabetes were divided into two groups: well-controlled and poorly controlled.

Among women aged 60 to 75, hearing loss was 14 percent worse even in well-controlled diabetics compared to those without diabetes. That is not a clinically significant loss, noted study author Dr. Kathleen Yaremchuk, chairwoman of the department of otolaryngology at the Henry Ford Healthcare System in Detroit.

"An individual might not notice it," Yaremchuk said.

On the other hand, poorly controlled diabetics' hearing was 28 percent worse than the non-diabetic group's hearing.

Younger women who had diabetes, well-managed or not, were more likely to have hearing loss than those unaffected by the illness, the study found.

Diabetes is known to affect the eyes, kidneys and other organs, Yaremchuk said. "Our study shows it can affect hearing as well."

In the study, presented recently at the Triological Society's annual meeting in Miami Beach, Fla., there was no link between hearing loss among men and diabetes, whether it was well-managed or not. Men are more likely in general to suffer from hearing loss than women, so the prevalence of the condition among males may mask diabetes' effect, the study suggested.

Men are exposed to more environmental causes of hearing loss, such as loud noise, either in the workplace or during leisure activities, such as attending large sporting events, explained Yaremchuk.

Managing diabetes properly should help prevent hearing loss or keep it from getting worse, Yaremchuk said.

What's unknown is if better management of diabetes can reverse hearing loss that's already occurred.

"We do not know if losing weight and improving control of diabetes will reverse the hearing loss that is seen. However, it will stop progression of the hearing loss," she said.

Recommendations call for diabetics' to have their vision checked every year, said Dr. Spyros Mezitis, a clinical endocrinologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

This latest finding suggests diabetics may also need to have their hearing tested, Mezitis said.

"This study will help make doctors more aware to ask about hearing, particularly in women between 60 and 75," said Mezitis, also an assistant professor of clinical medicine at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Cornell Medical Center.

About 26 million Americans have diabetes, mostly type 2, which is associated with obesity.

Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

To learn more about diabetes, visit U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

"Yo-yo dieting" not tied to early death: study

By Lindsey Konkel

Reuters Health

Thursday, February 2, 2012

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Despite earlier concerns, dieters who repeatedly lose weight and then gain it back aren't at higher risk of early death than people who don't "yo-yo diet," according to a new report.

About two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, and many are trying to shed the extra pounds. Over the long term, however, most people who lose weight through dieting regain it later.

The health effects of such weight cycling, also called yo-yo dieting, are a matter of controversy.

Several studies have found that people whose weight cycles up and down tend to die earlier. But the majority of that research failed to differentiate between intentional weight loss and weight loss due to disease such as cancer, researchers write in the new report.

In the current work, nearly 56,000 men and more than 66,000 women answered questions about how often they had intentionally lost 10 or more pounds and later regained the weight. The participants were between 50 and 74 years old when the study started in 1992.

During a 16-year follow-up period that ended in 2008, roughly 15,000 men and 10,000 women died.

A total of 42 percent of men and nearly 57 percent of women in the study reported intentionally losing and then regaining at least 10 pounds one or more times in their life.

Among women whose weight yo-yoed the most -- 20 times or more -- 16 percent died over the study, compared to 15 percent of those who said their weight never cycled due to dieting.

For men, the corresponding numbers were 29 percent and 26 percent.

But as it turned out, participants whose weight cycled the most were also more likely to be heavy 10 years prior to the start of the study, which could raise their risk of death.

When the researchers accounted for that, as well as health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure and smoking, the gaps in death rates disappeared.

"Our study shows that the act of weight cycling itself does not increase your risk of premature death," Victoria Stevens of the American Cancer Society in Atlanta told Reuters Health.

Her findings are published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Still, experts don't recommend yo-yo dieting, but rather slow-paced, sustained weight loss.

"While weight cycling may not kill you any sooner, yo-yo dieting is still not good for a whole lot of other reasons," Judy Caplan, a dietician in private practice in Virginia, told Reuters Health.

"Yo-yo dieters are great at losing weight, but not at maintaining the weight loss, which can leave a person demoralized," said Caplan, who is also a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and was not involved in the new research.

Previous research has suggested that yo-yo dieting can slow metabolism and may actually contribute to more weight gain in the long run.

But for those who find their weight yo-yoing after dieting, the new findings contain a hopeful message.

"I think the study is encouraging," said Simone French, a behavioral scientist who specializes in obesity prevention at the University of Minnesota and was not involved in the work.

"It shows that people shouldn't be afraid to keep trying to lose weight, because they think it will increase their health risks if they gain it back."


American Journal of Epidemiology, online January 27, 2012

Coffee Consumption Reduces Fibrosis Risk in Those With Fatty Liver Disease, Study Suggests


Thursday, February 2, 2012

ScienceDaily (Feb. 2, 2012) — Caffeine consumption has long been associated with decreased risk of liver disease and reduced fibrosis in patients with chronic liver disease. Now, newly published research confirms that coffee caffeine consumption reduces the risk of advanced fibrosis in those with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Findings published in the February issue of Hepatology, a journal of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, show that increased coffee intake, specifically among patients with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), decreases risk of hepatic fibrosis.

The steady increase in rates of diabetes, obesity, and metabolic syndrome over the past 20 years has given rise to greater prevalence of NAFLD. In fact, experts now believe NAFLD is the leading cause of chronic liver disease in the U.S., surpassing both hepatitis B and C. The majority of patients will have isolated fatty liver which has a very low likelihood of developing progressive liver disease. However, a subset of patients will have NASH, which is characterized by inflammation of the liver, destruction of liver cells, and possibly scarring of the liver. Progression to cirrhosis (advanced scarring of the liver) may occur in about 10-11% of NASH patients over a 15 year period, although this is highly variable.

To enhance understanding of the correlation between coffee consumption and the prevalence and severity of NAFLD, a team led by Dr. Stephen Harrison, Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army at Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston, Texas surveyed participants from a previous NAFLD study as well as NASH patients treated at the center's hepatology clinic. The 306 participants were asked about caffeine coffee consumption and categorized into four groups: patients with no sign of fibrosis on ultrasound (control), steatosis, NASH stage 0-1, and NASH stage 2-4.

Researchers found that the average milligrams in total caffeine consumption per day in the control, steatosis, Nash 0-1, and Nash 2-4 groups was 307, 229, 351 and 252; average milligrams of coffee intake per day was 228, 160, 255, and 152, respectively. There was a significant difference in caffeine consumption between patients in the steatosis group compared to those with NASH stage 0-1. Coffee consumption was significantly greater for patients with NASH stage 0-1, with 58% of caffeine intake from regular coffee, than with NASH stage 2-4 patients at only 36% of caffeine consumption from regular coffee.

