Archive for the 'Neurological Disease' Category

Concerns are Mounting Over Deadly Fungus in Northwest U.S. and British Columbia

Trees and soil in the Pacific Northwest are thought to be the source of the fungusA new deadly strain of an airborne fungus, called Cryptococcus gattii, is infecting both animals and people in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia, according to Duke researchers. 

Although rare so far, this airborne fungus has been highly virulent with a mortality rate of about 25 percent. It typically only infects immunocompromised patients, but this new strain is genetically different and is a threat to healthy people as well.

Treatment of this highly lethal infection requires months to years of antifungal medications. Surgery is often necessary to remove the large masses known as cryptococcomas that can develop in various parts of the body.  There is no known method of prevention or vaccination at this point.

C. gatti has historically been a tropical fungus normally found in South America, Australia and Papua New Guinea. In these areas, it tends to favor eucalyptus trees with rates of infection among people being relatively low.

However, in 1999, the fungus emerged as a new strain on the east side of Vancouver Island where it is thought to have infected certain areas of soil, water, and local trees. From 1999 through 2003 the outbreak was confined to the island, but since 2003 the infection has also been found in the mainland of British Columbia, Washington state, California and Oregon.   Given this path, as well as the fact that C. gattii potentially can be dispersed through export of trees and woody products, air currents, water currents, and biotic sources, such as birds, animals, and insects, the researchers predict further spread of the fungus into the U.S. 

The disease is not contagious from person to person or person to animal.  It is thought to spread through the air to both humans and animals by inhalation of spores released by the fungus from the trees, soil, water or air.  

“The primary site of infection is the lung; C. gattii can lead to pneumonia or formation of cryptococcomas. The infection can disseminate to most other organs, notably the central nervous system (CNS), where it causes meningoencephalitis or brain cryptococcomas”, according to a February 2010 article in Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Most people never develop symptoms, but the spore-forming fungus can cause symptoms in people and animals two weeks or much longer after exposure.  Symptoms in people include a cough that lasts for weeks, sharp chest pain, shortness of breath, headache, fever, nighttime sweats and weight loss. 

 Cats, dogs and a wide range of both domestic and wild animals have been infected.  In animals the symptoms are a runny nose, breathing problems, nervous system problems and raised bumps under the skin.

Although the occurrence of this infection is rare, the CDC warns residents and even tourists in these areas to be aware of suspicious symptoms such as those described above, which should be reported to their physicians. 

SOURCE: “Emergence and Pathogenicity of Highly Virulent Cryptococcus gattii Genotypes in the Northwest United States”, PLoS Pathogens 2010.

SOURCE: “Potentially deadly fungus spreading in US, Canada”, Reuters Health, April 23, 2010

SOURCE: “Cryptococcus gattii Risk for Tourists Visiting Vancouver Island, Canada”, Emerging Infectious Diseases, Vol 13, No. 1, January 2007

SOURCE: “Epidemiology of Cryptococcus gattii, British Columbia, Canada, 1999–2007″, Emerging Infectious Diseases, Volume 16, Number 2–February 2010 

SOURCE: “Projecting Global Occurrence of Cryptococcus gattii”, Emerging Infectious Diseases, Volume 16, Number 1–January 2010


Can Multiple Sclerosis be Cured with a Simple Surgical Procedure?

A surgical nurseA simple corrective surgical procedure may offer MS patients a cure for their disease, but experts are warning that more research needs to be done.

MS has long been regarded as an autoimmune disease, but an Italian researcher, Paolo Zamboni, MD, of the University of Ferrara, in Ferrara, Italy, says it may result from poor vascular circulation in the brain.   If so, a minor surgical procedure, called percutaneous transluminal angioplasty, could open the veins and potentially halt or reverse the course of the disease.

“The theory is this: Abnormal flow through the azygous and jugular venous systems results in a build-up of iron in the brain. The excess iron damages blood vessels and allows the metal, as well as other substances, to cross the blood-brain barrier,” according to an article in MedPage Today. 

The case is not proved, however, and experts caution that more study is needed.  

Source: “AAN: Scientists Caution MS Patients on New Theory”, MedPage Today, April 15, 2010 


Trichloroethylene Linked to Parkinson’s Disease

Trichloroethylene (TCE) has once again been linked to increased rates of Parkinson’s disease.  In this recent study from the Parkinson’s Institute in Sunnyvale, California, Parkinson’s disease developed in individuals with occupational exposure to TCE at more than five times the rate seen in those without such exposure.

More Information: ToxFAQs for Trichloroethylene (TCE) from the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

Source:  Goldman S, “Parkinson’s Disease Risk is Increased in Discordant Twins Exposed to Specific Solvents” AAN 2010.

Source: “AAN: Industrial Cleaner Again Tied to Parkinson Risk”,  MedPage Today, February 07, 2010

Fat Cells Can Increase Stroke Risk

Measuring your waist line regularly is a good way to keep an eye on weight gainBeing overweight increases the risk of ischemic stroke by 22%, while being obese increases the risk 64%, according to Italian Researchers from the University of Naples Medical School. In their 2010 study of almost 2.3 million people, the researchers found that being overweight and obese independently affected stroke risk.  

