World Cancer Day: Foods That Prevent Cancer

World Cancer Day’ is celebrated annually on 4th of February to deepen our understanding of this killer disease. There has been enough research to validate that food acts as the most promising ammunition to fight the battle against cancer.

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What are the foods that up the risk of developing cancer?

Some cancers like that of the stomach have a more direct relationship with food. Foods which should be consumed in moderation to avoid the incidence of cancer are –

Processed meats such as bacon, sausages, lunch meats and hot dogs. Choose fish, poultry, or beans instead of red meat (beef, pork, and lamb). If you eat red meat, choose lean cuts and eat smaller portions. Prepare meat, poultry, and fish by baking, broiling, or poaching rather than by frying or charbroiling.

What are the preventive foods that guard against cancer?

In accordance with the most common types of cancers that our country suffers from, the following foods can help:

Oral Cancer: A diet rich in green and yellow vegetables and proper oral hygiene has been shown to offer protection against oral cancer.

Breast Cancer: Reduction of high calorie foods, increased intake of fruits and vegetables and regular physical activity is preventive.

Lung Cancer: Avoid tobacco and stay free from environmental pollutants. Increase intake of vegetables, fruits and beta carotene.

Stomach Cancer: Diets high in fruits and vegetables particularly raw vegetables, citrus fruits, and possibly allium vegetables (onions, leeks, garlic etc.), foods with high levels of carotenoid, high vitamin C intake and consumption of green tea helps prevent stomach cancers.

What foods help in healing cancer and how?

Good nutrition is a key to good health. Foods which are rich in Vitamin C, Beta-carotene and Lycopene are known to protect DNA from damages. Research proves that these foods help in healing cancer –

Apple: Apple contains quercetin, epicatechin, anthocyanins and triterpenoids which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that help to lower the risk of cancer specifically Colorectal cancers. The apple peel is the most nutritious as the majority of Quercetin (80%) is found in it. Other cancers in which apples are known to heal are lungs, breast and stomach.

Blueberries :Blueberries have great antioxidant power, due to the presence of many phytochemicals and flavonoids like Anthocyanins, Ellagic acid and Urolithin. These are known to decrease free radical damage to DNA that leads to cancer. They also decrease the growth and stimulate self-destruction of mouth, breast, colon and prostate cancer cells.

Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Green Cabbage, Cauliflower, White Turnip, Kale, Green Collard: The Glucosinolates is converted into isothiocyanates and indoles on consumption, which decreases inflammation, one of the risk factors of cancer. Beta-carotene promotes cell communication that helps control abnormal cell growth.

Source: NDTV

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Top 10 Mistakes Made in Clinical Rotations


By Kendra Campbell, MD and other Medscape Contributors

Last week, I watched a med student argue for 20 minutes with a patient about whether or not they were ambulating enough. His actions inspired me to make a top 10 list of mistakes that I’ve seen students make during their clinical rotations:

1. Arguing with a patient:
This is an exercise in futility, and is very unprofessional.
“One of your role’s as a physician is to invoke a shared decision making process with your patients who have decision making capacity.”

2. Reporting a physical finding without actually observing it:
I’ve even seen a student get in trouble for documenting a physical finding on a patient who had been discharged already.

3. Berating (aka “pimping”) your resident or attending:
Med school is similar to the military when it comes to respecting your place in the chain of command. Attendings “pimp” residents and med students. Residents berate med students. Thou shalt not berate up the chain. That said, the institutionalized nature of “pimping” does not absolve the word of its offensive and unethical practice. Eradicate it from your vocabulary and practice.

Medical-Students

“Most of the time it is to show power, how smart they are and embarrass those lower in the “Hierarchy”. If  residents and attendings really want to teach, than have a real discussion of the issues.  Yes, ask questions but don’t berate someone if they don’t know the answer. Good attendings approach it like that, and if a student or resident doesn’t know the answer, they are told to look it up.