Multiple analyses showed a negative correlation between coffee consumption and risk of hepatic fibrosis. "Our study is the first to demonstrate a histopatholgic relationship between fatty liver disease and estimated coffee intake," concludes Dr. Harrison. "Patients with NASH may benefit from moderate coffee consumption that decreases risk of advanced fibrosis. Further prospective research should examine the amount of coffee intake on clinical outcomes."

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Wiley-Blackwell, via AlphaGalileo.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Journal Reference:

Jeffrey W. Molloy, Christopher J. Calcagno, Christopher D. Williams, Frances J. Jones, Dawn M. Torres, Stephen A. Harrison. Association of coffee and caffeine consumption with fatty liver disease, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, and degree of hepatic fibrosis. Hepatology, 2012; 55 (2): 429 DOI: 10.1002/hep.24731

Scientists May Be Closer to Developing 'Red Wine' Drug


HealthDay News

Thursday, February 2, 2012

THURSDAY, Feb. 2 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. researchers believe they've discovered how resveratrol -- a chemical found in red wine and other plant products -- provides health benefits.

The researchers said their work with mice may help settle the debate about resveratrol's biochemistry and could advance efforts to develop resveratrol-based medicines.

"Resveratrol has potential as a therapy for diverse diseases such as type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's disease and heart disease," study author Dr. Jay Chung, chief of the Laboratory of Obesity and Aging Research at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, said in an institute news release. "However, before researchers can transform resveratrol into a safe and effective medicine, they need to know exactly what it targets in cells."

Resveratrol appears to inhibit proteins called phosphodiesterases (PDEs), which help regulate cell energy, according to the researchers.

Some previous studies suggested that resveratrol's primary target is sirtuin 1, but the authors of this new study doubted that when they found that resveratrol activity required another protein called AMPK. This would not be the case if resveratrol directly interacted with sirtuin 1.

The researchers analyzed the metabolic activity in cells treated with resveratrol and identified the protein PDE4 in the skeletal muscle as the principal target for the health benefits of resveratrol.

Follow-up tests with mice confirmed that resveratrol attaches to and inhibits PDE proteins.

The findings are published in the Feb. 3 issue of the journal Cell.

Results from animal research are not necessarily applicable to humans. Much more research is needed before resveratrol drugs could be developed.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute discusses red wine and cancer prevention.

Erratic Heart Rhythm May Account for Some Unexplained Strokes


Thursday, February 2, 2012

ScienceDaily (Feb. 2, 2012) — Occasional erratic heart rhythms appear to cause about one-fifth of strokes for which a cause is not readily established, according to research presented at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference 2012.

About one-third of survivors leave the hospital with the cause of their stroke still undetermined.

"Identifying and treating these patients for irregular rhythm could reduce the recurrence of stroke by 40 percent compared to reducing the risk by treating them with aspirin," said Daniel J. Miller, M.D., the study's first author and a senior staff neurologist at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Mich. "The cause doesn't make a difference if there isn't a treatment, and recently two new medications -- dabigatran and rivaroxaban -- have been approved by the FDA to treat this problem."

The study confirmed a 2008 report that found 13 of 56 patients (23 percent) whose heart rhythms were measured by automated monitors for 21 days had intermittent, or paroxysmal atrial fibrillation (PAF). Such episodes can last for a few seconds up to several days.

The 2008 study suggested that erratic beats of less than 30 seconds might indicate more prolonged episodes of PAF that lead to small blood clot formation in the hearts of patients with otherwise unidentified causes for their strokes. Since the study, stroke specialists have debated the importance of PAF to patients.

Some stroke centers, including Henry Ford Hospital, adopted the Mobile Cardiac Outpatient Monitoring™ (MCOT™) system as a method of identifying PAF.

Miller and his colleagues examined the medical records of 156 patients (half women) who had undergone monitoring no more than six months after a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA), most of them for 21 days. Ninety-seven percent were not taking prescription anticoagulation drugs.

Of the total, 27 patients (17.3 percent) had one or more PAF episodes during monitoring and the number increased significantly over time. In the first two days, 3.9 percent of the patients experienced an episode of PAF. The percentage rose to 9.2 percent after one week, 15.1 percent at two weeks and 19.5 percent by three weeks, after accounting for those that had stopped monitoring early.

Patients identified at study entry with premature atrial contractions -- the most common type of erratic heartbeats -- were 13.7 times more likely to have PAF than those without the rhythm problems. "That's a very high risk," Miller said.

Excluding TIA patients, the presence of premature atrial contractions in stroke survivors increased their risk of PAF to 17 times. Each one level increase in a patient's National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale increased the risk of AF by 20 percent. The 42 point scale provides physicians a standardized method to assess a patient's stroke-induced impairment.

The other risk factors applicable to stroke and TIA patients were:

Being female. Women in the study had 6.2 times a man's risk of PAF. In stroke patients alone, the risk was 4.6 times.

Having a left atrium enlarged by 1 centimeter in diameter. This finding increased the AF risk 2.3 times.

A reduction in blood pumped by the heart. People whose left ventricle expelled 10 percent less blood than a healthy heart had a 1.8 times risk.

"Patients with stroke of unknown origin should have at least 21 days of MCOT monitoring to reliably detect paroxysmal atrial fibrillation in order to reduce their risk of future stroke," Miller said.

Co-authors are: Muhib Khan, M.D.; Lonni Schultz, Ph.D.; Jennifer R. Simpson, M.D.; Andrew Russman, D.O.; and Mitsias Panayiotis, M.D., Ph.D.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by American Heart Association.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Lack of Sunlight May Raise Stroke Risk

By Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter

HealthDay News

Thursday, February 2, 2012

THURSDAY, Feb. 2 (HealthDay News) -- The amount of sunlight you are exposed to might play a part in determining your stroke risk, new research suggests.

"We hear a lot about how sun may be bad for us, in terms of skin cancer for example," noted study co-author Leslie McClure, an associate professor of biostatistics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "But this examination of sunlight exposure indicates that there may be some positive results related to being in the sun."

"The bottom line," said McClure, "is that sunlight may be both a friend and a foe with respect to health."

McClure and her colleagues are slated to present their findings Tuesday at an American Stroke Association meeting in New Orleans.

To explore the possible connection between sun and stroke, the authors analyzed data collected from an ongoing study that includes more than 30,000 black and white men and women over the age of 45.

