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Aging: You Can Hurry it, but You Can’t Slow it

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Nothing in gerontology comes close to fulfilling the promise of a dramatically extended life span — despite bold claims to the contrary.
“I have little doubt that gerontologists will eventually find a way to avoid, or more likely, delay, the unpleasantries of extended life,” says S. Jay Olshansky, author of “The Quest for Immortality: Science at the Frontiers of Aging.” But they’re not there yet.

For now, what researchers are finding is that, although we can certainly accelerate the aging process, we can’t stop it.

People don’t like to accept that our life spans are generally preset by genetics. “The only control we have over our life span is to shorten it,” says Olshansky, an epidemiology professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health. We do this by being sedentary, smoking, gaining weight and abusing drugs.

Olshansky adds: “If we do everything right, the best we can do is live out our potential with as little age-related disease and disability as possible.”

In the United States today the average life span for women is 80 and for men it’s 75. Of the planet’s current 6.5 billion inhabitants, no more than 25 people are older than 110. Jeanne Calment of Arles, France, who died in 1997 at age 122 1/2 , set the record for the greatest documented age reached by any human.

Researchers who study centenarians (people who live to 100) and super centenarians (those who live beyond 110) appreciate how rare it is to attain that age. They also understand how ridiculous it is to claim that people alive today can expect to live to age 125, which is what some longevity proponents claim is achievable.

“Saying that is inconceivably irresponsible,” says Tom Perls, a geriatrician and director of the New England Centenarian Study. That said, he does believe we can borrow from the successes, if not the genes, of people who’ve lived to be 100. “I wouldn’t be devoting my life to studying centenarians if I didn’t think something would come of it.”

There isn’t a cure for aging because it isn’t a disease, says Laurence Rubenstein, geriatrician at UCLA Medical Center. “It’s a natural and complex process that involves every system in the body.” That individuals age unevenly at vastly different rates suggests that genes, lifestyle and disease can all affect the rate of aging.

Our risk of dying increases as we get older because more can go wrong, says Olshanksy, citing what those in the field call increased competitive risks. “If you do an autopsy on an 85-year-old who died of a stroke, you will find five other things that person was about to die from.”

While research continues to look at ways to help people live longer and healthier, Perls is looking at populations that seem to do that better than most.

The Seventh-day Adventists are such a group: They live to an average age of 88, or about 10 years longer than other people in the country. They don’t smoke. They tend to be lean and fit and get regular exercise. They eat a largely vegetarian diet and spend a lot of time involved with family and religion, which scientists think helps them manage stress.

“If everyone in our country adopted those behaviors, the payoff would be huge,” said Perls, an associate professor of geriatrics at Boston University Medical Center. He would add one more piece of advice to the list:

“Avoid anti-aging quacks like the plague.”

Source: Los Angeles Times

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Turmeric Curry Keeps Dementia at Bay

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Turmeric curry once or twice a week could keep Alzheimer’s disease and dementia at bay, thanks to a magic ingredient curcumin found  in the spice, according to an Indian American psychiatris

Murali Doraiswamy, psychiatry professor at the Mental Fitness Lab of the Duke University Medical Centre (DUMC), North Carolina, told delegates at the Royal College of Psychiatrists‘ annual meeting Liverpool that curcumin prevented the spread of amyloid plaques. These plaques are thought to contribute to the degradation of the wiring in brain cells and lead to the subsequent symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease

Doraiswamy, who did his MBBS from Madras University (India) in 1987, said: “There is very solid evidence that curcumin binds to plaques, and basic research on animals engineered to produce human amyloid plaques has shown benefits.

“Turmeric has been studied not just in Alzheimer’s research but for a variety of conditions, such as cancer and arthritis. Turmeric is often referred to as the spice of life in ancient Indian medical lore,” said Doraiswamy.

A clinical trial is now underway at the University of California, Los Angeles, to test curcumin’s effects in Alzheimer’s patients and specifically on their amyloid plaque proteins. A small pilot trail was completed to determine the right dose and researchers have now embarked on a larger study.

Doraiswamy told the Royal College annual meeting that “you can modify a mouse so that at about 12 months its brain is riddled with plaques. If you feed this rat a curcumin-rich diet it dissolves these plaques”.

However, curry may be just one of the ingredients that prevent degeneration of the brain. “If you are eating fatty burgers and smoking then don’t expect an occasional curry to counterbalance a poor lifestyle,” he said.

Turmeric is also found in mustard and Doraiswamy predicted a day when – for those unable, or unwilling, to consume curries regularly – the public might be advised to take a ‘curry’ pill every day if the findings are confirmed in human studies, said a DUMC release.

Doraiswamy, a leading expert on brain health and fitness, is on a lecture tour promoting his book, “The Alzheimer’s Action Plan”, published in April.

The Times Of India

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Drinking Tea ‘Reduces Stroke Risk’

Here’s some good news for tea-lovers: having three or more cups of the drink everyday can cut the risk of stroke, says a new study.

