Tag Archives: Alcoholism

Lancea tibetica

Botanical Name: Lancea tibetica
Family: Mazaceae
Genus: Lancea
Species: L. tibetica
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Lamiales

Habitat : Lancea tibetica is native to E. Asia – Himalayas from India, Bhutan and Sikkim to China and Mongolia. It grows in
grassland, sparse forests, along streams at elevations of 2000 – 4500 metres in western China.

Description:
Lancea tibetica is aperennial herb growing to 3-7(-15) cm tall, glabrous except for petioles. Rhizomes to 10 cm, with a pair of membranous scales on each node. Leaves 6-10, rosulate; leaf blade obovate, obovate-ob-long, or spatulate, 2-7 cm, subleathery, base tapering, margin entire or obscurely and sparsely toothed, apex obtuse and usually apiculate. Flowers in fascicles of 3-5 or in a raceme; bracts subulate-lanceolate. Calyx ca. 1 cm, leathery; lobes subulate-triangular. Corolla dark blue to purple, 1.5-2.5 cm; tube 0.8-1.3 cm; throat yellowish and/or with purple dots; lower lip middle lobe entire; upper lip erect, deeply 2-lobed, rarely shallowly 2-parted. Stamens inserted near middle of tube; filaments glabrous. Fruit red to dark purple, ovoid, ca. 1 cm, included in persistent calyx. Seeds numerous, brownish yellow, oblong, ca. 1 mm. It is in flower from May to July, and the seeds ripen from Jul to September.

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The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs)Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.

Medicinal Uses:
The flowers, leaves and fruit are used in Tibetan medicine, they are said to have a sweet and bitter taste with a cooling potency. They are used in the treatment of pulmonary disorders. The fruit is used to treat heart disorders and retention of the menses, whilst the leaves are used for healing wounds.

Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.
Resources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lancea_tibetica
http://www.efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=2&taxon_id=200020690
http://www.pfaf.org/User/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Lancea+tibetica

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Truths about protecting our eyes

 

Fact: Eye exercises will not improve or preserve vision or reduce the need for glasses. Your vision depends on many factors, including the shape of your eyeball and the health of the eye tissues, neither of which can be significantly altered with eye exercises.
As the eyes age, problems with vision become more common. Learn how to recognize the risk factors and symptoms of specific eye diseases cataract, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy — and what steps one can take to prevent or treat them before your vision deteriorates.

Myth: Reading in dim light will worsen our vision.

Fact: Dim lighting will not damage our eyesight. However, it will tire our eyes out more quickly. The best way to position a reading light is to have it shine directly onto the page, not over the shoulder. A desk lamp with an opaque shade pointing directly at the reading material is ideal.

Myth: Carrots are the best food for the eyes.

Fact: Carrots, which contain vitamin A, are indeed good for the eyes. But fresh fruits and dark green leafy vegetables, which contain more antioxidant vitamins such as C and E, are even better. Antioxidants may even help protect the eyes against cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Just don’t expect them to prevent or correct basic vision problems such as nearsightedness or farsightedness.

Myth: It’s best not to wear glasses or contact lenses all the time. Taking a break from them allows our eyes to rest.

Fact: If we need glasses or contacts for distance vision or reading, we should use them. Not wearing glasses will strain our eyes and tire them out instead of resting them. However, it will not worsen our vision or lead to eye disease.

Myth: Staring at a computer screen all day is bad for the eyes.

Fact: Using a computer does not damage our eyes. However, staring at a computer screen all day can contribute to eyestrain or tired eyes. People who stare at a computer screen for long periods tend not to blink as often as usual, which can cause the eyes to feel dry and uncomfortable. To help prevent eyestrain, we should adjust the lighting so it doesn’t create a glare or harsh reflection on the screen, it is advised to rest the eyes briefly every 20 minutes, and make a conscious effort to blink regularly so that our eyes stay well lubricated.

It can be a frightening moment. When the doctor diagnoses an eye disease such as glaucoma, cataract, or AMD, we immediately worry about losing our sight or becoming seriously vision-impaired.

It’s important to know what to do not only when disease strikes, but what to do before and after. We should know the warning signs and how a diagnosis is made. And the best treatment options for that.

The good news is, with the proper treatment decisions, those eye diseases can be addressed and controlled and their potential to compromise our sight can be halted.