The team focused on roughly 16,500 of those participants, none of whom had a history of stroke or heart disease at the time they enrolled in the study, between 2003 and 2007. All had undergone physical exams, and all had completed questionnaires regarding their medical history and places they had lived in the past.

Over an average follow-up of five years, 351 of the 16,500 experienced a stroke. McClure's team stacked stroke incidence numbers up against satellite and ground information concerning geographical monthly sunlight patterns going back as much as 15 years.

The result: Those in the bottom half of the sun exposure range faced a 1.6 times greater risk for experiencing a stroke than those in the top half.

In addition, the team found evidence that those living in colder climes also showed a higher risk for stroke.

"We still don't know what exactly the sunlight and stroke relationship is due to," cautioned McClure. "There are a lot of hypotheses. But, we really don't yet understand the mechanism behind it."

For just that reason, Dr. Larry B. Goldstein, director of the Duke Stroke Center in Durham, N.C., stressed that more work needs to be done to nail down the exact nature of the sunlight-stroke relationship.

"The findings don't surprise me, but it's important to know that this is a study of association," he said, "and association doesn't prove causality. The fact that here low sun exposure -- and presumably low sun exposure areas will also have low levels of vitamin D -- has been associated with a higher risk for stroke could potentially be explanatory."

"But in fact the authors are very careful to say that this is still an exploratory analysis," Goldstein noted. "So, even if this association turns out to be real there may a wide variety of potential explanations for it. We'll have to wait and see."

Another study also being presented at the stroke meeting revealed that those consuming more dietary vitamin D have an 11 percent lower risk of experiencing a stroke.

Research presented at medical meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

More information

For more on stroke risk, visit the National Stroke Association. 

Anemia May More Than Triple Your Risk of Dying After a Stroke


Thursday, February 2, 2012

ScienceDaily (Feb. 2, 2012) — Being anemic could more than triple your risk of dying within a year after having a stroke, according to research presented at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference 2012.

"Among stroke patients, severe anemia is a potent predictor of dying throughout the first year after a stroke," said Jason Sico, M.D., lead researcher and an assistant professor of neurology at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn.

Anemia is a common condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells.

Without red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body, fatigue, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat and other symptoms can occur.

Previous research has shown anemic people who have a heart attack, heart failure or kidney disease are more likely to die within a year. Only a few small studies have focused on the link between stroke and anemia-related death.

Researchers reviewed medical records of 3,750 men treated for a first ischemic stroke at 131 Veterans Health Administration facilities in 2007. Ischemic stroke, the most common type of stroke, occurs when a blood vessel to the brain is blocked.

Compared to stroke survivors who were not anemic:

Patients with severe anemia were 3.5 times more likely to die while still in the hospital and 2.5 times more likely to die within a year.

Stroke survivors with moderate anemia were twice as likely to die within six to 12 months after a stroke.

People with mild anemia were about 1.5 times more likely to die within six to 12 months after a stroke.

Anemia is measured by hematocrit, the percentage of red blood cells in the blood.

In the study, a healthy hematocrit ranged from 38 to 42 percent; 33 to 37 percent was considered mild anemia; 28 to 32 percent was moderate anemia; and 27 percent or below indicated severe anemia.

Researchers tracked whether stroke patients died in the hospital at 30 days, 60 days and at one year, based on how anemic they were in the hospital.

To establish an independent association between anemia and the risk of dying, researchers eliminated patient factors that could alter the results. These included age, stroke severity, stroke risk factors, vital signs, lab results and how healthy patients were before and after the stroke.

Based on the results, stroke patients with anemia and their doctors should be aware of the increased risk of death and treat any modifiable causes for anemia, Sico said.

Anemia may be related to nutritional problems or blood loss in the stomach or intestines. Severe anemia may be treated with blood transfusions; however, studies have not been performed to see how safe and effective a blood transfusions are for someone hospitalized with an ischemic stroke.

"Regularly seeing your primary care physician is important. If blood tests show someone has anemia, working with one's doctors to figure out the cause is important," Sico said.

The research is ongoing and Sico hopes to determine within the next year which types of anemia are associated with higher risks. Because this study looked only at men, future studies will need to determine the impact of anemia on women after a stroke, particularly since anemia may behave differently in women.

A possible explanation for the relationship between stroke and anemia in men is that during an ischemic stroke, anemia disables the brain's blood vessels from responding properly to the blood pressure change, Sico said. Another possibility, he said, is that people with anemia often have other conditions associated with a higher stroke risk, such as heart disease and kidney disease.

Co-authors are Laura Myers, Ph.D.; Dede Ordin, M.D., M.P.H.; Linda Williams, M.D. and Dawn Bravata, M.D., M.S.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by American Heart Association.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above. 

Smoking tied to higher psoriasis risk

By Amy Norton

Reuters Health

Thursday, February 2, 2012

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Adding to the list of possible health consequences from smoking, a large study suggests that smokers have an increased risk of developing the chronic skin condition psoriasis.

People with psoriasis develop thick, red, scaly patches on the skin, which are often itchy or sore.

Experts believe the disease is caused by an abnormal immune system attack on the body's own cells. Some studies have suggested that smokers are more vulnerable to psoriasis, possibly because the habit can affect immune activity.

But most have studied people at only one time-point, which makes it hard to be sure the smoking came before the psoriasis.

So for the new study, researchers used data from three large, long-running studies of U.S. health professionals.

Of nearly 186,000 men and women followed for 12 to 20 years, 2,410 developed psoriasis during that time. And the risk was greater among both current smokers and former smokers.

People who were current smokers at the study's start were almost twice as likely as lifelong non-smokers to develop psoriasis. And past smokers had a 39 percent higher risk than non-smokers.

The findings, reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology, do not prove that smoking, itself, causes psoriasis in some people.

But it is clear that the smoking came before the psoriasis, said senior researcher Dr. Abrar A. Qureshi, of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Past studies have found links between psoriasis and both obesity and heavy drinking. But after accounting for those factors, the smoking-psoriasis link remained, Qureshi told Reuters Health.

"I think if there's one message, it's that for now, smoking seems to be a risk factor for new-onset psoriasis," Qureshi said.

Other studies have pointed to some reasons that smoking could contribute to psoriasis -- mainly its effects on immune system activity and inflammation. Smokers, for instance, tend to have higher levels of "autoantibodies" -- immune defenses that are mistakenly aimed at the body's own cells.

About 7.5 million Americans have psoriasis, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation.