A few times, when I was a student, a hotshot resident would try to “pimp” me and they had the wrong answer and tried to correct me. I looked up a relevant article and proved my position. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as it is done respectfully.

Medicine is a life long learning experience. Everyone can learn something new including residents and attendings. Don’t automatically discount someone’s opinion because they are lower on the hospital chain. A student might have a Ph.D. or master’s in some field and truly knows more about a subject than the resident or attending.”

4. Disrespecting the nurses:
Seriously, this is a huge no-no. If you want to make your life miserable, make the nurses hate you. If you want to enjoy your time at the hospital, befriend every nurse you meet.

5. Dressing inappropriately:
Dressing appropriately is important, and applies to men as well as women. For example, no sandals, no jeans, no T-shirts (unless they’re under scrubs), a mohawk wouldn’t go over well, nor would wearing 4-inch stiletto heels, or a need to exhibit one’s cleavage.  There’s a time and a place for everything, and the hospital is not a place to dress provocatively.

“Include personal hygiene. Use your dental floss and brush your teeth. Patients do not deserve a doctor with bad breath. Poor personal hygiene raises doubts in the minds of all about whether you are scrupulous about everything else.”

6. Documenting an important positive finding without alerting your resident or attending:
If you discover that a patient has rebound tenderness, or a temperature of 103.7, don’t write this in a note and walk away. You must always alert your higher-ups to significant findings, or else you will find yourself getting chewed out for a good while.

7. Showing up late:
This is a particular pet peeve of mine, and one that some students seem to think is insignificant. People notice when you’re late. It’s unprofessional and disrespectful to the rest of the group. Traffic is not an excuse. Leave your residence early enough to get to the hospital with plenty of time to spare.

8. Performing a procedure without having been authorized to do so:
If the resident walks in on you placing a central line on a patient without their authorization, you will find yourself in deep trouble with the doctor, hospital, and potentially a courtroom.

9. Forgetting you are in a hospital:
This is something that is easier said than done. We spend so many hours in the hospital that it’s easy to forget that we are surrounded by very ill, helpless, and frightened people. It’s not a high school football game; it’s a hospital.  Patient’s lives are in the hands of the healthcare workers surrounding them. We are each one of the healthcare workers.

10. Being a slacker:
We all have seen students who try to get by with the bare minimum in everything they do. If you want to throw away a ridiculous amount of money, not learn anything, and end up being a crappy doctor, then by all means slack off during your clinical years. If you want to learn a lot and become an incredible doctor, then put in the time and effort.

Source: www.einstein.yu.edu

A multitasking video game makes old brains act younger

texila american university

Some people as old as 80, the researchers say, begin to show neurological patterns of people in their 20s.

Brain scientists have discovered that swerving around cars while simultaneously picking out road signs in a video game can improve the short-term memory and long-term focus of older adults.

Cognitive scientists say the findings, to be published Thursday in the scientific journal Nature, are a significant development in understanding how to strengthen older brains. That is because the improvements in brain performance did not come just within the game but were shown outside the game in other cognitive tasks.

Further supporting the findings, the researchers were able to measure and show changes in brain wave activity, suggesting that this research could help understand what neurological mechanisms should and could be tinkered with to improve memory and attention.

Read the complete Story here

5 surprising ways to prevent migraines

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1: Lifestyle changes are the best treatment for migraine prevention.

The most important strategy in the war against migraines is avoiding a migraine attack in the first place. To prevent migraines, you need to figure out what your own personal migraine triggers are and avoid them religiously.

Common migraine triggers include chocolate, red wine, cheese and caffeine. Keep a diet diary to discover your migraine triggers. Avoiding migraine triggers in your diet is an effective treatment for migraine prevention.

Certain smells can also trigger a migraine headache. My sister, for example, stopped wearing perfume and asked her friends and family to do the same when they planned to spend time with her. That helped a little, but it was not enough.

