- How Being Overweight May Affect Memory
- This Type of Exercise Can Help Ward Off Alzheimer’s
- Why Brits Aren’t Getting Enough Sleep
- Pigs at Fairs Gave More than a Dozen Children Swine Flu, CDC Says
- How an Epidural May Lower Postpartum Depression Risk
Posted: 28 Oct 2016 08:07 AM PDT
Want to stay sharp well into old age? Keep an eye on your waistline, suggests a recent study from the University of Arizona. Having a higher body mass index (BMI) can negatively impact brain functioning in older adults, researchers say, and there’s evidence that inflammation is to blame.
Maintaining a healthy weight can protect against a variety of health issues; it can reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, to name a few. Previous studies have also linked weight to brain health, but there’s been little research into exactly how one affects the other.
Figuring out that “how” could potentially help scientists develop interventions to better prevent cognitive decline, says Kyle Bourassa, a psychology doctoral student and co-author of the new study.
Bourassa and his co-author suspected that systemic inflammation—a chronic overreaction of the body’s immune system—might be to blame, since previous research has shown that inflammation in the brain can negatively impact cognitive functioning. It’s also well established that being overweight contributes to inflammation throughout the body. “The higher your BMI, the more your inflammation goes up,” he says.
Health.com: 13 Ways Inflammation Can Affect Your Health
To further explore these connections, Bourassa and his co-author analyzed data from more than 21,000 British people, ages 50 and older, who had their BMI, inflammation levels, and cognition scores tested several times over the course of six years.
BMI, a measure of weight in relation to height, is often used to determine whether a person is normal, underweight, or overweight. For individuals, BMI is not always an accurate measure of healthiness—but for large populations like this, it’s a good way to estimate averages. In general, a BMI of 18 to 25 is considered normal weight, and any number over 25 is considered overweight.
For the study, inflammation was measured by the presence of C-reactive protein (CRP)—a marker of systemic inflammation throughout the body—in the participants’ blood. Cognitive function, meanwhile, was measured with word recall and verbal fluency tests.
The researchers found a clear link between the three factors. “The higher participants’ body mass at the first time point in the study, the greater the change in their CRP levels over the next four years,” Bourassa said in a press release. That change in CRP then predicted a decline in brain functioning—including executive functioning and memory—two years later.
Health.com: 7 Ways to Protect Your Memory
In other words, the findings suggest that “the body mass of these people predicted their cognitive decline through their levels of systemic inflammation,” said Bourassa.
Co-author David Sbarra, PhD, professor of psychology and director of UA’s Laboratory for Social Connectedness and Health, cautions that the study was unable to prove a cause-and-effect relationship, since it simply monitored people over time. To establish causation, researchers would need to find a way to reduce participants’ body mass under tightly controlled conditions, and examine the subsequent effects on inflammation and cognition.
But the researchers say that their findings may provide valuable insights for further studies and possible interventions. “If you have high inflammation, in the future we may suggest using anti-inflammatories—not just to bring down your inflammation but to hopefully also help with your cognition,” Bourassa said.
For now, it provides yet another reason to keep excess weight off. “Having a lower body mass is just good for you, period,” Bourassa said. “It’s good for your health and good for your brain.”
Posted: 28 Oct 2016 07:10 AM PDT
You probably know that exercise is a great way to keep your brain healthy as you age. But now a new study sheds some light on which type of exercise may be especially important for maintaining memory: Lifting light weights twice a week led to improved brain function in older adults, say Australian researchers, suggesting that strength training may help ward off Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
The new results come from a study that involved 100 men and women, ages 55 to 86, who had been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI)—a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease in which people have noticeably reduced memory or thinking abilities, but are still able to live independently. The participants were divided into groups, and assigned to do either resistance exercises or seated stretching and calisthenics twice a week for six weeks.
Read more: Another Good Reason to Work Up a Sweat
In this new follow-up analysis, the researchers also wrote that MRI scans showed an increase in the size of specific areas of the brain among those who did weight training, and that those brain changes were linked to cognitive improvements.
“The stronger people became, the greater the benefit for their brain,” lead author Yorgi Mavros, PhD, an exercise physiologist at the University of Sydney, said in a press release.
Because this was a randomized, double-blind trial that compared two forms of exercise—rather than just an observational study—it’s able to show a causal relationship between resistance training and brain functioning in older adults who already have some cognitive problems. A 2012 study from the University of British Columbia also found that resistance training was associated with bigger brain boosts in older women than other types of physical activity, including walking and balance exercises.