Type 1 psoriasis arises in teenagers and young adults, and it's strongly related to family history of the disease. In contrast, type 2 psoriasis arises later in life, and it tends to be milder and less related to heredity.

The men and women in the current study were middle-aged to older. So it's likely they had type 2 psoriasis, Qureshi's team says.

As for people who already have psoriasis, the current findings don't speak directly to whether quitting will help them, according to Qureshi.

But there are already plenty of reasons for any smoker to quit, he said.

In particular, people with psoriasis have been shown to have an increased risk of heart disease. Since smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease, Qureshi said, quitting seems especially important for people with psoriasis.


American Journal of Epidemiology, online January 12, 2012.

Human Immune Cells React Sensitively to 'Stress'


Thursday, February 2, 2012

ScienceDaily (Feb. 2, 2012) — Scientists working with Professor Bernd Kaina of the Institute of Toxicology at the Medical Center of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz have demonstrated for the first time that certain cells circulating in human blood -- so-called monocytes -- are extremely sensitive to reactive oxygen species (ROS). They were also able to clarify the reason for this: ROS are aggressive forms of oxygen that are generated during states of "oxidative stress" and play a significant role in various diseases.

However, ROS are also naturally produced by cells of the immune system, in particular by macrophages, in response to exposure to pathogens. Macrophages are, similar to dendritic cells, generated by monocytes, which happens when monocytes leave the blood stream and enter the tissue. The scientists show that both macrophages and dendritic cells are resistant to ROS, as opposed to their precursor cells, the monocytes. The Mainz team attributes this hypersensitivity of monocytes to multiple defects in DNA repair that are apparent in these cells. They assume that a sophisticated mechanism for regulating the immune response and preventing excessive ROS production is behind this phenomenon, which was observed for the very first time. Their work has been published in the leading scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It is generally known that one of the undesirable effects of ionizing radiation and drugs used to treat cancer is an impairment of the immune system, which ceases to function properly. However, it is still unclear which immune system cells respond most sensitively following radio- and chemotherapy, and which cells are resistant. "This is the question we addressed in our current research project," explains Professor Dr. Bernd Kaina, Director of the Institute of Toxicology at the University Medical Center in Mainz. "We were able to demonstrate that human monocytes are hypersensitive to reactive oxygen species (ROS), while macrophages and dendritic cells derived from monocytes by cytokine maturation are resistant." The scientists observed this extreme sensitivity of monocytes after exposure to radiation, chemicals, and even oxidized low-density lipoprotein (oxLDL), which plays a role in atherosclerosis. All of the above resulted in the formation of intracellular ROS, which damages the DNA and leads to cell death or even malignant transformation. Specific immune system cells, particularly the macrophages, produce ROS in response to an invasion of the body by pathogens. Ideally, production of ROS should cease once the pathogens have been eliminated. There also need to be limitations on the quantity of ROS produced, as these can damage healthy cells in inflamed tissue as well. In fact, chronic infections, in which ROS are continuously being produced, are frequently linked to an increased susceptibility to cancer.

Why do monocytes react so sensitively to ROS? Kaina's team has successfully determined the cause of the hypersensitivity of monocytes to oxidative stress: The monocytes were unable to repair DNA following ROS-induced damage to their genetic substance. This is because these cells produce very low levels of certain important repair proteins called XRCC1, ligase III, PARP-1, and DNA-PK in medical jargon. "Monocytes are in fact defective as far as two important DNA repair systems are concerned, i.e. base excision repair and DNA double-strand break repair," explains Kaina. "Thus far, a general repair defect of this nature has been observed neither in the cells of the human body nor in experimental in vitro systems."

Professor Kaina assumes that the repair defect in monocytes plays an important role in the regulation of the immune response: To prevent excessive production of ROS by macrophages in the inflamed tissue and an overactivation of the immune response, monocytes, as precursor cells of the ROS-producing macrophages, undergo increased and selective destruction due to their extreme sensitivity to ROS. In turn, fewer monocytes mean fewer macrophages and consequently lower levels of ROS -- all in all a sophisticated way of regulating the monocyte/macrophage/dendritic cell system. It is clear that this has potential clinical implications: In the case of chronic inflammatory diseases in particular, the body is in a state of imbalance and excessive amounts of ROS are produced, which results in damage to the genetic substance of the healthy cells and is a contributing factor to the onset of cancer. It is possible that this vicious circle could be interrupted by the selective elimination of monocytes in the inflamed tissue.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Universität Mainz, via AlphaGalileo.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Journal Reference:

M. Bauer, M. Goldstein, M. Christmann, H. Becker, D. Heylmann, B. Kaina. Human monocytes are severely impaired in base and DNA double-strand break repair that renders them vulnerable to oxidative stress. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2011; 108 (52): 21105 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1111919109

Mouse Study Suggests Alzheimer's Spreads Through Brain Like an Infection

By Margaret Farley Steele and Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporters

HealthDay News

Thursday, February 2, 2012

THURSDAY, Feb. 2 (HealthDay News) -- Alzheimer's disease appears to spread through the brain, traveling from neuron to neuron in much the same way that an infection or cancer moves through the body, new research with mice suggests.

Scientists reported Thursday that their work indicates that abnormal tau protein -- already identified in the brains of those with Alzheimer's -- starts in one region of the brain and spreads along linked cellular circuits.

Identification of this tau pathway could influence the direction of future research and treatment of the mind-wasting disease, the study authors and other experts said.

"This opens up a whole new area of biology that has direct relevance for Alzheimer's disease. We now have a whole new set of targets that perhaps we can develop drugs for," said study lead author Karen Duff, a professor of pathology at Columbia University's Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain.

The process was first noticed in autopsies of Alzheimer's patients where one could see the disease's path from one cell to another. The researchers behind the new study created genetically engineered mice to mimic that disease process.

"Now we have this protein going outside a cell and into another cell, so we potentially have something we can target with drugs," Duff said. "This is a very early aspect of the disease. Once this protein starts to move around the brain it can spread very rapidly."

This is a process that seems to happen in all types of Alzheimer's cases, she said.

One idea for a treatment would be to develop a therapeutic vaccine that could stop this process in its tracks early before dementia sets in, Duff said.

However, far more research is needed into the new findings before they might yield any therapeutic benefit to people, experts said.

Dr. Sam Gandy is a professor of Alzheimer's disease research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, who is familiar with the new study. He said: "Scientists have long recognized that Alzheimer's disease begins in a tiny brain region but eventually decimates the entire cortex. This spread is not random but follows established neuro-anatomical connections. The new study shows that the pathological proteins can apparently be ferried across the synapse [the gap between neurons, or brain cells], where they are taken up and cause previously normal proteins to 'go rogue.'"