However, when she stopped buying any type of scented soaps, shampoo, lotion, laundry detergent and other cleaning products and got rid of her flowering houseplants, it made an even bigger difference. You may not think of the original scent of Tide, for example, as being perfumed, but it is. Being around those low level smells meant that my sister was exposed to one of her migraine triggers all the time; for her, buying unscented everything is an effective treatment for migraine prevention.

 2: Natural herbal remedies for migraine prevention.

For centuries, migraine sufferers have been using natural herbal remedies to prevent and treat migraine headaches. If you suffer from migraines, you might want to try traditional herbal remedies to prevent migraines.

Natural herbal remedies such as feverfew and ginko biloba that increase blood circulation and decrease the constriction of blood vessels, especially in the brain, are good herbal treatments for migraine prevention. In fact, daily doses of feverfew has been shown in British medical studies to reduce not only the frequency of migraine attacks, but also the intensity of migraine headaches when they do occur, especially when taken in conjunction with white willow.

Ginger, a natural powerhouse and home remedy staple, is well known for preventing and reducing the nausea that all too often accompanies a migraine headache. Ginger can also be used as a treatment for migraine prevention.

 3: Vitamin supplements can be used to prevent migraine headaches.

You might also want to consider taking over the counter vitamins and supplements from preventative migraine relief. Coenzyme Q10, magnesium and vitamin B2 have all been shown to be helpful treatments for migraine prevention.

 4: OTC Migraine medications can help stave off a full blown migraine attack.

If, despite your best efforts, you do feel a migraine headache coming on, your best strategy is to stop it in its tracks.

Excedrin Migraine is a popular over the counter (OTC) migraine medication. It contains acetominphen, aspirin and caffeine, and many migraine sufferers have found that Excedrin Migraine works when taken at the first sign of a migraine. However, if caffeine is one of your migraine triggers, Excedrin Migraine not the migraine medication for you.

I personally find OTC naproxen (ie. Aleve) be effective if taken immediately, as well as over the counter sinus medications that combine pain relief with antihistamines and decongestants.

Finally, many migraine sufferers, men included, have found that OTC medications designed for menstrual problems are also effective for migraine relief.

 5: Prescription medications for migraine prevention.

If you have tried the typical lifestyle changes, herbal migraine prevention medications and over the counter migraine drugs listed above, you may need to talk to your doctor about at migraine relief from prescription migraine prevention medications.

Currently, there are only four migraine medications approved by the FDA for use in preventing migraine headaches. Two- Topamax (topiramate) and Depakote ER (divalproex sodium)- are neuronal stabilizing agents, or anticonvulsants originally developed for seizure disorders. The other prescription medications approved for migraine prevention are Blocadren (timolol) and Inderal (propranolol), which are beta blockers originally developed for treating heart disease and high blood pressure

These migraine medications provided relief from migraines to many sufferers, but they can have side effects. Topomax, for example, has been shown to cause birth defects, kidney stones, acute myopia (nearesightedness) and glaucoma, which can lead to blindness.

Doctors may prescribe certain medications off label for preventative migraine relief. “Off label” means prescribing a medication approved for something else for the treatment of migraines. Antihistimines, antidepressants and blood pressure medications have all been prescribed by doctors in the hope that they will prevent migraines.

Other brands of beta blockers and anticonvulsants that have not specifically been approved by the FDA for migraine prevention have been successful when used as preventive migraine medications, as well as Botox, muscle relaxants, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) generally prescribed for arthritis, and medications usually used in the treatment of ADD.

As always, you should make sure to talk to your doctor before using prescription medications as a treatment for migraine prevention.

Source: http://texilaconnect.com/,  http://health.com/

 

Lefty or righty? Genes for handedness found

Handwriting

Genes that play a role in the orientation of internal organs may also affect whether someone is right- or left-handed, new research suggests.

The study, published Friday in the journal PLOS Genetics, suggests those genes may also play a role in the brain, thereby affecting people’s handedness.

Still, the findings can’t yet explain the mystery of why a minority of people are left-handed because each gene plays only a tiny role in people’s handedness.