Our eyes do change as we get older. That’s a truth we can do little about. It’s the consequences we can change.
We we should learn all the facts about treating adult eye diseases.

Resources:
Harvard Health Publication
Harvard Medical School

Alagille Syndrome


Description:
Alagille syndrome is a genetic disorder that affects the liver, heart, kidney, and other systems of the body. Problems associated with the disorder generally become evident in infancy or early childhood. The disorder is inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern, and the estimated prevalence of Alagille syndrome is 1 in every 100,000 live births.It is named after Daniel Alagille.

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A person with Alagille syndrome has fewer than the normal number of small bile ducts inside the liver. The liver is the organ in the abdomen—the area between the chest and hips—that makes blood proteins and bile, stores energy and nutrients, fights infection, and removes harmful chemicals from the blood.

Bile ducts are tubes that carry bile from the liver cells to the gallbladder for storage and to the small intestine for use in digestion. Bile is fluid made by the liver that carries toxins and waste products out of the body and helps the body digest fats and the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. In people with Alagille syndrome, the decreased number of bile ducts causes bile to build up in the liver, a condition also called cholestasis, leading to liver damage and liver disease.

The digestive system:
The digestive system is made up of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract—also called the digestive tract—and the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder. The GI tract is a series of hollow organs joined in a long, twisting tube from the mouth to the anus. The hollow organs that make up the GI tract are the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine—which includes the colon and rectum—and anus. Food enters the mouth and passes to the anus through the hollow organs of the digestive system. The liver, pancreas, and gallbladder are the solid organs of the digestive system. The digestive system helps the body digest food.
Symptoms:
The symptoms of Alagille syndrome and their severity vary, even among people in the same family sharing the same gene mutation.

Liver:  In some people, problems in the liver may be the first signs and symptoms of the disorder. These symptoms can occur in children and adults and in infants as early as the first 3 months of life.
Jaundice. Jaundice—when the skin and whites of the eyes turn yellow—is a result of the liver not removing bilirubin from the blood. Bilirubin is a reddish-yellow substance formed when hemoglobin breaks down. Hemoglobin is an iron-rich protein that gives blood its red color. Bilirubin is absorbed by the liver, processed, and released into bile. Blockage of the bile ducts forces bilirubin and other elements of bile to build up in the blood.
Jaundice may be difficult for parents and even health care providers to detect. Many healthy newborns have mild jaundice during the first 1 to 2 weeks of life due to an immature liver. This normal type of jaundice disappears by the second or third week of life, whereas the jaundice of Alagille syndrome deepens. Newborns with jaundice after 2 weeks of life should be seen by a health care provider to check for a possible liver problem.
Dark urine and gray or white stools. High levels of bilirubin in the blood that pass into the urine can make the urine darker, while stool lightens from a lack of bilirubin reaching the intestines. Gray or white bowel movements after 2 weeks of age are very reliable signs of a liver problem.
Pruritus. The buildup of bilirubin in the blood may cause itching, also called pruritus. Pruritus usually starts after 3 months of age and can be severe.
Xanthomas. Xanthomas are fatty deposits that appear as yellow bumps on the skin. They are caused by abnormally high cholesterol levels in the blood, common in people with liver disease. Xanthomas may appear anywhere on the body. However, xanthomas are usually found on the elbows, joints, tendons, knees, hands, feet, or buttocks.
Other Symptoms of Alagille Syndrome are:
Certain signs of Alagille syndrome are unique to the disorder, including those that affect the vertebrae and facial features.

Face.  Many children with Alagille syndrome have deep-set eyes, a straight nose, a small and pointed chin, large ears, and a prominent, wide forehead. These features are not usually recognized until after infancy. By adulthood, the chin is more prominent.

Eyes. Posterior embryotoxon is a condition in which an opaque ring is present in the cornea, the transparent covering of the eyeball. The abnormality is common in people with Alagille syndrome, though it usually does not affect vision.

Skeleton. The most common skeletal defect in a person with Alagille syndrome is when the shape of the vertebrae—bones of the spine—gives the appearance of flying butterflies. This defect, known as “butterfly” vertebrae, rarely causes medical problems or requires treatment.