With an understanding of this transfer process, "we might be able to arrest progression of Alzheimer's disease at very early stages," added Gandy, who's also chairman emeritus of the Alzheimer's Association's National Medical and Scientific Advisory Council.

For the study, published online Feb. 2 in the journal PloS One, the researchers used genetically engineered mice with abnormal tau protein in the entorhinal cortex. Over nearly two years, as the mice grew older, the researchers saw that the abnormal human tau spread out from the entorhinal cortex to the hippocampus -- a key part of the brain that helps govern long-term memory and spatial navigation -- to the neocortex.

"This pattern very much follows the staging that we see at the earliest stages of human Alzheimer's disease," Duff said.

Future treatments could potentially try to stop tau's movement from cell to cell, which might prevent progression to more severe dementia, she said.

Study co-author Dr. Scott A. Small, a neurology professor at Columbia, said if tau pathology does start in the entorhinal cortex [a region of the brain involved with memory], as the new research suggests, Alzheimer's could be treated through early detection and treatment, much like cancer.

"The best way to cure Alzheimer's may be to identify and treat it when it is just beginning, to halt progression. It is during this early stage that the disease will be most amenable to treatment. That is the exciting clinical promise down the road," Small said in a Columbia news release.

Researchers have been uncertain whether Alzheimer's starts in different areas of the brain at different times or, as the new research suggests, it starts in one area and spreads via cell connections to other parts of the brain.

Alzheimer's, which is irreversible and incurable, destroys memory and thinking skills and ultimately prevents people from carrying out everyday activities. It typically affects people 65 and older (called late-onset Alzheimer's) but it can strike younger people.

An estimated 5 million Americans may have the brain disorder, according to current estimates, and that number is projected to rise to as many as 16 million people by 2050 as the population ages.

The new research was supported by grants from the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the U.S. National Institute on Aging.

More information

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

Ulcer-causing bug tied to higher diabetes risk

By Kerry Grens

Reuters Health

Thursday, February 2, 2012

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - People who have been infected with the ulcer-causing bacteria Helicobacter pylori are more than twice as likely to develop diabetes later on as people who do not have signs of the infection, according to a new study of Latino adults in California.

The results don't prove that the bug causes diabetes, but "it is strongly related to predicting type 2 diabetes," said Allison Aiello, the senior researcher on the study and a professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Earlier studies looking at the relationship between H. pylori infection and diabetes have had inconsistent results -- some have shown a link, while others have not.

Aiello and her colleagues point out in their report in the journal Diabetes Care that previous research has only been snapshots in time of who had diabetes, who had the infection and who didn't.

To try to get a better fix on whether one condition might cause the other, the group tracked nearly 800 people for a decade.

None of them had type 2 diabetes, the kind related to being overweight, at the beginning of the study.

But over time, 144 people developed the disease, and 97 percent of those had tested positive for H. pylori at the start of the study.

By contrast, 91 percent of the people who didn't develop diabetes had tested positive for H. pylori.

After the researchers took into account factors such as vascular disease, smoking and being overweight, they found that the risk of developing diabetes was 2.7 times higher among the group of people who had the infection.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about two-thirds of people worldwide have been infected with H. pylori, but most never experience any symptoms.

About eight percent of the United States population has diabetes.

Because the researchers were able to follow people over time and show that the diabetes cases developed after people were infected with H. pylori gives "more credence to a potential causal relationship," they wrote.

Dr. Alain Bertoni, a professor at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center who was not involved in the study, agreed that "the results are suggestive that this is a causal relationship," but offered other possibilities that could explain the findings.

"It is possible that some factor not measured (a confounder) that is associated with NOT being H. pylori actually a protective factor, rather than H. pylori is causing diabetes," Bertoni wrote in an email to Reuters Health. "For example, the authors did not consider physical activity."

He also said that perhaps people with the bacterial infection go to the doctor more often for stomach troubles, giving them a better chance of having their diabetes detected.

The researchers did find that if they accounted for people who were taking antacids or antibiotics to treat the infection it did not alter their results.

They also did not see a similar link between other infections -- namely, herpes, varicella virus, cytomegalovirus, and the bacterium Toxoplasma gondii -- and diabetes.

It's not clear why H. pylori and diabetes are related, though Aiello said there is speculation that the bacteria could alter the conditions in the gut or promote inflammation that might contribute to diabetes.

She and her colleagues found an extremely high rate of infection among the people in her study, with more than 90 percent testing positive.

"It's pretty amazing, especially given that we have treatments for H. pylori," Aiello said.

It will be important for future studies to show if H. pylori does indeed have an influence on diabetes, said Aiello, because the infection can be taken care of.


Diabetes Care, online January 25, 2012.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012 

Sleep Apnea May Be Tied to 'Silent' Strokes, Study Finds

By Kathleen Doheny
HealthDay Reporter

HealthDay News

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 1 (HealthDay News) -- Sleep apnea, the disorder marked by abnormal pauses in breathing during sleep, is already known to boost the risk of stroke. Now, a new study links sleep apnea to so-called silent strokes, in which there is tissue death in the brain without symptoms.

In another new study, researchers found that rapid memory loss before a stroke boosts the risk of the stroke being fatal.

Both studies are slated for presentation Wednesday at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference in New Orleans.

Stroke affects 795,000 Americans annually, according to the association.

In one study, Dr. Jessica Kepplinger, a fellow at the University of Technology in Dresden, Germany, and her colleagues evaluated 56 patients who had a stroke. They knew that silent strokes had been linked to an increased risk of strokes. However, "there are barely any studies that have investigated the relationship between sleep apnea and the so-called clinically silent strokes," she said.

To look at the relationship, they first gave patients in-hospital testing for apnea. "We found an overall high frequency of sleep apnea, 91 percent, in our study population of acute stroke patients, which underlines the importance of this stroke risk factor," Kepplinger said.

The team also performed brain-imaging studies. Those with sleep apnea were more likely to have the silent strokes, as evidenced on the brain scans, the researchers found. Having more than five episodes a night was linked with having silent strokes. The higher the severity of the apnea, the more likely these silent strokes were found on brain imaging.

The more severe the apnea, the less favorable the outcome when the patient was discharged.

The patients were on average 67 years old, and just over half of them were women, the study authors noted.

While the study found an association between sleep apnea and stroke, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

In the second study, Qianyi Wang, a graduate student at the Harvard University School of Public Health, and colleagues evaluated nearly 12,000 men and women, all above age 50, enrolled in the U.S. Health and Retirement Study.