“Handedness is a complex trait, there are hundreds of genes involved,” said study co-author William Brandler, a genetics doctoral candidate at the University of Oxford in England. “There are also lots of environmental influences.”

Origins of handedness

Throughout the world, between about 5 and 20 percent of the population is left-handed. Favoring one hand for most tasks can allow people to do things more quickly, but exactly why there’s such a strong bias toward right-handedness in humans is a mystery. Humans’ close relatives, such as chimpanzees, are equally likely to be southpaws.

A 2012 study suggested that more cooperative societies that share tools and tasks have more people with the same dominant hand. Other studies propose that being a leftie is handy in a fistfight — but only if most people are expecting a right hook.

Although a few genes have been implicated in handedness, genes are not the entire story, as identical twins often favor different hands. Some have even proposed that brain damage in utero causes brains to rewire to make people lefties.

Genetic links

To get at the genetic roots of handedness, Brandler (who is a southpaw) and his colleagues asked 728 people to move a row of 10 pegs using first their right hand, then their left. People who take much longer on one side versus the other have greater hand dominance.

The researchers then analyzed the genes of these people and identified several genes associated with greater hand dominance. They then confirmed the association in a larger group of 2,666 people.

The strongest association was with a gene called PCSK6 that creates left- and right- parts in utero. The other genes played a role in how the organs in the body are oriented.

People with defects in these genes may be otherwise healthy, but have situs inversus, a condition in which internal organs are mirrored from their normal orientation. Others have more serious defects, such as left-handed isomerism, in which people have essentially two left sides and multiple spleens throughout the body, or heterotaxia, a typically fatal condition where “organs are all over the place,” Brandler told Live Science.

The findings suggest that the same genes that affect the left-hand symmetry of organs in the body also affect the way the brain is wired. That, in turn, affects whether someone’s right or left hand is dominant.

“Handedness is an outward reflection of brain asymmetries for motor coordination,” Brandler said. “If you’re right-handed, it means you’re left hemisphere dominant for motor coordination. That’s because our brains are cross-wired.”

Still, to truly tease out the roots of left-handedness, researchers will need to untangle the role of hundreds of other genes and isolate environmental factors, he said.

Source: http://texilaconnect.com/lefty-or-righty-genes-for-handedness-found/

 

 

10 Most Amazing and Unbelievable Medical Miracles

Whether they are made possible by sheer luck, groundbreaking medical advances or divine intervention, humans have a certain fascination with stories of the miraculous. Medical miracles inspire a mix of awe and hope, as well as a good measure of shock and horror at circumstances other people have endured and survived.

Some stories are shocking, some a gruesome and some are just plain miraculous. Here are just a few of some of the most amazing medical miracles recorded.

1. Surviving A Spike Through the Head

Phineas_Gage

Perhaps one of the most famous medical miracle stories told to students of neurology is that of Phineas Gage.  In 1848, Gage was the foreman of a construction gang preparing the bed of a new railroad line, when an explosion forced a 3 feet 7 inch long rod through his head.  The rod entered through the man’s cheek and exited through the top of his head.

Miraculously, the rod was successfully removed by doctors, and Gage survived.  Unfortunately, he experienced obvious personality changes, and eventually died eleven years later after suffering from increasingly severe seizures.

2. Man Survives Steel Bar Through Chest

Twenty-two-year-old Supratim Dutta defied all odds when he survived being impaled by a 5 foot long, two inch thick iron bar. Dutta was impaled when his driver lost control of the car he was riding in and smashed into a barricade.

Spike_through_Chest

Miraculously, the iron bar missed all vital organs, and surgeons were able to remove it. Dutta was released from the hospital just two weeks later and made a full recovery.

3. Implanted Electrodes Wake Man After 6 Years

A serious assault left a man in a near-vegetative state for six years, until a medical team inserted electrodes into his brain with miraculous results.  The man, who had previously been unable to swallow, communicate or make coordinated movements of any kind, was suddenly able to talk, feed himself and interact with his family.  The man experienced almost immediate improvement when the electrodes were stimulated, and now they turn on and off every 12 hours to give him a normal sleep-wake cycle.