Heart and blood vessels. People with Alagille syndrome may have the following signs and symptoms having to do with the heart and blood vessels:

heart murmur—an extra or unusual sound heard during a heartbeat. A heart murmur is the most common sign of Alagille syndrome other than the general symptoms of liver disease.1 Most people with Alagille syndrome have a narrowing of the blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to the lungs.1 This narrowing causes a murmur that can be heard with a stethoscope. Heart murmurs usually do not cause problems.

heart walls and valve problems. A small number of people with Alagille syndrome have serious problems with the walls or valves of the heart. These conditions may need treatment with medications or corrective surgery.

blood vessel problems. People with Alagille syndrome may have abnormalities of the blood vessels in the head and neck. This serious complication can lead to internal bleeding or stroke. Alagille syndrome can also cause narrowing or bulging of other blood vessels in the body.
Kidney disease. A wide range of kidney diseases can occur in Alagille syndrome. The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs, each about the size of a fist, that filter wastes and extra fluid from the blood. Some people have small kidneys or have cysts—fluid-filled sacs—in the kidneys. Kidney function can also decrease.
Causes:
Alagille syndrome is caused by a gene mutation, or defect. Genes provide instructions for making proteins in the body. A gene mutation is a permanent change in the DNA sequence that makes up a gene. DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the material inside cells that carries genetic information and passes genes from parent to child. Approximately 30 to 50 percent of people with Alagille syndrome have an inherited gene mutation, meaning it has been passed on by a parent. In the remaining cases, the gene mutation develops spontaneously.1 In spontaneous cases, neither parent carries a copy of the mutated gene.

Most cases of Alagille syndrome are caused by a mutation in the JAGGED1 (JAG1) gene. In less than 1 percent of cases, a mutation in the NOTCH2 gene is the cause.2

1Spinner NB, Leonard LD, Krantz ID. Alagille syndrome. GeneReviews website. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK1273/External NIH Link. Updated February 28, 2013. Accessed July 16, 2014.

2Kamath BM, Bauer RC, Loomes KM, et al. NOTCH2 mutations in Alagille syndrome. Journal of Medical Genetics. 2012;49(2):138–144.
Genetic Disorders: 
Each cell contains thousands of genes that provide the instructions for making proteins for growth and repair of the body. If a gene has a mutation, the protein made by that gene may not function properly, which sometimes creates a genetic disorder. Not all gene mutations cause a disorder.

People have two copies of most genes; one copy is inherited from each parent. A genetic disorder occurs when one or both parents pass a mutated gene to a child at conception. A genetic disorder can also occur through a spontaneous gene mutation, meaning neither parent carries a copy of the mutated gene. Once a spontaneous gene mutation has occurred in a person, it can be passed to the person’s children.
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Complications:
The complications of Alagille syndrome include liver failure, portal hypertension, and growth problems. People with Alagille syndrome usually have a combination of complications, and may not have every complication listed below.:-

Liver failure. Over time, the decreased number of bile ducts may lead to chronic liver failure, also called end-stage liver disease. This condition progresses over months, years, or even decades. The liver can no longer perform important functions or effectively replace damaged cells. A person may need a liver transplant. A liver transplant is surgery to remove a diseased or an injured liver and replace it with a healthy whole liver or a segment of a liver from another person, called a donor.

Portal hypertension. The spleen is the organ that cleans blood and makes white blood cells. White blood cells attack bacteria and other foreign cells. Blood flow from the spleen drains directly into the liver. When a person with Alagille syndrome has advanced liver disease, the blood flow backs up into the spleen and other blood vessels. This condition is called portal hypertension. The spleen may become larger in the later stages of liver disease. A person with an enlarged spleen should avoid contact sports to protect the organ from injury. Advanced portal hypertension can lead to serious bleeding problems.

Growth problems. Alagille syndrome can lead to poor growth in infants and children, as well as delayed puberty in older children. Liver disease can cause malabsorption, which can result in growth problems. Malabsorption is the inability of the small intestine to absorb nutrients from foods, which results in protein, calorie, and vitamin deficiencies. Serious heart problems, if present in Alagille syndrome, can also affect growth.

Malabsorption. People with Alagille syndrome may have diarrhea—loose, watery stools—due to malabsorption. The condition occurs because bile is necessary for the digestion of food. Malabsorption can lead to bone fractures, eye problems, blood-clotting problems, and learning delays.