All were stroke-free at the start. The men and women were given memory tests every two years for up to 10 years.

Over time, 1,820 strokes were reported, including 364 people who died after the stroke.

The others were stroke-free for the entire follow-up period, the study authors noted.

The research looked at the memory declines over time. Those who later survived a stroke "had memory decline that is nearly twice as fast as stroke-free individuals, even before their stroke," Wang said.

"For people who do not survive stroke, this difference is even more striking," said M. Maria Glymour, an assistant professor of society, human development and health at Harvard and a study co-author. "Prior to stroke, people who later died shortly after stroke were declining three times as fast as the stroke-free."

The study was funded by the U.S. National Institute on Aging and the American Heart Association.

"Our study is the first national picture of how memory changes over the long-term before and after stroke onset, compared to individuals who do not have a stroke," Glymour said.

Both studies provide some valuable information, said Dr. Ralph Sacco, chair of neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and past president of the American Heart Association. He reviewed the findings.

"It's been mainly in smaller studies that sleep apnea has been shown to be a risk factor for stroke," Sacco said. The new research, he noted, goes even further by linking sleep apnea with the milder "silent" strokes.

"There are many reasons to treat sleep apnea, including reducing the risk for clinical and now silent stroke," Sacco said.

The memory-loss study, he said, "is telling us that those who have the worst memory loss may have a greater death rate when they have the stroke." Those with more memory loss in the study may also have had more risk factors for stroke, Sacco added.

Even so, he said, the message seems to be that taking care of brain health may help us in several ways. "What is good for our memory may also be good for surviving a stroke," Sacco said.

Because these studies were presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

Visit the American Stroke Association to learn more about stroke.

Omega-3s tied to lower risk of heart arrhythmia

By Kerry Grens

Reuters Health

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - In a new study of some 3,000 older adults, those with the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood were 30 percent less likely to develop an irregular heartbeat over the next 14 years than peers with the lowest blood levels of omega-3s.

"A 30 percent lower risk of the most common chronic arrhythmia in the United States population is a pretty big effect," said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, senior author of the new report and a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.

According to some estimates, up to nine percent of Americans will develop atrial fibrillation, a heart-rhythm abnormality that can lead to stroke and heart failure, by the time they reach their 80s.

There are few treatments for the condition and they largely center on preventing strokes with blood-thinning drugs.

Some previous studies have suggested that people who eat a lot of fish have a lower risk of developing atrial fibrillation to begin with. But others haven't found the same link.

The omega-3 fatty acids measured in the new study -- eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosapentaenoic acid (DPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) - are found in oily fish and some enriched foods, like eggs, as well as in fish oil supplements.

The earlier studies relied on questionnaires about how much fish people ate, which can only estimate the levels of omega-3s they ingested, Mozaffarian noted.

"Any given fish species can vary in its omega-3s by 10-fold," he told Reuters Health.

To get a more accurate measurement of how much fish oil the people in the study actually ingested, the researchers sampled blood from more than 3,300 adults over age 65.

Over 14 years, they tracked the seniors' health and found that 789 had developed atrial fibrillation.

Those with top-25-percent omega-3 levels in their bloodstreams at the beginning of the study were about 30 percent less likely to end up with the arrhythmia compared to those with bottom-25-percent blood levels of the fatty acids.

The difference in risk isn't huge, but "these are meaningful reductions in risk" said Dr. Alvaro Alonso, a professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health who was not involved in this study.

A 30 percent reduction in risk would mean that instead of 25 out of every 100 people developing a condition, only about 17 out of every 100 people would get it.

Another study from Finland used the same approach of measuring fatty acids in the blood and found a similar reduction in the risk of atrial fibrillation among those with the highest levels.

Mozaffarian's group tried to tease out which of the omega-3 fats might be responsible for the lower risk, and found that high DHA levels were linked to a 23 percent lower risk for atrial fibrillation while EPA and DPA were not tied to any reduced risk.

DHA is highly concentrated in heart muscle cell membranes, Mozaffarian and his colleagues point out in their report, published in the journal Circulation.

Alonso cautioned that this study doesn't prove eating fish is responsible for the lower rate of atrial fibrillation, but he said there is some idea that the fatty acids found in fish could work by stabilizing the excitability of heart muscle cells.

He said that the results seem promising enough to warrant further studies experimenting with using fish oil as a potential preventive measure against atrial fibrillation.

An earlier study of fish oil pills found that they didn't help the symptoms of atrial fibrillation in people who had already developed the arrhythmia (see Reuters Health story of November 15, 2010).

The American Heart Association, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other groups recommend eating fish at least twice a week.

Mozaffarian said most Americans don't meet those goals.

He said his study "doesn't change current guidelines, but I think this should change people's motivation."


 Circulation, online January 26, 2012.

Alzheimer's-Linked Brain Plaques May Affect Memory in Healthy People

By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

HealthDay News

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 1 (HealthDay News) -- A new study suggests that a brain-clotting plaque linked to Alzheimer's disease may cause cognitive decline even in healthy people, potentially setting the stage for the development of the devastating illness later in life.

The findings don't point to any new treatment for Alzheimer's disease, which is incurable, and the detected decline in brain function is so small that affected people probably wouldn't notice anything in their daily lives.

Still, "I think they certainly are at higher risk of Alzheimer's," said study co-author Denise Park, A cognitive neuroscientist at the Center for Vital Longevity at the University of Texas at Dallas. She added that the test that turned up signs of the brain plaque could eventually help doctors figure out if someone's at risk for the disease long before they reach old age.

"Just because we don't have a treatment for Alzheimer's doesn't mean we'll never have one. What if we can develop this field enough that we can say things about your brain in your 40s and tell people, 'Here's a pill that you can take to slow [cognitive deterioration] down so it will never go to Alzheimer's?'" she said.

The plaque at issue is known as beta amyloid. It's a kind of protein that collects in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease along with stringy "tangles" that appear in neurons. Research suggests that the plaques and neurons kill off brain cells, leading to declines in mental function.

The researchers wanted to study beta amyloid levels in people without Alzheimer's disease. They did PET scans on 137 people aged 30 to 89, and gave them several cognitive tests that measured things like memory and how fast their brains worked.

Those with higher levels of the brain gunk performed worse on cognitive tests measuring brain-processing speed, working memory and reasoning.

However, the differences in brain function may not mean much to the individuals. "In everyday life, I don't think you'd notice it," Park said

The study appears in the Feb. 1 online issue of Neurology.