Implanted_Electrodes

The electrodes were used to stimulate the thalamus, an important region deep within the brain. This form of deep brain stimulation has been used to treat Parkinsons disease, but it had never been used before to treat a patient with this type of brain damage.

4. Brain With Leaky Veins Fixed with Superglue

17-month-old Ella-Grace Honeyman was born with a rare malformation of the blood vessels in the brain called Vein of Galen Malformation.  The malformation causes high pressures in the vein of Galen, resulting in aneurysms. In Ella-Grace, news reports state that the high pressure caused blood to leak into her brain and resulted in the formation of a potentially fatal aneurysm.

super_glued_brain

The condition is so rare, that the toddler had to be taken first to France, and then to the United States for treatment.  She underwent surgery that plugged the tiny holes in her blood vessels with a type of medical superglue. While she will still need more operations in the future, doctors say Ella-Grace will now be able to live a long and healthy life.

5. Four armed and legged Lakshmi survives surgery

Lakshmiwithmom_previewWhen a baby girl was born in rural India with four arms and four legs, she was thought to be a gift from God, and was given the name Lakshmi, after the four-armed Hindu goddess of wealth. Doctors found that Lakshmi actually had a twin, which had failed to fully develop, and had fused to her body.

A team of doctors were assembled, and they performed 27 hour surgery to remove the limbs, kidney and spinal cord from her twin. Then they re-oriented the girl’s genital system and bladder, and closed her pelvis. Lakshmi made a miraculous recovery, and just three months after her operation, she was able to walk with a walker.

6. Man Walks Again After Being Chopped in Half

Peng Shulin’s body was literally cut in half when he was hit by a lorry over a decade ago. It took a team of 20 medical professionals to save Peng’s life, a feat which was a miracle in itself. Unfortunately though, Peng was left bedridden. Then, doctors at the China Rehabilitation Research Center in Beijing came up with a plan to restore Peng’s mobility.

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They designed him an eggcup shaped device with two artificial legs attached to it, enabling the determined man to walk again with the aid of a walker.

7. A First-Time Mother at 70

Mother_at_70Rajo Devi and her husband Bala Ram were married for 50 years before Devi gave birth to their first child, at the age of 70. The couple, who had struggled with the social stigma of infertility for decades,  finally conceived using in vitro fertilization and a technique called intra cytoplasmic sperm injection, which makes it easier to fertilize an egg with poor quality sperm.  Dr. Bishnoi from the Hisar Fertility Centre Treated Devi, and states that special care was taken to prevent a multiple pregnancy, which could have had catastrophic results for both Devi and her baby.  Both mom and baby are healthy, and Devi is currently the oldest woman known to have given birth to their first child.

8. Miracle Through a Magnet

A car crash left Josh Villa in a vegetative state for three years, until he was virtually jolted out of his coma using a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). TMS stimulates the brain using magnetic fields produced by an electromagnetic coil placed on the patient’s scalp.

Previously, doctors have used TMS to treat depression, Parkinsons disease, stroke and migraine. The magnet sends a charge to the portion of the brain that works to signal the rest of the brain to wake up. Villa, who was given these treatments as a last resort, awakened after 15 treatment sessions. Unfortunately, after a total of 30 treatments, the sessions were stopped and Villa regressed. He was given more therapy, but is home now. Although he isn’t back to normal, he is able to communicate and even express emotions.

9. Vision Restored Following A Key in the Eye

Nicholas Holderman was only 17-months-old when he became the victim of a freak accident that nearly robbed him of his sight. Nicholas was playing with his two brothers when he fell and landed on a set of keys. His parents were horrified when they realized that one of the keys had been lodged in his eye.

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Nicholas was rushed to the emergency room, and his eye was immediately operated upon. Miraculously, he only spent only 6 days in the hospital, and just three months later, his vision was completely normal!

