A combination of regular physical exercise plus daily doses of melatonin could slow, and perhaps halt, the development of Alzheimer’s. So far, this combo has been tested only in mice, but with promising results. Researchers at the Barcelona Medical Research Institute in Spain reported that when their study began, the mice, which were bred to develop Alzheimer’s, already were showing signs of the disease, including learning problems and behavioral concerns such as anxiety and apathy. However, after six months, the researchers reported that evidence of the disease had significantly regressed in the mice that received melatonin and exercise. They noted that the treatment might not work in humans because Alzheimer’s develops over several years and by the time memory problems surface, the brain has already deteriorated. However, the researchers noted that several clinical studies have found signs of physical and mental benefits in Alzheimer's patients treated with both exercise and melatonin. And they said that until a reliable and effective treatment is found, healthy living habits are essential for reducing both the risk and the severity of Alzheimer’s. The study was published in the June 2012 issue of Neurobiology of Aging.
We’ve known for some time that eating tart cherries can help reduce the severity and duration of a gout attack - they have anti-inflammatory effects that seem to do the trick. Now a study from Boston University reveals that patients diagnosed with the disease who regularly consumed a half cup of cherries over a two day period (an average of 10-12) were 35 percent less likely to suffer a gout attack compared to those who didn’t eat cherries. The study also found that eating cherries in combination with standard medication to reduce the uric acid crystallization in joints that underlies attacks of gout reduced flare-ups by 75 percent. A total of 633 gout patients, 78 percent of them men, participated in the study. This was the first investigation aimed at determining whether eating cherries could help prevent attacks of gout. Researchers reported that gout flare-ups continued to decline as cherry consumption increased up to three servings over two days. Eating more than this amount of cherries didn’t appear to have further benefits. We’ll need more studies to confirm these encouraging findings. In the meantime, the researchers advised that gout patients continue to take their medication, with or without cherries.
Here’s some news women can cheer: a large study performed in Sweden found that women who ate the most fruits and vegetables - nearly seven servings a day - had a risk of heart attack that was 20 percent lower than that of other women in the study. The researchers credited the antioxidants in the produce for the protective effect. Their investigation included more than 32,500 Swedish females of ages 49 to 83 who filled out a questionnaire about their eating habits and then were followed for 10 years. Over that period, more than 1,100 women in the study had heart attacks. Those with the lowest antioxidant levels had a higher risk of heart attack, and reported consuming only 2.4 servings of fruits and veggies daily. The study didn’t prove that antioxidants were responsible for fewer heart attacks. Instead, the researchers showed only an association between high dietary antioxidant levels and reduced heart attacks in women. The study was published in the October 2012 issue of The American Journal of Medicine.
My take? Women often don't realize that heart disease is as much of a threat to them as it is to men. True, the risk for men is higher throughout mid-life, but as women reach menopause, they start to catch up; and by the age of 65, their rate of heart disease equals that of men. According to the Swedish researchers, their study was the first to look at the effect of all dietary antioxidants in relation to heart attack. The results are encouraging for women whose diets include lots of fruits and vegetables, but the bad news is that only 14 percent of adults in the United States eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
The FDA has approved a new one-minute ultrasound scan for use in conjunction with screening mammograms in healthy women with dense breasts. Mammograms can yield inconsistent results regarding signs of cancer in dense breasts since both the tumors and the dense tissue show up as white areas on the film. According to data submitted to the FDA, a study including 200 women demonstrated that combining the two tests increased breast cancer detection by about 30 percent. But the new approach isn’t perfect: the combination of the two detection methods led to a four percent false-positive rate - that is, the tests erroneously indicated cancer when none was present. The FDA said that the dual testing method isn't advisable or appropriate for women who have had prior breast biopsies or surgery because these interventions can alter the appearance of breast tissue. According to the National Cancer Institute, about 40 percent of all women have dense breasts - the density comes from a higher ratio of connective and glandular tissue to adipose tissue, and can make mammograms harder to interpret than the x-rays of less dense breasts (which typically contain more fatty tissue).
Here’s a behavioral strategy that may help you control your weight: make a habit of reading food labels. A new study authored by an international team of researchers showed that women who read food labels routinely weighed almost nine pounds less than women who didn’t. The researchers analyzed data from the U.S. National Health Interview Survey, which asked more than 25,000 consumers about their health, eating and shopping habits, including how often they read the nutritional information on food labels. They found that women are more likely to read the nutrition labels than men (74 percent of the women read labels, compared to 58 percent of male shoppers), that smokers were least likely to read labels, that the more highly educated the consumer, the greater the likelihood of carefully reading labels. The study also showed that people who live in cities were the most conscientious about reading labels and that urban white women read food labels most often. The study was published in the May 2012 issue of Agricultural Economics.