What does the study suggest about the brain plaque? "One idea is that it's a first step in a cascade of events that ultimately leads to Alzheimer's disease," Park said. "Another possibility is that although the amyloid is there, maybe it won't increase or harm the individual for 20 or more years, that it doesn't progress as rapidly as many people think it does."

Dr. Brad Dickerson, an associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, said the study is important because it adds to previous research that links higher levels of beta amyloid to cognitive problems.

"It will be interesting to follow these individuals over time in order to see whether these differences between people have any implications for risk for future cognitive decline," he said. "It would also be interesting to investigate other types of measures of brain structure and function in these individuals."

More information

For more about Alzheimer's disease, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Worrying Too Much Might Raise Your Risk for Stroke

HealthDay News

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 1 (HealthDay News) -- High levels of a personality trait called harm avoidance -- which includes excessive worrying, pessimism, fear and fatigue -- is associated with a higher stroke risk, a new study indicates.

It included 1,082 older adults without dementia who were rated on the 35-item Harm Avoidance Scale. During 3-1/2 years of follow-up, 258 of the participants died. Of those, 80 percent underwent a brain autopsy.

People who scored high on the Harm Avoidance Scale had a 2.4 times increased risk of microscopic stroke and a 1.8 times increased risk of a stroke that's easily visible in the brain.

The link between high levels of harm avoidance and increased stroke risk remained after researchers accounted for brain and motor function, cardiovascular risk factors and conditions, and neuroticism.

The study was to be presented Wednesday at the American Stroke Association meeting in New Orleans.

Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about stroke risk factors and symptoms.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012 

Fatty Diet Before Pregnancy Linked to Gestational Diabetes

HealthDay News

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

TUESDAY, Jan. 31 (HealthDay News) -- A pre-pregnancy diet high in animal fat increases the risk that moms-to-be will develop gestational diabetes, a new study says.

"Our findings indicate that women who reduce the proportion of animal fat and cholesterol in their diets before pregnancy may lower their risk for gestational diabetes during pregnancy," senior author Dr. Cuilin Zhang, of the epidemiology branch at the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said in an NIH news release.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 13,000 women in the U.S. Nurses' Health Study II. The women were ages 22 to 45 when they enrolled in the study and provided information every few years about their health and lifestyle habits, such as the kinds of foods they ate.

About 6 percent said they had been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, a form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes increases the risk for certain pregnancy complications and health problems in newborns.

Women who consumed the most animal fat were nearly twice as likely to develop gestational diabetes as those who consumed the lowest amounts. Also, women who consumed the highest amounts of dietary cholesterol were 45 percent more likely to develop gestational diabetes than those who consumed the lowest amounts.

There was no increased risk of gestational diabetes among women whose diets were high in total fat or other kinds of fat, said the researchers at the NIH and Harvard University.

They also found that the increased risk for gestational diabetes associated with diets high in animal fat and cholesterol seemed to be independent of other dietary and non-dietary risk factors.

For example, exercise is known to reduce the risk of gestational diabetes. But among pregnant women who exercised, the risk of gestational diabetes was higher among those who consumed higher amounts of animal fat and cholesterol than those who consumed lower levels of those types of fat.

The researchers concluded that changing 5 percent of dietary calories from animal fat to plant-derived sources could reduce a woman's risk of gestational diabetes by 7 percent.

The study was published online Jan. 4 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

"This is the largest study to date of the effects of a pre-pregnancy diet on gestational diabetes," first author Katherine Bowers of the NICHD said in the news release. "Additional research may lead to increased understanding of how a mother's diet before and during pregnancy influences her metabolism during pregnancy, which may have important implications for the baby's health at birth and later in life."

While the study found an association between a high fat diet and gestational diabetes, it did not prove that such a diet causes the condition.

More information

The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has more about gestational diabetes.

Diabetes drugs tied to pancreatic cancer risk

By Genevra Pittman

Reuters Health

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A new study links the diabetes drug metformin to fewer cases of pancreatic cancer -- at least in women -- but finds other diabetes medications are associated with a higher risk of the disease.

The differences in medication history among people who did or didn't get pancreatic cancer were small, researchers said, and it's unclear why the drugs might affect cancer risks in men and women differently.

Still, the new finding is in line with previous research suggesting that metformin may decrease the risk of multiple cancers, said Dr. Peter Butler, a diabetes researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles David Geffen School of Medicine, who wasn't involved in the new study.

"One theme that seems to be coming through... is that the oldest drug we have for diabetes, metformin, is undoubtedly the best drug we have for diabetes," he told Reuters Health.

Pancreatic cancer is relatively rare as far as cancers go, but progresses quickly; most people don't survive more than a couple years after diagnosis. The National Cancer Institute estimates that about 44,000 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the United States this year, and close to 38,000 will die from the disease.

Research has suggested that people with pancreatic cancer may have an increased risk of diabetes, but it's unclear how diabetes -- and the drugs used to treat it -- may affect pancreatic cancer risks in previously cancer-free people.

To help answer that question, Dr. Christoph Meier of the University Hospital Basel in Switzerland and his colleagues consulted a database of more than eight million people in the UK, including about 2,800 who were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer between 1995 and 2009.

For each of those people, they found another six of the same age and gender that didn't have pancreatic cancer to serve as a comparison group.

Using records from primary care doctors, the researchers determined how many people in the pancreatic cancer and cancer-free groups had previously been diagnosed with diabetes and were on an anti-diabetes drug, such as metformin or sulfonylureas, which include glimepiride and glyburide.

Those drugs cause the body to make or absorb less glucose (metformin) or to produce more insulin (sulfonylureas) to keep blood sugar levels in check.

One in nine people with pancreatic cancer had a prior diagnosis of diabetes, compared to about one in twelve in the cancer-free comparison group, according to findings published Tuesday in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

According to their medical records, two percent of people with pancreatic cancer had been taking metformin long-term before they were diagnosed, compared to 1.6 percent of the group without cancer -- a difference that could have been due to chance.

But when the researchers separated the records by gender, they found that significantly fewer women with a new diagnosis of pancreatic cancer had been taking metformin for at least a few years, compared to cancer-free women.

That was after the researchers had already taken into account whether women were overweight or obese and if they smoked or drank alcohol.

The association in one gender but not the other was "somewhat unexpected," according to Meier's team, and there's no clear biology-based way to explain why metformin might help protect women against pancreatic cancer, but not men.