……………....CLICK & SEE
According to Lenore Arab, professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine, drinking the beverage can reduce the threat by as much as 21%.

UCLA boffins observed that the result was obtained in tea made from the plant Camellia sinensis and not from herbs. It was contemplated that anti-oxidant epigallocatechin gallate or the amino acid Theanine in teas may be what leads to the reduced risks.

“By drinking three cups of tea a day, the risk of a stroke was reduced 21%,” the New York Daily News quoted Arab as saying. “That’s why these findings are so exciting. If we can find a way to prevent the stroke, or prevent the damage, that is simple and not toxic, that would be a great advance,” he added.

Sources: The Times Of India

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15 Ways to Hack Your Brain

smart, memory, brain

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If you’re looking to improve mental cognition, increase your memory, and enhance your alertness, here are 15 easy ways to help out your brain.

1. Exercise: More than 20 percent of your body’s blood and oxygen go directly to your brain. Exercise, particularly cardio training, effectively increases the flow to your brain, keeping it a well-oiled machine. But if you’d like something a little more Zen, try Yoga. Many Yoga poses, like Downward Facing Dog, are specifically engineered to get blood to your brain faster.
2. Hydrate: If you’re looking for a little pick-me-up, don’t reach for your usual double espresso. Instead try drinking water. The caffeine in coffee and soda may temporarily make you feel more alert, but in the long run will make you even more tired by dehydrating your muscles and constricting your blood vessels. Water, on the other hand, is a simple way to keep your mind alert and refreshed.

3. Find Stimulation: By decorating your work area brightly or switching your font color to something more vivid, you can work through boredom and fatigue. Aromatherapy can also be enormously effective, as smell is the strongest of the senses. Lemon, peppermint, and cypress are several scents known to stimulate the brain.4. Think Happy Thoughts: Your brain, particularly your memory, doesn’t respond well to stress. If you’re tense, overwrought, or unhappy, you’re much less likely to retain information or stay alert. Try to eliminate stressful influences from your life and workplace.5. Play Games: Studies with dementia patients have shown that playing word games and puzzles can increase and even restore mental cognitive abilities.

6. Watch Quality TV: Unfortunately, studies indicate that passively sitting in front of the TV is counterproductive. But if you must, choose a game or quiz shows like Jeopardy, and try to answer the questions. Even if you have never heard of the Federalist Papers, your brain will be stimulated in the same way as if you were playing Trivial Pursuit with your friends.

7. Surf the Net: A recent study at the University of California Los Angeles found that searching the Web stimulated centers in the brain that controlled decision-making and complex reasoning. A simple task like searching the Web appears to enhance brain circuitry.

8. Eat Brain Food: If you want to get peak mental performance from what you eat, here are a few things to remember. Protein is the main source of fuel for your brain. Your brain also needs foods rich in crucial vitamins and minerals, and it’s always better to get these from food rather than taking pills …

Vitamin A is needed to protect brain cell membranes
• B Vitamins are essential for neuronal growth and vitality
• Vitamin C is so vital for brain function that its levels in your brain are 15 times higher than anywhere outside your brain
• Vitamin E prevents and actually reverses brain deterioration• Magnesium maintains the metabolic viability of neurons
• Zinc rids your brain of impurities
• Amino Acids are necessary to the growth and health of neurotransmitters

9. Load Up On Fish Oil: The omega -3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in fish oil keep the dopamine levels in your brain high, increase neuronal growth in the frontal cortex of the brain, and increase cerebral circulation. Krill oil is another excellent source of omega-3, and may even be superior to fish oil.

10. Eat Weeds: There are about a dozen or so ‘brain-boosting’ herbs, but the two most important are Ginkgo Biloba and Ginseng. Ginseng helps your brain adapt to stress agents by heightening the productivity of your adrenal glands.

11. Learn Something New: Very few people find the time to master new skills or even read a new book that isn‘t for work or class. But learning a foreign language, a new handcraft or recipe, or challenging yourself with an unfamiliar subject all increase brain growth.

12. Don’t Waste Time: The best way to organize your mind is to declutter your life. Maximize your time with a few personal alterations. Make and keep a list of daily and long-term priorities, and don’t let your focus wander.

13. Actively Improve Your Memory: The most effective way to remember facts is by forming multiple associations. For example, you may remember the date of your dentist appointment, because that number was the age of your favorite singer when he died. After that, repetition is a tried and true method of memorization.

14. Rest: Almost nothing is as crucial to proper and efficient brain functioning as sleep.

15. Have Sex: A lot happens to your body during sex, and much of it goes on in your brain. There is no activity that increases more blood flow to your brain, enhancing cognitive capabilities.

Having sex also produces hormones that dramatically improve brain functioning. One example includes the hormone oxytocin, which increases your ability to think of original solutions to a problem. Serotonin and dopamine, which surge after sex, help your creative thinking and support calm, logical decision-making.
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The Unfolding Mystery of Scleroderma

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Scleroderma, an autoimmune disease, tends to afflict middle-age women and can affect many parts of the body, inside and out.