10. Man Survives Being Stabbed Through Head

knife_in_brainIn 1998, 41-year-old Michael Hill answered the door only to have a 8-inch knife stabbed through his skull and into his brain. Michael then walked down the street with the knife still in is head, until he arrived at a friend’s home. He was taken to the hospital, and the knife was successfully removed. Hill survived, but his memory has been affected, and he suffers from seizures as a result of the horrifying attack.

Source : Family Health Guide

Your Brain On Psilocybin Might Be Less Depressed

Magic mushrooms are said to blow your mind, but the hallucinogenic chemical psilocybin, the active ingredient, actually reins in key parts of the brain, according to two new studies.

The memorably vivid emotional experiences reported by mushroom users may flourish because the parts of the brain suppressed by psilocybin usually keep our world view tidy and rational.

And since the brain area affected by psilocybin can also be out of whack in mental health problems such as depression, the researchers speculate that the drug may turn out to be useful in treating mental illness.

“The brain’s doing a lot to keep our experiences of the world orderly and constrained,” says Robin Carhart-Harris, a post-doc in neuroscience at Imperial College London, and lead author of the studies.

The studies are among the first to use brain imaging to take a peek at the brain on psilocybin.

“Depression can be described as a particularly restrictive state of mind,” Carhart-Harris told Shots. “People are stuck on how terrible they are. This seems to suggest that people can have a lifting of that negative thinking under psychedelics.”

One of the studies asked 10 volunteers to recall particularly happy memories, like getting married or becoming a parent, both with and without psilocybin. The people found the memories much more vivid, visual, and happy while under the influence. That study will be published in the British Journal of Psychiatry on Thursday.

In the second study, 30 volunteers lay in an MRI machine while tripping for science. The brain scans showed less activity in areas of the brain that may act as connectors, or hubs. One of those areas, the posterior cingulate cortex, is thought to figure in consciousness and ego. It’s also hyperactive in people with depression.

The researchers hadn’t expected to find less brain activity with psilocybin. The thought has always been that psychedelic flights of fancy are the result of an overactive brain. The results were published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Serious research into psychedelic drugs was pretty much shut down after the excesses of the trip-happy 1960s. Harvard famously fired Timothy Leary in 1963 for experimenting far too enthusiastically with psilocybin and other mind-altering drugs. Psilocybin remains an illegal drug in the same category as heroin and LSD, which the Justice Department says has “no legitimate medical purpose.”

Still, several recent small studies have found improvements in people with depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder after taking other psychedelics. Another found less anxiety and improved mood in cancer patients who used psilocybin.

Carhart-Harris says he was inspired to experiment with psilocybin by Roland Griffiths, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Last year Griffiths reported that when he tested high doses of psilocybin in 18 volunteers, 72 percent reported profoundly spiritual experiences, as well as improvements in mood and attitude that lasted more than a year.

But those trips weren’t all good; 39 percent reported extreme anxiety or fear at some point in the five 8-hour sessions. People trained as monitors kept the study participants company in an effort to reduce the impact of those bad experiences.

The next step is to see if psilocybin actually does alleviate symptoms of depression. Carhart-Harris hopes to start a pilot study asking that question by the end of the year.

Article Source : NPR Blogs

Weight-Loss Surgery Can Cut Deaths From Heart Attacks, Strokes

Most patients who undergo bariatric surgery lose weight and experience other health benefits. They have less heart disease, diabetes and cancer than their obese counterparts who don’t have the surgery.

Now, researchers from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden find bariatric surgery also reduces deaths from cardiovascular causes, such as heart attacks and strokes.

In the study, more than 2,000 middle-aged obese people underwent surgery. They were then compared with an equal number of similar people who didn’t have surgery and received healthcare as usual.

The study appears in the latest issue of JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers checked the health and body weight of the participants at 2, 10, 15 and 20 years.

Over the years, patients who had surgery lost and kept off between 16 and 23 percent of their original body weight. Patients who didn’t have surgery stayed about the same weight. Both groups started out with a body mass index measuring over 40, which is considered morbidly obese by U.S. government health standards.