Long-term Outlook:
The long-term outlook for people with Alagille syndrome depends on several factors, including the severity of liver damage and heart problems. Predicting who will experience improved bile flow and who will progress to chronic liver failure is difficult. Ten to 30 percent of people with Alagille syndrome will eventually need a liver transplant.

Many adults with Alagille syndrome whose symptoms improve with treatment lead normal, productive lives. Deaths in people with Alagille syndrome are most often caused by chronic liver failure, heart problems, and blood vessel problems.

Diagnosis:
The Doctor diagnoses Alagille syndrome by performing a thorough physical examination of the patient and ordering one or more of the following tests and exams:

Blood test. A blood test involves drawing blood at a health care provider’s office or a commercial facility and sending the sample to a lab for analysis. The blood test can show nutritional status and the presence of liver disease and kidney function.

Urinalysis. Urinalysis is the testing of a urine sample. The urine sample is collected in a special container in a health care provider’s office or a commercial facility and can be tested in the same location or sent to a lab for analysis. Urinalysis can show many problems of the urinary tract and other body systems. The sample may be observed for color, cloudiness, or concentration; signs of drug use; chemical composition, including glucose; the presence of protein, blood cells, or bacteria; or other signs of disease.

X ray. An x ray is a picture created by using radiation and recorded on film or on a computer. The amount of radiation used is small. An x-ray technician performs the x ray at a hospital or an outpatient center, and a radiologist—a doctor who specializes in medical imaging—interprets the images. Anesthesia is not needed. The patient will lie on a table or stand during the x ray. The technician positions the x-ray machine over the spine area to look for “butterfly” vertebrae. The patient will hold his or her breath as the picture is taken so that the picture will not be blurry. The patient may be asked to change position for additional pictures.

Abdominal ultrasound. Ultrasound uses a device, called a transducer, that bounces safe, painless sound waves off organs to create an image of their structure. The transducer can be moved to different angles to make it possible to examine different organs. In abdominal ultrasound, the health care provider applies a gel to the patient’s abdomen and moves a handheld transducer over the skin. The gel allows the transducer to glide easily, and it improves the transmission of the signals. A specially trained technician performs the procedure in a health care provider’s office, an outpatient center, or a hospital, and a radiologist interprets the images; anesthesia is not needed. The images can show an enlarged liver or rule out other conditions.

Cardiology exam. A cardiologist—a doctor who treats people who have heart problems—performs a cardiology exam in a health care provider’s office, an outpatient center, or a hospital. During a full exam, a cardiologist may inspect the patient’s physical appearance, measure pulse rate and blood pressure, observe the jugular vein, check for rapid or skipped heartbeats, listen for variations in heart sounds, and listen to the lungs.

Slit-lamp exam. An ophthalmologist—a doctor who diagnoses and treats all eye diseases and eye disorders—performs a slit-lamp exam to diagnose posterior embryotoxon. The ophthalmologist examines the eye with a slit lamp, a microscope combined with a high-intensity light that shines a thin beam on the eye. While sitting in a chair, the patient will rest his or her head on the slit lamp. A yellow dye may be used to examine the cornea and tear layer. The dye is applied as a drop, or the specialist may touch a strip of paper stained with the dye to the white of the patient’s eye. The specialist will also use drops in the patient’s eye to dilate the pupil.

Liver biopsy. A liver biopsy is a procedure that involves taking a piece of liver tissue for examination with a microscope for signs of damage or disease. The health care provider may ask the patient to stop taking certain medications temporarily before the liver biopsy. The patient may be asked to fast for 8 hours before the procedure.

During the procedure, the patient lies on a table, right hand resting above the head. A local anesthetic is applied to the area where the biopsy needle will be inserted. If needed, sedatives and pain medication are also given. The health care provider uses a needle to take a small piece of liver tissue. The health care provider may use ultrasound, computerized tomography scans, or other imaging techniques to guide the needle. After the biopsy, the patient should lie on the right side for up to 2 hours and is monitored an additional 2 to 4 hours before being sent home.

Genetic testing. The health care provider may refer a person suspected of having Alagille syndrome to a geneticist—a doctor who specializes in genetic disorders. For a genetic test, the geneticist takes a blood or saliva sample and analyzes the DNA for the JAG1 gene mutation. The geneticist tests for the JAG1 gene mutation first, since it is more common in Alagille syndrome than NOTCH2. Genetic testing is often done only by specialized labs. The results may not be available for several months because of the complexity of the testing.