These findings could have big implications for the 135 million people forecasted to suffer from dementia worldwide by 2050. “The more we can get people doing resistance training like weight lifting, the more likely we are to have a healthier ageing population,” said Mavros. “The key, however, is to make sure you are doing it frequently, at least twice a week, and at a high intensity.”
Ezriel Kornel, M.D., clinical professor of neurosurgery at Weill Cornell Medical College, agrees that the study results could be valuable for both doctors and patients.
“We’ve known for a while that exercise is probably the most significant factor in maintaining brain health—but this study shows a specific exercise that seems to prevent, or even potentially reverse, memory loss,” Dr. Kornel, who was not involved in the study, told RealSimple.com.
“It’s important that the word get out there that if people want to maintain a healthy brain, they shouldn’t just be doing any exercises—not just running on the treadmill or doing jumping jacks—but you’ve got to do some muscle-resistance training, specifically,” he added.
Dr. Kornel said it’s not yet known why, exactly, lifting weights provides these added brain benefits. He does note that strength training involves breaking down and repairing muscle tissue, and hypothesizes that it may prompt similar processes in the brain. “Maybe the same chemical reactions that clean up debris as new muscle is being created are also able to clear out debris in the brain,” he says.
The study authors agree that further studies are needed to find the underlying mechanism that links muscle strength, brain growth, and cognitive performance. From there, they hope to determine more detailed exercise recommendations for maximum brain benefits.
Dr. Kornel would also like to see similar research on younger groups of people, as well. “It would be interesting to see whether people who are doing muscle-resistance exercises from an early age have lower rates of dementia, as a group,” he says.
Posted: 28 Oct 2016 04:41 AM PDT
Americans are the fourth worst sleepers on the list, following Ireland and Canada, with 31% feeling under-slept. France, Turkey, Indonesia, China and Spain are among the countries that are better slept, suggesting that insomnia is more common in the English-speaking nations.
The survey, which was conducted by insurance company Aviva, also revealed that only half (51%) of parents say they make sure their children sleep enough and that 44% of British adults feel too tired to exercise. Women are more affected by this than men, with 52% of females feeling they are too tired to exercise, compared to 35% of males.
But why are Brits in particular so under-slept compared to other nations?
Dr Neil Stanley, an independent freelance sleep expert for over 34 years, suggested it might be a cultural thing. “One reason why the U.K. has such a problem with sleep is because we’ve created a 24-hour society more than any country in Europe,” he explained.
“We have overnight television, supermarkets like Tesco are open all night and 10-15 years ago our government passed a law saying pubs could open for 24 hours a day. This is in stark contrast to Paris, which has been closing down music clubs in residential areas, Switzerland – where it’s hard to get a meal past 10pm and it’s forbidden to flush the toilet between midnight and 6am in some neighborhoods, and places like Germany and Austria, where shops close early.”
According to Dr Stanley, having such a 24-hour society makes it harder for Brits to switch off at night. “We feel we should be functioning 24-hours a day, but we’re not a 24 hour country – it gets dark and cold here,” he said. He compared the English tendency to work long, late hours with the out-of-hours restrictions imposed by German firm Volkswagen, which prevents staff from sending emails from half an hour after the end of the working day.
“If you’re paid 40 hours a week you should work 40 hours a week, but we are always connected – even though last thing you should go before bed is work,” he said. “The essence of the problem is that Brits see sleep as disposable – as the thing to do after you’ve done everything else. There is so much evidence that poor sleep is bad for many aspects of physical, mental and emotional health; the world would be a nicer place if we had more sleep.”
Dr Stanley compared Britain’s 24-hour culture with U.S. cities including L.A. and New York, but added that “if you’re in the Midwest, by 9pm there’s no one in restaurants – they’ll have already had their meal and gone home.” He criticized the presidential candidates’ boasts about not needing much sleep – with Hillary Clinton saying she didn’t need any more naps, and Donald Trump claiming he only needs to sleep for three to four hours a day. “The mindset is that sleep is for wimps,” he said.
Sleep is like height, Dr Stanley explained, and it’s genetically determined. Anywhere between three and 11 hours can be considered normal – it’s all about getting the right amount for you, but you can’t train yourself to survive on less. “If at 11am you’re feeling wide awake then you’re getting enough sleep, but if you’re tired then you’re not,” he added. “It’s that simple.”