One possible reason for this, one of the researchers told Reuters, is that fat cells can secrete unhealthy substances that promote inflammation and contribute to hardening of the arteries and blood clotting.

Source: “Being overweight ups stroke risk, study confirms”, Reuters Health, April 5, 2010

More Information:  Control weight gain with exercise

A Simple Way to Make a Major Difference in your Health

Vitamin D supplementsA recent study from the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Murray, Utah has found that people who increase their vitamin D blood levels to 43 or higher may lower their risk of diabetes, heart attack, heart failure, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Heralded as “One of the Top 10 Medical Breakthroughs of 2007″, Vitamin D continues to surface in new research as a critical nutrient in maintaining good health and preventing disease, yet almost half of the world’s population has lower than optimal levels of vitamin D.  

It is well known that hip fractures and muscle weakness, in people over 50, are linked with a deficiency in Vitamin D.  Many recent studies have also found that low Vitamin D levels are associated with a number of serious, chronic diseases, such as diabetes, gum disease, multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases, peripheral neuropathy, osteoporosis, cancer, stroke, mental decline, depression, high blood pressure and heart disease.

A Vitamin D deficiency can be treated with a simple daily supplement and a blood test can measure the circulating Vitamin D levels in your blood.  A level of 30 nanograms per milliliter of vitamin D is considered normal, although this may vary from lab to lab.

Many doctors are routinely drawing blood levels of Vitamin D to to make sure patients are getting enough vitamin D to optimize good bone health and prevent chronic disease. Ask your doctor about this.

Important Note: Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, thus toxicity can occur from high intakes of vitamin D. Overdosage can occur from large amounts of supplements or cod liver oil, but it is unlikely to result from sun exposure or diet. Parents should consult with their pediatrician before giving any child vitamin D supplements. Excess vitamin D can reach toxic levels and be harmful.

  Source: “Boosting Vitamin D Can Do a Heart Good”, HealthDay News, March 15, 2010 


Is Early Alzheimers a Reason to Stop Driving?

Getting lost can easily lead to a car accident

Driving skills may still be intact in early Alzheimer’s, but the risk of getting lost on familiar streets, may be greater than one would think, according to researchers from the School of Occupational Therapy at Pacific University, Oregon. Memory and navigation skills become impaired in early Alzheimer’s while poor judgment and reasoning frequently compound the problem.

In this recent study of 207 drivers with Alzheimer’s who went missing while driving, 32 died and 35 were found injured, while 70 were still not found by the time the data was analyzed.   Most had set off on routine and familiar trips to the post office, the local store or a relative’s house. Once lost, some had driven for almost two days and covered more than 1,700 miles.   One New Jersey couple in the study, both with dementia, got lost on a trip to the store and drove around until they ran out of gas. The husband went for help but was unable to direct authorities to his car. His wife was found dead several days later.

Giving up the car keys is  often a monumental loss for elderly folks who are considered unsafe to drive. Especially for men, it’s a milestone that represents a loss of independence, freedom and control.  Families are frequently put in the difficult position of identifying the problem and enforcing the restrictions. So what is a family to do?  Here are some helpful tips and resources: 

  • This is an important time to seek the help of the elderly person’s doctor.  Have a confidential meeting or phone conversation ahead of their visit so the doctor has a clear understanding of the circumstances.  People often will listen more to their doctor and less to their spouses and children about driving ability.
  • There are many excellent resources for family members available through the Area Agency on Aging.  Call their Senior Information Line at 800-645-2810 for a copy of booklets, brochures, or DVD’s about safe driving with aging.
  • The Alzheimer’s Association offers a web-based program called “Comfort Zone” that families of Alzheimer’s patients can use if the person can still drive safely in familiar places. The driver agrees to limit driving to a “comfort zone,” and a global positioning system (GPS) monitors driving. If the driver leaves the area, the family is notified in real time.

 Read more about “Comfort Zone

Source: Linda Hunt, Ph.D., associate professor, Pacific University, Oregon; Elizabeth Gould, M.S.W., director, quality care programs, Alzheimer’s Association, Chicago; March 2010, American Journal of Occupational Health

Source: “Driving With Early Alzheimer’s May Be Ill-Advised”, HealthDay, March 12, 2010

Magnesium may Boost Memory Yet Deficiency is Common

Dark green leafy vegetables and fish have magnesiumHalf the population of the industrialized countries has a deficiency in magnesium. A deficit in this important mineral has been linked with allergies, asthma, attention deficit disorder, anxiety, heart disease, muscle cramps and other conditions.  And now researchers are finding evidence that magnesium may also play an important role in memory and learning.

In a recent study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, mice given extra doses of a new magnesium compound had better learning abilities and working memories. This is an interesting study in that it provides evidence that a magnesium deficit may lead to decreased memory and learning ability, while an abundance of magnesium may improve cognitive function. The findings, described in the Jan. 28 issue of the journal Neuron, are early however.  Before we start taking magnesium supplements, more research needs to be done. 