The usefulness of genetic testing for Alagille syndrome is limited by two factors:

*Detection of a mutated gene cannot predict the onset of symptoms or how serious the disorder will be.

*Even if a mutated gene is found, no specific cure for the disorder exists.

When to Consider Genetic Counseling:
People who are considering genetic testing may want to consult a genetics counselor. Genetic counseling can help family members understand how test results may affect them individually and as a family. Genetic counseling is provided by genetics professionals—health care professionals with specialized degrees and experience in medical genetics and counseling. Genetics professionals include geneticists, genetics counselors, and genetics nurses.

Genetics professionals work as members of health care teams, providing information and support to individuals or families who have genetic disorders or a higher chance of having an inherited condition. Genetics professionals

*assess the likelihood of a genetic disorder by researching a family’s history, evaluating medical records, and conducting a physical exam of the patient and
*other family members

*weigh the medical, social, and ethical decisions surrounding genetic testing

*provide support and information to help a person make a decision about testing

*interpret the results of genetic tests and medical data

*provide counseling or refer individuals and families to support services

*serve as patient advocates

*explain possible treatments or preventive measures

*discuss reproductive options

Genetic counseling may be useful when a family member is deciding whether to have genetic testing and again later when test results are available.

Treatment:
Treatment for Alagille syndrome includes medications and therapies that increase the flow of bile from the liver, promote growth and development in infants’ and children’s bodies, correct nutritional deficiencies, and reduce the person’s discomfort. Ursodiol (Actigall, Urso) is a medication that increases bile flow. Other treatments address specific symptoms of the disorder.

Liver failure. People with Alagille syndrome who develop end-stage liver failure need a liver transplant with a whole liver from a deceased donor or a segment of a liver from a living donor. People with Alagille syndrome who also have heart problems may not be candidates for a transplant because they could be more likely to have complications during and after the procedure. A liver transplant surgical team performs the transplant in a hospital.

Pruritus. Itching may decrease when the flow of bile from the liver is increased. Medications such as cholestyramine (Prevalite), rifampin (Rifadin, Rimactane), naltrexone (Vivitrol), or antihistamines may be prescribed to relieve pruritus. People should hydrate their skin with moisturizers and keep their fingernails trimmed to prevent skin damage from scratching. People with Alagille syndrome should avoid baths and take short showers to prevent the skin from drying out.

If severe pruritus does not improve with medication, a procedure called partial external biliary diversion may provide relief from itching. The procedure involves surgery to connect one end of the small intestine to the gallbladder and the other end to an opening in the abdomen—called a stoma—through which bile leaves the body and is collected in a pouch. A surgeon performs partial external biliary diversion in a hospital. The patient will need general anesthesia.

Malabsorption and growth problems. Infants with Alagille syndrome are given a special formula that helps the small intestine absorb much-needed fat. Infants, children, and adults can benefit from a high-calorie diet, calcium, and vitamins A, D, E, and K. They may also need additional zinc. If someone with Alagille syndrome does not tolerate oral doses of vitamins, a health care provider may give the person injections for a period of time. A child may receive additional calories through a tiny tube that is passed through the nose into the stomach. If extra calories are needed for a long time, a health care provider may place a tube, called a gastrostomy tube, directly into the stomach through a small opening made in the abdomen. A child’s growth may improve with increased nutrition and flow of bile from the liver.

Xanthomas. For someone who has Alagille syndrome, these fatty deposits typically worsen over the first few years of life and then improve over time. They may eventually disappear in response to partial external biliary diversion or the medications used to increase bile fl

Prevention:
Scientists have not yet found a way to prevent Alagille syndrome. However, complications of the disorder can be managed with the help of Doctors. Routine visits with Doctor are needed to prevent complications from becoming worse.

Hope through Research:The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) and other Institutes of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conduct and support research in digestive disorders, including Alagille syndrome. For example, the NIDDK is sponsoring a study called Evaluating the Genetic Causes and Progression of Cholestatic Liver Diseases (LOGIC). Funded under NIH clinical trial number NCT00571272, LOGIC will investigate the progression of cholestatic liver diseases, which can sometimes be caused by Alagille syndrome. The study will work to provide a better understanding of the causes and effects of these liver diseases, which will promote the development of prevention tactics and treatment strategies.

