Monday, March 10, 2014

Health Research Recap (Week of March 3, 2014)

Researchers believe Alzheimer's disease may be a more common cause of death than reported.  The CDC estimates that 83,494 deaths are caused by Alzheimer's per year.  Researchers looked at a group of 2,566 people aged 65 or over who routinely underwent testing for dementia.  The cause of death in 1/3 of the 1,090 who died could be attributed to Alzheimer's disease.  This translates to roughly 503,400 deaths per year from Alzheimer's, almost as much as heart disease and cancer.  The risk of death increased by 400% in those between the ages of 75-84 and 300% in those over 85 who were diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.  The average time from diagnosis to death was approximately 4 years.  This problem is likely to get worse as baby boomers get older.

A study looking at children with parents that were smokers found that children who had 2 parents that smoked developed thicker artery walls than children whose parents didn't smoker or who only had 1 parent who smoked.  The increased thickness is likely not an issue for an otherwise healthy person, but it does increase their risk of heart disease and likely exacerbates other risk factors that they may experience such as a bad diet, excessive stress, or becoming smokers themselves.

Hops, one of the most beautiful and glorious plants on the planet, contain polyphenols that help fight cavities and gum disease by preventing bacteria from being able to adhere to surfaces in the mouth as well as the release of bacterial toxins.  Unfortunately for beer drinkers, these polyphenols remain with the spent hop plant, they do not make their way in to delicious, life-giving beer.

It's nice to see scientists band against idiocy.  A group of researchers recently penned a paper warning about taking the results of single studies that often look at single factors and drawing large scale nutritional recommendations from them.  This paper was primarily directed at the many anti-meat articles coming out in the press lately.  Many of these studies are done in mice who are fed meat without any other food types that protect against cancer such as fruits and vegetables and therefore can't really be applied to humans eating a mixed diet.  The most recent one that has taken the interwebz by storm which showed increased animal protein consumption increased the risk of death was epidemiological, so it's basically garbage with regard to drawing any conclusions.  It would be like saying practicing yoga causes meat consumption to go down.  While people who do yoga may eat less meat, the act of practicing yoga doesn't cause meat consumption to go down, there is merely a relationship between the 2.

Children with higher levels of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA tend to sleep better than children with lower levels.  Children who were supplemented with  DHA levels tended to get 1 more hour of sleep and awoke 7 fewer times per night than children given corn or soybean oil.  Unfortunately corn and soybean oil are inflammatory so I wouldn't consider them suitable placebo oils, therefore we can't tell with 100% certainty that the effect was from a positive effect from the DHA or a negative effect of the other oils.  Since most people likely consume many times more soybean or corn oil per day from processed foods and little to no DHA, it's safe to say that the effect is likely from a beneficial effect from the DHA.

The slow turn away from the bad advice to avoid saturated fat and replace them with polyunsatuated fats and carbohydrates gained some momentum this week as a British MD wrote an editorial in the journal Open Heart condemning the crappy science that those recommendations are based on. 

Consuming a diet high in fruits and vegetables is associated with a decreased risk for preterm delivery in pregnant women.  The authors point out that since the study was epidemiological, all you can really say is that a pregnant mother's diet will have an effect on whether or not she delivers early, not that avoiding fruits and vegetables causes preterm delivery.

Looks like Type 2 diabetes may be as epigenetic as it is genetic.  Researchers looking at the disease found epigenetic changes to over 800 genes in people who have the disease.  To assess whether the changes cause diabetes or diabetes causes the changes, they looked at healthy people and found that those with risk factors for the disease such as BMI or higher blood glucose were already developing these changes before the disease developed.  While people are awaiting a drug that will allow them to be able to sit on a beach, sip coronas, and eat ice cream cones ad libitum without getting Type 2 diabetes, they can improve their epigenetic risk factors by avoiding processed foods, reducing the amount of time per day they sit, and getting regular physical activity.

Taking antiobiotics appears to be a pretty significant risk factor for C. Difficile infection in kids.  No news here, other than doctors are still prescribing antibiotics that children don't need and this has unwanted consequences.  71% of C. Difficile infections in US children aged 1 to 17 occurred shortly after taking antibiotics, which wipes out your gut microbiome and doesn't differentiate between good guys or bad guys.  Unfortunately, many of the cases were in children whose initial problem would not be fixed with antibiotics.  Shame.

There's a new program for children with autism in North Carolina and 5 other states.  The program hopes to improve the lives of children who are graduating high school through development of social skills.  Info on the program can be found here.