During the follow up, which lasted an average of 14.7 years, the researchers found patients who didn’t have surgery suffered more heart disease and more fatal heart attacks and strokes.

There were 49 cardiovascular deaths among the patients who didn’t have surgery and 28 cardiovascular deaths among patients in the surgery group. Researchers conclude that surgery to reduce stomach size demonstrates many benefits and can, in fact, be lifesaving.

Obesity is one of the leading preventable causes of death worldwide. Studies in Europe and in the U.S. have found obesity associated with increased mortality, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome which is a combination of medical disorders that includes type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high triglycerides.

But bypass surgery carries risks, including infection, hemorrhage and hernia. Gastric bypass also can lead to stomach leakage into the abdomen, bowel obstruction and nutritional deficiencies. And many patients gain back much of the weight they lost, putting them at greater risk, once again, of obesity related health problems.

The risks should give pause, despite the benefits seen in the latest study, one surgeon says. In an accompanying JAMA editorial, Dr. Edward Livingston, at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, writes that “because the expected health benefits do not necessarily exceed the risks of weight-loss operations, obese patients without other weight-related complications generally should not undergo bariatric surgery.”

Livingston calls for the National Institutes of Health to convene another expert panel to rigorously assess the available evidence and provide an update on 20-year-old recommendations for bariatric procedures for the treatment of obesity.

Article Source : NPR blogs

Nicotine Patches Up Early Memory Loss In Study

Slapping on a nicotine patch may not just be for smokers trying to kick the habit.

In an intriguing test, researchers tried nicotine patches as a memory booster for nonsmokers with mild declines in their thinking ability, a precursor to dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

“There were improvements in attention and memory performance in patients who took the nicotine patch compared to those with the placebo patch,” lead researcher Dr. Paul Newhouse, a Vanderbilt University psychiatrist, tells Shots. “The placebo patients stayed the same or got worse.”

Though the study was modest in size, involving about 70 people over six months, lead researcher Newhouse says it’s the largest trial ever performed looking at how nicotine might improve memory.

Previous research has linked nicotine to improved alertness, coordination and cognitive functioning. The latest work, published in Neurology, suggests it may help improve attention, memory and mental processing in people with mild memory loss.

So how does nicotine affect memory? The chemical actually mimics the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which stimulates nerve cell receptors in the brain. Stimulating these receptors revs up the system involved in attention, learning and memory skills.

This helps explain why when smokers quit and cut their nicotine intake to zero, they may have a harder time remembering things, Newhouse says. Eventually, their brains rebound and memory returns to normal, he says.

But that’s not the case for someone with Alzheimer’s. “If a patient has Alzheimer’s disease, the receptors are already damaged,” Newhouse says. That’s why he studied people on the brink of losing the function of receptors — to see if he could alter the course of memory loss.

“It’s like a heart attack,” he says. “We don’t wait till you get one to treat you. We use a biomarker, like cholesterol or blood pressure, so we can act with an early intervention.”

Not every part of the study came out peachy, though. Based on qualitative judgments by doctors blinded to the test, nicotine didn’t show a significant change in the patients’ “global functioning,” or their ability to handle life’s everyday problems, despite nicotine improving their memory a tad.

With that in mind, Newhouse says the next step is to return to the National Institute on Aging, which supported the study, and put together a larger and longer trial. “We want to see if we can improve performance but also symptom difficulties with memory and change the trajectory on how people decline in Alzheimer’s.”

Patients suffered no serious side effects and had no trouble discontinuing the treatment, the researchers report. Pfizer provided the patches.

Now, if you’re thinking about picking up some patches to improve your memory without a doctor’s advice: Think twice. “Nicotine doesn’t help normal performance,” Newhouse says. “It only does if you are tired, anxious, upset – impaired in some way.” And don’t start smoking either. Smoking is a terrible delivery system for any drug because of its detrimental side effects, he says.

Article Source : NPR blog