Monday, January 13, 2014

Health Research Recap (Week of 1/6/2013)

What better way to get back in to the Health Research Recap swing of things than with a study on gut bugs?  You may recall a study we looked at a few weeks ago that showed that those raised in households with dogs are less likely to develop asthma than households without dogs.  Another study in mice looking at fiber intake showed that the inflammatory response seen in asthma is dampened in mice who consumed higher fiber diets via fermentation of these fibers by gut bacteria.  These are fairly exciting results as the parts of the immune system studied are identical in mice and humans.  This doesn't mean that the effect will be identical in humans, but is eating more vegetables really that bad?

Add another study to the pile of evidence that Type 2 diabetes is an inflammatory disease.  Researchers working with mice looked to identify the mechanism by which pancreatic beta cells are destroyed during Type 2 diabetes.  They found that mice in the early stages of Type 2 diabetes have a high level of immune cells called macrophages that begin to attack pancreatic tissue and secrete inflammatory cytokines that destroy the beta cells that are responsible for secretion of insulin.  I wrote an earlier blog on how macrophages contribute to Type 2 diabetes and contribute to an increase in the liver's production of glucose.  It almost seems like the macrophages are on some form of sugar/crack binge as they are activated, trying to bogart all of the glucose and destroying anything that can get in the way.  Obviously I'm joking, but I think it's a pretty good metaphor for what we see in people who get their fix from high sugar consumption.

If you needed another reason to quit smoking, add better sleep to the list.  A study looking at the effects of cigarette smoke exposure in mice found that both long and short term smoking led to changes in gene expression that negatively affected the circadian clock in both the lungs and the brain.  Decreases in expression of these same genes is seen in humans with COPD, adding further smoke to the fire.  One question that hasn't been answered is which brand of cigarettes mice prefer.  If they're anything like Doctors in the 40s and 50s, my guess is Camels.

Another study looking at sleep found that one night of sleep deprivation increased blood levels of 2 molecules associated with brain damage the following morning.  While this certainly does not mean that sleep loss causes brain damage, it is likely that sleep loss is a neurodegenerative process that can negatively impact brain function over time.  This backs up other evidence as to the importance of sleep for optimal brain function, but doesn't really give us anything on how poor sleep quality or lower amounts of sleep affect brain function.

Looking at the psychological aspects of eating, a paper by marketing researchers at Vanderbilt indicates that people may prefer supersizing, even if the foods that are being supersized are healthy.  Apparently, tapping in to a person's inner tightwad may be a potential strategy to get people to eat healthier.  The primary hang up?  Foods that are supersizeable are that way because of subsidies that make junk food cheap to make.  Unless the subsidies are redirected to healthier choices it's just not a strategy I see McDonalds undertaking, at least if they care to turn a profit.

Higher levels of Vitamin D3 during pregnancy are associated with stronger children with greater muscle mass at age 4.  The study looked at the Vitamin D3 status of women in the later stages of pregnancy and compared those numbers to their offspring's grip strength and muscle mass at age 4.  This is yet another study that shows how important the nutritional status of the mother while pregnant can have a significant impact on the future health of the unborn fetus.

*Sigh*, they never learn.  Researchers looking at cholesterol numbers and the risk of Alzheimer's disease found that elevated "bad" cholesterol and low "good" cholesterol may have the same negative effect on the brain as they do on the cardiovascular system.  The researchers found that people with higher LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol were more likely to have higher levels of beta amyloid plaques than people with healthy cholesterol numbers.  I don't feel I have to go over the fact that our knowledge of cholesterol numbers is archaic and incomplete to say the least, but I do feel the need to point out the logical fallacy these researchers are making.  It could be that high LDL cholesterol and low HDL cholesterol cause damage to the brain, but it is equally as likely that whatever causes these cholesterol numbers to be off is actually what is causing the amyloid beta plaque accumulation.  In other words, taking a drug to artificially lower your LDL cholesterol will only mask the symptoms, the medical equivalent of putting electrical tape over your illuminated "check engine" light.  This notion jibes with some of the research that statins may not be all that good for your memory.  While the evidence is split on this, even if memory problems are only a potential side effect I'll err on the side of caution.  I like my brain the way it is.

Playing high school sports is not only good for your health in high school, it translates in to better health in to later adulthood.  Researchers found that 78 year old men who played high school sports visited the doctor's office fewer times per year than those that didn't.  What is really cool about this study is that all of the men who were studied were healthy as young men as they had to pass a physical to enter the military.  Those that played a high school sport reported visiting the doctor fewer times per year and were more likely to still be active than those that didn't.

Breastfeeding is often discussed as important for the health of baby, but a new piece of observational research indicates it has benefits to mom also.  The study looked at women who had one or more children and found that those who breastfed were half as likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis as those that didn't.  As always, you kind of have to take the observational data with a grain of salt.  Women who are in to health are more likely to breastfeed and also to practice other healthy behaviors, but the results are interesting, nonetheless.

Starting Thursday I will be posting my blog series on human health and how lifestyle affects it.  As of now it's a 5 part series so I'll be releasing that for the next 5 Thursdays while doing the Health Research Recap on Mondays.