It’s good to keep in mind, however, that the average adult needs to consume between 300 and 400 milligrams of magnesium a day from magnesium-rich foods such as dark green leafy vegetables. 

Source: Magnesium May Boost Brain Power, Fox News Health, February 1, 2010
Source: “Health Tip: Finding Magnesium in Food”, Health Day, January 14, 2010
Source: American Dietetic Association,, February 2010



Curry and Vitamin D May Help Alzheimers Disease

An elderly manCurcumin, a polyphenol found in the Indian spice turmeric, and Vitamin D3 may help the immune system eliminate hamful plaques from the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease, according to researchers from UCLA, UC Riverside and the Human BioMolecular Research Institute. Their recent study found that both vitamin D3 and curcumin helped stimulate macrophages, a critical part of the immune system response, which appears to help decrease the  buildup of disease-producing plaques in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Turmeric is commonly used in foods such as curry powders, mustards, and cheeses. It is grown as a shrub and is related to ginger.  Turmeric is grown throughout India, other parts of Asia, and Africa. The root of turmeric  has long been used in traditional Asian medicine to relieve a variety of conditions.

In this study, the researchers found that naturally occurring curcumin was less effective than synthetic curcumin, but they also noted that since this is early laboratory research,  no dosage of vitamin D or curcumin can be recommended at this point. Larger vitamin D and curcumin studies with more patients are needed and planned.

A growing body of literature on vitamin D is also shedding light on the importance of this nutrient in the prevention of many chronic diseases.  A simple blood test can measure the circulating Vitamin D levels in your blood, and many doctors are now drawing blood levels of Vitamin D to to make sure patients are getting enough.  Doctors are finding that deficiences in Vitamin D are common, even in those who get daily sunshine and follow a good diet.  Ask your doctor about this.

Read more about Vitamin D from Bay Area Medical Information

Source: Masoumi A, et al “1a,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 interacts with curcuminoids to stimulate amyloid-beta clearance by macrophages of Alzheimer disease patients” J Alzheimer Dis 2009

Source: “Stimulating Immune Response May Help Clear Alzheimer’s Plaques”, MedPage Today, July 2009 



Researchers Question Alzheimers Diagnostic Tests

Healthy and Unhealthy BrainsPlaques and tangles on brain biopsy, post mortem, have been considered classic pathological features of Alzheimer’s disease.   Some researchers are questioning the validity of this finding, however, and a recent study from the UK sheds more light on this theory.

In their recent study, British researchers found that many people in their 90’s had significant plaques and tangles in their brains but still managed to avoid dementia. Their findings were based on the brains of 456 people who had died and donated their bodies to science.  The researchers found a strong link between plaques and tangles in the brain and Alzheimer’s in the 75-year-olds, but the significant association diminished by the time the people were 95.

These findings lend weight to the theory that plaques and tangles might not be a reliable sign of Alzheimer’s Disease.  The study also points out that there is a lot that we don’t know about Alzheimer’s, and dementia in general. 

Illustration courtesy of Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center (ADEAR), a service of the National Institute on Aging.

Source: “Plaques and Tangles May Not Doom the Very Old to Dementia”, MedPage Today, May 27, 2009 
Source: Savva G, et al “Age, neuropathology, and dementia” N Engl J Med 2009; 360: 2302-09.
Source: Ewbank D, Arnold S “Cool with plaques and tangles” N Engl J Med 2009; 360: 2357-59. 
Source: Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation

Compulsive Gambling Linked with Requip and Mirapex


Two prescription medications commonly prescribed for Parkinson’s, and also used to relieve the symptoms of restless legs syndrome, have again been linked to compulsive gambling and hypersexuality.  A recent study from the Mayo Clinic found that of 66 patients who were taking either pramipexole (Mirapex) or ropinirole (Requip) for Parkinson’s, seven developed one of the destructive behaviors which resolved after the medications were discontinued or the doses were reduced.

Previous studies have identified a link between these drugs and compulsive behavior as well. In addition to gambling and hypersexuality, therapeutic levels of the medications have also been associated with compulsive eating, as well as excessive shopping or spending.  Less destructive behaviors such as compulsive gardening, excessive fishing or hobby work have also been related to these drugs.

Mirapex and Requip are used alone or with other medications to treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.  They are also used in lower doses to help relieve the symptoms of restless legs syndrome. They are in a class of medications called dopamine agonists. A natural substance in the brain, Dopamine is needed to control movement.

Patients, as well as spouses or family members, need to be aware of this potential dangerous side effect of these drugs.   ”The onset can be insidious and overlooked until life-altering problems develop”, according to the researchers in an article in MedPage Today.  Contact your health care provider if new symptoms arise while on either of these drugs. 

Source: Bostwick J, et al “Frequency of new-onset pathologic compulsive gambling or hypersexuality after drug treatment of idiopathic Parkinson disease” Mayo Clin Proc 2009; 84: 310-316.

Source: “Parkinson’s Drugs May Increase Compulsive Behavior”, MedPage Today, April 9, 2009