Clinical trials are research studies involving people. Clinical trials look at safe and effective new ways to prevent, detect, or treat disease. Researchers also use clinical trials to look at other aspects of care, such as improving the quality of life for people with chronic illnesses. To learn more about clinical trials, why they matter, and how to participate, visit the NIH Clinical Research Trials and You website at www.nih.gov/health/clinicaltrialsExternal NIH Link. For information about current studies,…click & see

Disclaimer: This information is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advise or help. It is always best to consult with a Physician about serious health concerns. This information is in no way intended to diagnose or prescribe remedies.This is purely for educational purpose.
Resources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alagille_syndrome
http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/liver-disease/Alagille-Syndrome/Pages/facts.aspx

 

Exercise Before Alcohol

Rigorous physical exercise before binge drinking may reduce brain damage in adolescents.
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Monkeys are much like humans. If you leave them alone with alcohol, some of them are sure to get drunk quickly. But that’s a useful trait, because then you can study their brains easily. Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute near San Diego in the US did exactly that with adolescent monkeys, and came to some disturbing conclusions.

Chitra Mandyam and her colleagues at the Scripps Institute were investigating the effects of binge drinking among adolescents. They let the monkeys drink for an hour every day for 11 months. They then stopped the alcohol supply for two months, after which they examined the brains of the animals. The monkeys showed permanent damage in the hippocampus, an area that is crucial to the formation of new memory.

Adolescence — whether in rats, monkeys or humans — is a period of intense physical and mental change. “It is a vulnerable period,” says Mandyam.

According to several studies, binge drinking is increasing among adolescents. Over 60 per cent of these youngsters are at risk of developing brain disorders. It is thus necessary to understand how alcohol damages the brain, how lasting the damage is, and what can be done to reverse it.

“There have been several studies on rodents,” says Mandyam. “But this is the first time we studied binge drinking in monkeys.” There are many advantages of studying the phenomenon in monkeys. The animals are genetically similar to human beings, they drink like humans, and their brains are affected in a manner similar to that in humans.

Neurons in the hippocampus are generated the same way in monkeys as in humans. Since it is difficult to get the brains of adolescent humans for post-mortem, monkeys form the closest approximation for studying the effect of alcohol on adolescent humans.

Scientists at the Scripps Institute first selected a set of monkeys who liked to drink alcohol, and then divided it into two groups. One group was allowed to drink for 11 months and the other did not get to drink. Neurons in the hippocampus of the animals that drank had degenerated when seen even after two months of abstinence. The level of stem cells in the brain also decreased, suggesting the brain had less capacity to repair the damage.

The hippocampus is an important area of the brain that is involved in several functions like spatial memory formation, executive functioning and short-term and long-term memory formation. If damaged during adolescence, it could affect an individual’s functioning for a lifetime. This is particularly true if the stem cells are damaged. Mandyam’s study showed that as much as 90 per cent of the stem cells in the hippocampus could be damaged by binge drinking.

So the next question is: what can we do to reverse the damage? The brain is known to be very plastic, but can we invoke this plasticity when the stem cells in the hippocampus are damaged? There are no studies of monkeys, but those of rats suggest that one may be able to control this damage partly.

One particular study by Kimberly Nixon and her colleagues at the University of Kentucky in the US has shown that exercise before drinking may reduce the damage to a certain extent.

Nixon made rats exercise voluntarily for 14 days before four days of intense drinking. When the brains of the rodents were examined after that, they showed reduced damage compared with rats that did not exercise. However, we cannot necessarily conclude that all alcohol damage is reversible. “We do not know the threshold levels alcohol begins to be toxic,” says Nixon. “There is old data saying that over 50 per cent of alcoholics have persistent cognitive defects they never recover from.”

There may be several reasons why exercise shows reduced damage. It could be that the brain cells form new connections to compensate for lost cells. Abstinence and the passage of time may help the brain recover a bit. But we still do not know the many ways in which alcohol affects the brain.

However, we do know two things: binge drinking can permanently damage parts of the brain. And a period of exercise before drinking can prevent or at least reduce brain cell death.