Posted: 27 Oct 2016 03:53 PM PDT
Pigs are to blame for more than a dozen children falling ill with a new type of swine flu earlier this year, federal health officials said Thursday.
All 18 people, including 16 children, were sickened after coming into close contact with pigs at family-friendly agricultural fairs in Michigan and Ohio in August, CNN reported, citing a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The infected patients, who have since fully recovered, said they either touched a pig or passed through a barn that had pigs.
The type of swine flu they contracted had not been previously seen in humans, the CDC said.
Posted: 27 Oct 2016 01:10 PM PDT
Pain during childbirth can be excruciating for some women—and its harmful effects may reach beyond the delivery room. A small new study suggests that getting a pain-relieving epidural injection during labor may lower the risk of developing postpartum depression.
“Labor pain matters more than just for the birth experience,” said lead author Dr. Grace Lim, director of obstetric anesthesiology at Magee Women’s Hospital of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, in a press release. “It may be psychologically harmful for some women and play a significant role in the development of postpartum depression.”
Overall, 61% of U.S. women get an epidural while giving birth, and the injections can be controversial. This is in part due to an ongoing debate over whether they are linked to more Caesarean sections or have other negative effects for mom and baby; some women who plan an unmedicated birth feel guilty if they end up opting for this type of pain relief. The new research suggests that epidurals may have benefits beyond pain relief.
For the study, which was presented at the American Society for Anesthesiologists’ annual meeting, Dr. Lim and her colleagues reviewed the medical records of 201 women who received an epidural while in labor, and who rated their pain on a scale from 0 to 10 throughout the entire birth process. From these numbers, the researchers calculated the percent by which the women’s pain improved after the epidural.
Six weeks after their babies were born, the new moms also completed a questionnaire used to assess whether a woman may have, or may be at risk for, postpartum depression.
The researchers controlled for factors already known to increase the risk for postpartum depression (including pre-existing depression and anxiety, as well as post-delivery pain caused by tissue trauma). After accounting for these factors, the results showed that in some women, labor pain alone was a significant risk factor: The lower their pain-improvement scores (suggesting that the epidural had not provided substantial relief) the higher their depression-scale scores.
In other words, “we found that certain women who experience good pain relief from epidural analgesia are less likely to exhibit depressive symptoms in the postpartum period,” said Dr. Lim. The researchers conclude that alleviating labor pain might help reduce the risk for postpartum depression in some women. (The study still needs to be published in a peer-reviewed medical journal, which is key to confirming the results.)
However, the researchers acknowledge that a woman’s labor experience is just one of many factors that contributes to her how she feels after giving birth. “Postpartum depression can develop from a number of things including hormonal changes, psychological adjustment to motherhood, social support, and a history of psychiatric disorders,” said Dr. Lim.
Plus, she says, labor pain may be worse for some women than others. More research is needed to identify women who are likely to have extremely painful childbirths, and who would benefit the most from interventions to help reduce pain and its potential effects on postpartum recovery.
Nurse midwife Lee Roosevelt, PhD, who is also a clinical professor of nursing at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, says these new findings are surprising because they contradict a larger study, published in 2015, that included more than 6,000 women and found that epidurals were linked to higher rates of postpartum depression.
Roosevelt, who was not involved in either study, points out that lack of social support (from family, doctors and nurses, or doulas or midwives) is a strong risk factor for postpartum depression—and that this may have played a role in the current findings.
“Social support is also predictive of whether women planning an unmedicated birth are able to move through the birth without getting an epidural,” she told Health. “I think when women are not prepared for the pain of childbirth, and don’t have people around them who are able and willing to help them through birth, they can feel traumatized.”
For a woman who has decided against medication, getting to the point where she needs an epidural could put her at risk for postpartum depression, she says. Likewise, a woman who was expecting adequate pain relief during labor but does not get it could also be at risk, she adds.
A painful labor doesn’t have to be traumatic or have lasting psychological effects, she says; but it certainly can if a woman feels unprepared or not in control, or doesn’t have enough support.
Another study presented at the conference looked at the trend of women requesting nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, during labor. This option has become more widely available in the U.S. in recent years; however, the study found that the gas only provides limited pain relief, and most women who use it still request an epidural as their pain progresses.
“Nitrous oxide may be somewhat helpful, but epidural anesthesia remains the most effective method for managing labor pain,” said lead author Caitlin Sutton, MD, an obstetric anesthesiology fellow at Stanford University School of Medicine, in a press release.
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