Lung disease, the biggest killer of scleroderma patients, is the main focus of research today..

Doctors have a growing arsenal of proven and potential treatments, some of which are risky and the subjects of current research, including stem cell transplants and powerful but toxic cancer drugs.

Like many autoimmune ailments, scleroderma remains a great unknown. Despite decades of research, the cause of this rare and complicated disease has yet to be discovered. But the good news is that doctors have a pretty clear understanding of how scleroderma progresses — a natural history, they call it — and are better than ever at extending and easing their patients’ lives.

“Lots of patients and lots of doctors used to consider it a ‘black box’ disease, a complete mystery, with little that could be done,” said Dr. Philip J. Clements of the University of California, Los Angeles, who is a scleroderma specialist. “Now there’s a body of evidence that tells us what to watch out for, and when.”

Experts now know, for example, that the gradual hardening of tissues and blood vessels that is a hallmark of scleroderma usually starts on the hands and face, with skin thickening, pitted scars and cool, pale fingertips among the earliest symptoms. Damage can then progress inward to internal organs, though the course varies widely from patient to patient. Of the 10,000 cases diagnosed among Americans each year, mainly women, a small subset will die quickly. But many others are able to manage their condition with a variety of treatments and have normal life expectancies.

Doctors also now know that if a patient’s internal organs are going to be affected as well as the skin, that is likely to happen in the first four or five years of the disease. So early diagnosis and close monitoring of the heart, lungs and kidneys are vitally important.

They have also learned that steroids, once viewed as a cure-all for immune disorders, can worsen the effects of scleroderma, especially in the kidneys, and should be used with caution.

“Learning which drugs to avoid was itself a big step,” said Dr. John Varga, the Gallagher Professor of Medicine at Northwestern University and chairman of the Medical Advisory Board for the Scleroderma Foundation, a nonprofit group that sponsors research and support for patients and families.

Kidney disease used to cause 90 percent of scleroderma-related deaths until the advent of a class of blood pressure drugs called angiotensin-converting enzyme, or ACE, inhibitors in the 1980s. ACE inhibitors prevent kidney damage by slowing down the chemicals that cause the muscles surrounding blood vessels to contract. Complications in the kidneys now account for only 14 percent of scleroderma deaths, Dr. Steen said.

The lungs are still a challenge. About 80 percent of scleroderma patients develop some form of lung problem — either pulmonary hypertension, due to hardening of the veins and arteries in the lung, or pulmonary fibrosis, in which the lung tissue becomes inflamed and then thickened with scarring. Some patients develop both. Either way, breathing becomes more difficult as the lungs become less pliable.

“If you die of a scleroderma-related problem, half of those deaths are from lung disease,” said Dr. Virginia Steen, a professor at Georgetown University and director of the Rheumatology Fellowship Program there. She wrote a seminal 2007 article that documented the shift from kidney disease to pulmonary disease as the biggest cause of death among scleroderma patients.

One successful remedy called Revatio, routinely prescribed since 2005, came from an unexpected source: Viagra. Repackaged from a little blue diamond to a round white tablet and renamed for marketing, dosage and insurance purposes, the drug works by relaxing the blood vessels and improving blood flow, whether for erectile or lung dysfunction.

“No one could understand why all these women were taking it four times a day,” said Frannie Waldron, chief executive of the Scleroderma Foundation.

Doctors also have a growing arsenal of experimental treatments and potential cures, some of which are risky.

Among them is cyclophosphamide, or Cytoxan, a powerful but highly toxic cancer drug that acts on the immune system. The drug decreases the inflammation that causes pulmonary fibrosis and has been used on scleroderma patients for the last 10 years.

But cytoxan has dangerous side effects, including an increased risk of bladder cancer, and usually is not given for more than a year. Moreover, the fibrosis seems to start again once drug treatments stop. Several studies involving the medication are under way, as well as efforts to find alternative treatments, many of them sponsored by drug companies.

Another big push involves stem cell transplant, an extremely risky process in which doctors try to reset the patient’s immune system and bypass the glitch that causes scleroderma. The procedure is the subject of a National Institutes of Health study called the SCOT trial, for Scleroderma: Cyclophosphamides or Transplantation?

Similar to a bone marrow transplant, doctors first draw the patient’s blood and extract the stem cells, the highly malleable building blocks that are thought to be free of the seeds of scleroderma. The patient is then subjected to high doses of radiation or chemotherapy with Cytoxan to kill the bone marrow. The last step is to reinfuse the stem cells, in the hopes that they replicate themselves in a healthy form free of disease.

The study will compare the benefits of the stem cell transplant with giving patients just monthly doses, but high ones, of Cytoxan. Preliminary results have been promising, several experts said.

“You’d think you’d have trouble recruiting for this,” said Dr. Arthur C. Theodore of Boston University, one of the investigators in the project. “But scleroderma patients are desperate.”

: The New York Times

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