Source :
The Telegraph ( Kolkata, India)

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Save Your Sanity

A “sick” patient who goes for medical consultation does not always have a physical ailment that can be diagnosed and treated quickly. About 36 per cent of these patients suffers from mental illnesses, and of these 20 per cent has “somatisation” — that is, depression showing up as exhaustion, dizzy spells, intolerance to noise, tingling sensation, pain or insomnia. Their thoughts, emotions and behaviour are affected. They are always “sick”, and this makes it difficult for them to hold down a job or relate to people.
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Serious mental illnesses (psychotic disorders) are present in 0.5 per cent of this population. Such people may suffer from schizophrenia, wherein they hear voices inside their head and which command them to do strange things. They may also be paranoid — that is, convinced that everyone (even close friends and family) is determined to harm them. Depression may cause them to become unproductive, addicted to alcohol or drugs, or have suicidal thoughts. Panic and anxiety can be so extreme that he or she is unable to leave home. Maniacal behaviour may cause reckless spending or sexual promiscuity.

Mental illness is a chronic disease, just like diabetes or arthritis. Unfortunately, it is not viewed as such. The patient and his or her family may conceal the illness because they are ashamed of it. They hope it is a passing phase brought about by “bad fate”, religious or moral transgressions, or is a result of witchcraft. If the patient is a catatonic schizophrenic — that is, remains immobile in a bizarre statue-like position for hours or even days — people around may not always understand the situation. Undiagnosed patients may be denied treatment and stigmatised, or even confined, chained or beaten.

Both men and women are prone to mental illness, but the spectrum of disease slightly differs in the sexes. Men are more prone to schizophrenia and women to depression. In addition, women suffer a specific type of depression called post natal depression (PND). This can set in one to six months after the birth of a child and can last weeks or months. During this time, women feel anxious, guilty and suicidal, as they are unable to cope with the baby. Unfortunately, though it is a self-limited treatable condition, it is often ignored. The patients are at times even accused of being “possessed” and treated by quacks.

Centuries ago, Hippocrates postulated that the brain is an organ with particular functions, just like the liver or heart, and that it is prone to disease and malfunction. Scanning techniques such as computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) have demonstrated that he was right. Blood flow to certain areas of the brain and its actual physical size differs in those with mental illnesses.

The heart responds to exercise with an increase in its rate. Similarly, the brain responds to life events with the release of chemical neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, noradrenaline, gamma-amino butyric acid and acetylcholine. An imbalance, the excess of any chemical, a change in the ratio or relative deficiency leads to gradations of depression, anxiety and schizophrenia.

Mental illnesses tend to run in families and have a genetic basis. Members carry genes that predispose them to neurotransmitter imbalances. The genes manifest themselves if the environmental factors are conducive. Children may be victims of abuse if one or both parents are mentally ill. They may witness alcoholism, other addictions or domestic violence. Discipline may be haphazard and academic performance unstructured and poor. This may predispose them to mental illness in later life.

If an unprovoked person suddenly becomes violent or starts talking gibberish, the diagnosis of mental illness is easy. In the early stages of mental illnesses — when the symptoms may be subtle — or in paranoid schizophrenics (who may be persuasive and appear rational in their delusions), the diagnosis is not so obvious. Conversations and interviews with the patient and relatives and verbal tests eventually lead the psychiatrist to the diagnosis. There are no confirmatory blood or imaging tests. It is a subjective diagnosis that requires expertise and years of training.

Mental illnesses may be difficult to treat, even in the best of hands. Drug combinations and dosages have to be individualised. Medication has to be continued long term. The neurochemicals in the brain take time to change, and hence the response is gradual and not dramatic. Relapses can occur, especially if dosages are missed. Psychotherapy (talking to the patient) and social rehabilitation have to take place simultaneously.

The duration of therapy and pace of improvement is often discouraging. It may make the relatives fall prey to charlatans who promise a “miracle cure”. However, their methods are unscientific and may cause harm. Religious organisations with untrained personnel are not a substitute for psychiatrists or psychotherapists. And last but not the least, marriage does not cure mental illness.

Mental illness can be prevented by —

• Early identification of problem behaviour

• Adequate social support and social networking

• Learning mechanisms for coping with stress

• Effective community care

• Physical fitness plays a positive role. A family that exercises for 40 minutes a day will be physically and mentally healthy.

Source: The Telegraph (Kolkata, India)

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