Archive for May, 2008

Social activities may delay age-related memory loss

Frequent interaction with family and friends, volunteering, and other social activities may delay age-related memory loss, a new study reveals.   Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health recently studied adults 50 and older and  found that memory declined twice as fast among those who were the most socially reclusive as it did among those with the most social interaction. 

These results are certainly interesting and add to the work of previous researchers who found links between social stimulation and the incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, but the study was unable to determine whether increasing social contact may actually help reverse or prevent memory loss. Another important point, the researchers pointed out in MedPage Today, is that it’s possible that people who are suffering from memory decline tend to withdraw socially. 

Whatever the case, enjoyable social stimulation is well known to have positive health benefits while stress takes a huge toll on our well-being.  The act of laughing has been shown to lower blood pressure, improve arterial circulation, reduce the release of stress hormones (adrenalin, cortisol, and dopac), and help release the body’s own pain killers (endorphins).  

In a study from the University of Maryland Medical Center, participants who watched funny movies experienced improved arterial circulation. In contrast, however, participants responded with constriction of arterial blood flow during “the heart-wrenching opening D-Day sequence in the 1998 drama Saving Private Ryan”, according to an article in MedPage Today. 

Unfortunately, even mild laughter can trigger an asthma attack in someone who has inadequately controlled asthma. Those who have exercise-induced asthma tend to be particularly susceptible, say researchers from New York University at an American Thoracic Society meeting in 2005.

In one way or another, keeping the gift of laughter, family and friendship in our lives will certainly help us ward off the effects of aging.

via MedPage Today, May 29, 2008
via American Journal of Public Health
via meeting of the American Physiological Society , 2008
via MedPage Today, January 2006

Side-effects of Chantix prompt new legislation

Pilots, air traffic controllers, truckers and bus drivers are now legally prohibited  from taking Chantix while working.  While Pfizer attempts to counter growing concerns over its smoking cessation drug, both the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the FAA have released new statements banning the use of Chantix while operating planes, trucks, and buses.

Since its release in 2006, Chantix has been blamed for nearly 1,000 significant events reported to the FDA including serious accidents and falls, potentially lethal cardiac rhythm disturbances, severe skin reactions, acute myocardial infarction, seizures, diabetes, psychosis, aggression, and suicide. To top it off there have been 420 confirmed reports of mood changes, including anxiety, nervousness, depressed mood, tension, and suicidal behavior or suicidal thoughts.

Chantix does work pretty well in helping people stop smoking, but the concerns are mounting and the risks are certainly appearing to outweigh the benefits.  Clearly, stopping smoking is extremely important, but there are other methods that have worked for many people, such as nicotine replacement patches and the antidepressant Wellbutrin.  Finding a friend or co-worker who also wants to quit markedly improves motivation and increases the chances of success. 

For those who elect to start or continue on Chantix, the recently published warning from the FDA and Pfizer should definitely be heeded: ”If either you, your family or caregiver notice agitation, depressed mood, or changes in behavior that are not typical for you, or if you have suicidal thoughts or actions, stop taking Chantix and call your doctor right away.”

via, May 2008
MedPage Today , May 21, 2008
via FDA, May 16, 2008

Cocoa is good for the heart

In a recent study of Type 2 diabetics who drank flavanol-rich cocoa three times a day for 30 days, the participants experienced a 30% improvement in arterial blood flow which is thought to translate into a reduction of cardiovascular disease and mortality risk. This adds to similar findings of previous research which has linked foods with high concentrations of flavanoids to an improvement in cardiovascular disease.

Fruits, vegetables, tea, red wine, and cocoa contain flavanols. The cocoa used in this study was made from an instant flavanol-rich cocoa beverage powder containing 321 mg of flavanols per serving. Previous research has found that Americans usually consume 20 to 100 mg of flavanol per day.