The findings were reversed for insulin and sulfonylureas in the study population. Significantly more people with pancreatic cancer had a history of long-term use of those drugs than cancer-free people.

Craig Currie, who has studied diabetes drugs and cancer at the Cardiff University School of Medicine in the UK, said it makes sense that insulin and sulfonylureas would increase the risk of pancreatic cancer. Insulin promotes cancer growth, he said, and also acts directly on the pancreas.

The study's investigators "raise doubts about these treatments," he told Reuters Health in an email.

"There is a possibility that exogenous insulin (insulin that's not made naturally by the body) is of questionable safety in people with type 2 diabetes," added Currie, who didn't participate in the new research.

Still, absolute differences in medication use were small even in people with cancer: less than one percent of those with or without pancreatic cancer had taken insulin long-term. Sulfonylurea users accounted for just over three percent of people with a new pancreatic cancer diagnosis and two percent without cancer.

Butler said it's hard to tease out what cancer risks may be due to the drugs, and what could be a result of poor diet and lack of exercise, for example, in people with diabetes. He said that more research will be needed to tease out those specific effects.

"Honestly for patients at this point, I think this is another piece of the jigsaw puzzle," Butler said.

"This paper in itself would not cause me to recommend a change in treatment for people."

That said, Butler concluded that evidence suggests most people with type 2 diabetes who don't have any medical reasons not to take metformin should be on the drug, either alone or in combination with other anti-diabetes medications.


American Journal of Gastroenterology, online January 31, 2012.

Monday, January 30, 2012 

Those Extra Pounds Could Harm Your Back

HealthDay News

Monday, January 30, 2012

MONDAY, Jan. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Overweight and obese adults are at significantly increased risk for lumbar spine disc degeneration, a potential cause of low back pain, researchers say.

Previous research has linked having a higher body-mass index (BMI), which is a measurement that takes into account a person's height and weight, to reports of low back pain. This type of pain can affect physical and mental well-being, limit mobility, reduce quality of life and is associated with substantial financial costs for both the patient and the health care system.

The new study included more than 1,000 men and nearly 1,600 women aged 21 and older from southern China. Overall, 73 percent of the participants had lumbar disc degeneration, but the condition was more common in men than women (76 percent vs. 71 percent) and more prevalent among older people, according to the study in the new issue of the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.

Seven percent of the study participants were underweight, 48 percent were in the normal weight range, 36 percent were overweight and 9 percent were obese, the investigators noted.

"Our research confirms that with elevated BMI there is a significant increase in the extent and global severity of disc degeneration. In fact, end-stage disc degeneration with narrowing of the disc space was more pronounced in obese individuals," Dr. Dino Samartzis, of the University of Hong Kong, said in a journal news release.

As people gain weight, disc degeneration may begin to occur due to physical loading on the disc, the study authors suggested. In addition, fat cells may play a role by causing chronic low-grade inflammation, they noted.

"Since overweight and obesity are worldwide concerns whose prevalence continues to rise, our study's findings have considerable public health implications. If these issues continue to plague society, they can further affect spine health leading to low back pain and its consequences," Samartzis said.

Disc degeneration is a complex process and future studies that investigate risk factors for the condition should take into account the effects of being overweight or obese, the researchers recommended.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases has more about back pain.

"Spam" linked to diabetes risk in Native Americans

By Kerry Grens

Reuters Health

Monday, January 30, 2012

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - In a new study, American Indians who frequently ate processed meat that comes in a can - a common food on reservations and one subsidized by the U.S. government - had a two-fold increased risk of developing diabetes compared to those who ate little or none of the products generically known as "spam."

"I think what this study indicates is processed meats should be a priority for reduction (in the diet), especially among American Indians where they can go to food assistance programs and they can get discounted spam," said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, who was not involved in this study.

Native Americans are at especially high risk of developing diabetes. By the age of 55, nearly half will have the condition.

To look into potential reasons for this high rate, the researchers surveyed 2,000 Native Americans from Arizona, Oklahoma and North and South Dakota.

None of the participants, whose average age was 35, had diabetes at the start of the study when they answered questions about diet and other health and lifestyle factors.

After five years, the researchers followed up and found that 243 people had developed diabetes.

Among the 500 people in the original study group who ate the most canned processed meat, 85 developed diabetes.

In contrast, among the 500 people who ate the least amount of "spam," just 44 developed the disease.

Though Spam is a brand-name pork product, the lower-case term is also used to describe any kind of processed, canned meat, said Amanda Fretts, lead author of the study and a researcher at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

Canned meat is a staple on reservations, Fretts and her colleagues wrote in their report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

"A lot of communities in this study are in very rural areas with limited access to grocery stores...and they want to eat foods that have a long shelf life," Fretts told Reuters Health.

Additionally, canned meat is available freely to many American Indians on reservations as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's food assistance program.

Fretts and her colleagues found that unprocessed meat did not show the same relationship with diabetes.

People were equally likely to develop diabetes regardless of how much hamburger or cuts of pork or beef they ate.

The findings support an earlier analysis by Mozaffarian and his colleagues that tallied the results from multiple studies examining the link between diabetes and meat.

They found that processed meats were tied to a 19 percent higher diabetes risk, while unprocessed meats were neutral (see Reuters story of May 17, 2010).

Mozaffarian said there's no clear explanation for the link between processed meats and diabetes.

"I think the biggest difference between processed and unprocessed meats is sodium," with processed meats having higher sodium levels, he said. "We know sodium impacts blood pressure, and perhaps other health effects that we need to study more."

Fretts and her colleagues note in their report that the people who ate the most processed meats tended also to be heavier, with larger waistlines, raising the possibility that processed meats contribute to obesity, which ups the risk of diabetes.

They also bring up the possibility that sodium nitrite, a preservative used to cure processed meats, could play a role in diabetes.

"We have to do a bit more research to figure that out," Fretts told Reuters Health.

Nathan Bryan, a professor at the University of Texas, said nitrites are not likely to blame for the link between processed meats and diabetes.

"It doesn't make sense when there's so very little (nitrites) in meats, whether it's processed or fresh meats, and the main source is vegetables," Bryan told Reuters Health.

The American Meat Institute, for which Bryan has consulted, echoed his argument about nitrites.

In an emailed statement to Reuters Health, the AMI, which represents companies that process meat, said that "processed meats are a safe and nutritious part of a balanced diet."

Fretts said that the study could not prove that eating processed meats is to blame for the increased risk of diabetes.

"Because it was an observational study, we don't know if it was the meat itself or something else," Fretts said. "I think there needs to be more follow up."


American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online January 25, 2012.