Taking a look at the label of the Nestle, Fat Free with Calcium, cocoa beverage-powder available at grocery stores, there are 80 mg of “natural antioxidants” per serving.   I have been buying this one because there are only 25 calories, 5g of carbohydrates, and no fat, but I would like to find a product with more flavanols, while keeping the carbs and fat to a minimum. In addition to making hot chocolate with the cocoa powder, I have found that adding about 1/3 cup of coffee to the hot chocolate, makes a great tasting and healthy drink.   

via Journal of the American College of Cardiology/University Hospital Aachen/MedPage Today, May 27, 2008


It helps to quit smoking with a friend

People tend to quit smoking when they have the support of others going through the same ordeal, researchers say.  A recent large-scale analysis of Framingham study participants found people were more likely to quit smoking if friends, family or co-workers were trying to quit smoking as well. This new study from Harvard Medical School and University of California  adds to mounting evidence that social relationships have a big effect on health care decisions and life-style choices. This same team of experts also found in a previous study that obesity may be socially contagious as well.

via Reuters/New England Journal of Medicine, May 2008

Hookah smoking popular with college students

A large number of college students have tried smoking waterpipes, often with the erroneous assumption that they offer a “safer” way to smoke, researchers from the Virginia Commonwealth University report. Previous studies have shown that waterpipe smoke contains the same toxins as cigarette smoke.

via Journal of Adolescent Health, May 2008

Senator Edward Kennedy diagnosed with malignant brain tumor

In a news alert by Reuters today, “Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, the brother of assassinated President John F. Kennedy and the elder statesman of American liberal politics, has a malignant brain tumor, his doctors said on Tuesday.

Kennedy, 76, who has been hospitalized in Boston since he had a seizure on Saturday, will likely need chemotherapy and radiation therapy to treat the glioma, a type of tumor that usually kills within three years.”

via Reuters May 20, 2008 

Sleep apnea patients may need oxygen during air travel

A new small study finds that about half of people with obstructive sleep apnea may need supplemental oxygen during a commercial airline flight, even if they are otherwise healthy. Australian researchers from the Concord Repatriation General Hospital in Sydney undertook this study because of the rising rate of obesity, which is increasing the number of people with obstructive sleep apnea.  

In this study there were 2 groups of participants who underwent an airline cabin simulation while their blood-oxygen saturation levels were measured.  One group consisted of 22 patients with severe sleep apnea but no history of lung disease, and the other group was made up of 10 normal volunteers.  During the simulation of commercial airline travel, both groups experienced a significant drop in oxygen saturation from normal, but the sleep apnea patients had a significantly lower oxygen saturation at all simulated heights.  In fact, 11 of the 22 patients experienced a drop low enough to warrant the use of supplemental oxygen.

According to one of the researchers Leigh Seccombe, M.Sc., in MedPage Today, ”It’s too early to say what the clinical implications of the findings are. Many people fly, many people get hypoxic, but not many have adverse events.”  One implication might be that the airlines may need to allow people with obstructive sleep apnea to use supplemental oxygen at a physician’s request, as they now do for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Via MedPage Today May 2008
Seccombe LM, et al “Effects of commercial flight simulation in patients with obstructive sleep apnea” Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2008; 177: A220.


Teen exercise linked with lower breast cancer risk

There has been mounting evidence that regular exercise is associated with a lower incidence of breast cancer.  A recent study performed by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle supported these findings and found that exercise had the greatest effect on women between the ages of 12 to 22. The amount of activity required to achieve the greatest reduction, 23 percent, was equivalent to 3.25 hours per week of running, or 13 hours per week of walking.

via Journal of the National Cancer Institute, May 21, 2008

Air pollution linked with DVT (deep vein thrombosis)

Chronic exposure to air pollution appears to change the blood’s coagulation properties and increases the risk of developing a DVT, Harvard researchers recently reported.  In their study of 870 patients, the risk of a clot increased by 70% with each 10 μg/m3 rise in airborne particulate matter.  Previous studies have also found an association between exposure to air pollution and hypercoagulability which resulted in an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

via Arch Internal Medicine, May 12, 2008


Marijuana use worsens depression in teens

A recent report reveals that some teens are using drugs to relieve depression, when in fact, marijuana use is known to worsen the problem. Using marijuana increases the risk of developing mental disorders by 40 percent, and teens who smoke pot at least once a month over a yearlong period are three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts than nonusers.

In this report from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, during this past year, two million teens felt depressed at some point during the past year, and depressed teens are more than twice as likely as non-depressed teens to self-medicate with marijuana and other illicit drugs.  They are also more than twice as likely as their peers to abuse or become dependent on these drugs.

Overall, marijuana use among teens has decreased 25 percent since 2001. This is down to about 2.3 million kids who used pot at least once a month.

via Office of National Drug Control Policy, May 9, 2008