Alzheimer's ‘early signs timeline developed’:
Healthy brain and Alzheimer's brain
Scientists have assembled a “timeline” of the unseen progress of
Alzheimer's before symptoms appear.
A team at Washington University School of Medicine looked at families
with a genetic risk of the disease.
Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, they say signs
appeared up to 25 years before the expected onset of the disease.
UK experts said the ability to detect Alzheimer's early would give
the best chance of successful treatment.
Protein plaques in the brain indicate Alzheimer's disease
The 128 people in the study, from the UK, US and Australia, had a 50%
chance of inheriting one of three mutations that are certain to cause
early Alzheimer's, which often develops in people's 30s and 40s - much
earlier than the more common form of Alzheimer's which generally affects
people in their 60s.
Those who carry the mutations will go on to develop the disease.
The researchers looked at the age the participants’ parents were when
they developed the disease - and therefore how many years it was likely
to be before they too showed symptoms.
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They underwent blood and spinal fluid tests as well as brain scans
and mental ability assessments.
The earliest change - a drop in spinal fluid levels of the key
ingredient of Alzheimer's brain plaques - can be detected 25 years
before the anticipated age of disease onset, they suggest.
At 15 years, raised levels of tau, a structural protein in brain
cells can be seen in spinal fluid - and shrinkage can also be detected
within parts of the brain.
Changes in the brain's use of the sugar glucose and slight memory
problems become apparent 10 years before symptoms would appear, they
Researchers also tested other members of the families without the
inherited mutations - and found no changes in the markers they tested
Prof Clive Ballard, director of research at the Alzheimer's Society,
said: “This important research highlights that key changes in the brain,
linked to the inherited form of Alzheimer's disease, happen decades
before symptoms show, which may have major implications for diagnosis
and treatment in the future.
“These findings are a good indicator that there may be key changes in
the brain happening early in people who develop non-hereditary
Alzheimer's disease, but we can't be sure. Further research into this
complex condition is needed to confirm a definite link.”
And Dr Eric Karran, director of Research at Alzheimer's Research UK,
said: “These results from people with the inherited form of Alzheimer's
seem to be very similar to the changes in the non-genetic, common form
of the disease.
“It's likely that any new treatment for Alzheimer's would need to be
given early to have the best chance of success.
“The ability to detect the very earliest stages of Alzheimer's would
not only allow people to plan and access care and existing treatments
far sooner, but would also enable new drugs to be trialled in the right
people, at the right time.”
Babies in dog-owning families may be healthier
Dogs are no longer just man's best friend: The furry family members
may also protect infants against breathing problems and infections, a
new study suggests.
Researchers found that Finnish babies who lived with a dog or - to a
lesser extent - a cat spent fewer weeks with ear infections, coughs or
running noses. They were also less likely to need antibiotics than
infants in pet-free homes.
Dr. Eija Bergroth from Kuopio University Hospital in Finland and
colleagues said one possible explanation for that finding is that dirt
and allergens brought in by animals are good for babies’ immune systems.
The researchers studied 397 infants who were born at their hospital
between September 2002 and May 2005 for their first year.
Parents filled out weekly diaries starting when the child was nine
weeks old, recording information on babies’ health as well as their
contact with cats and dogs.
Based on those diaries and a year-end questionnaire, the researchers
determined that 35 percent of the children spent the majority of their
first year with a pet dog and 24 percent in a home with a cat.
Despite only a third of families owning dogs and fewer owning cats,
the majority of babies had at least some contact with a dog at their
house during the study period and more than one-third were exposed to a
Before their first birthday, 285 of the babies had at least one
fever, 157 had an ear infection, 335 had a cough, 128 wheezed, 384 got
stuffy or runny noses and 189 needed to take antibiotics at some point,
The researchers found that contact with dogs, more than cats, was
tied to fewer weeks of sickness for babies.
For example, infants with no dog contact at home were healthy for 65
percent of parents’ weekly diary reports. That compared to between 72
and 76 percent for those who had a dog at home.
Babies in dog-owning families were also 44 percent less likely to get
inner ear infections and 29 percent less likely to need antibiotics.
The researchers said infants who spent more than zero but less than
six hours per day at home with a dog were the least likely to get sick.
“A possible explanation for this interesting finding might be that
the amount of dirt brought inside the home by dogs could be higher in
these families because (the dog) spent more time outdoors,” the
researchers wrote Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
Bergroth told Reuters Health in an email that the dirt and germs a
dog brings into the house may cause a child's immune system to mature
faster, which makes it better at defending against the viruses and
bacteria that cause respiratory problems.
That theory is commonly referred to as the “hygiene hypothesis.”
“In many ways, (the study is) saying, if you're exposed to a natural
environment... your immune system recognizes that you don't fight the
normal allergens,” said Dr. T. Bernard Kinane, the chief of the
pediatric pulmonary unit at MassGeneral Hospital for Children in Boston.
Kinane, who was not involved with the new study, told Reuters Health
not all research agrees that exposure to dogs and cats helps protect
against kids’ breathing problems. But he said there is an overall trend
in that direction.
The researchers also can't rule out the possibility that people who
own dogs are less likely to get sick for another reason, and not due to
protection offered by pets, Bergroth noted.
NEW YORK (Reuters
High-dose vitamin D prevents fractures in elderly
A new analysis of nearly a dozen studies testing vitamin D in older
individuals has concluded that it takes a daily dose of at least 800
international units (IU) to consistently prevent broken bones.
A dose that high was found to reduce the risk of hip fracture by 30
percent and other breaks by 14 percent. Lower doses didn't have any
report, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, also suggests
that too much calcium -- perhaps more than 1,000 milligrams (mg) per day
-- can weaken the benefit.
“These hip fractures cost a lot and are a really serious event. They
are usually the end of independent life for a senior person; 50 percent
do not regain their mobility. Reducing the risk by 30 percent with just
a vitamin supplement would be an enormous public health opportunity,”
study researcher Dr. Heike Bischoff-Ferrari of University Hospital
Zurich in Switzerland told Reuters Health.
The Institute of Medicine recommends that most adults get 1,000 to
1,200 mg of calcium per day and 600 to 800 IU of vitamin D. It sets a
recommended upper limit at 2,000 mg of calcium and 4,000 IU of vitamin
Bischoff-Ferrari said the lack of benefit seen in other studies “may
be explained by adherence to treatment and vitamin D supplements taken
outside the study medication.”
Dr. Richard Bockman, a hormone expert at the Hospital for Special
Surgery in New York, said the findings are an important counterbalance
to last month's widely-reported recommendation by the U.S. Preventive
Services Task Force.
The government-backed task force advised against taking doses of less
than 400 IU of vitamin D with 1,000 mg of calcium and concluded the
evidence was unclear for higher doses. It also said the supplements
carry a risk of side effects such as kidney stones.
Bockman said the best trial is a 2003 study, known as the Trivedi
trial, in which volunteers received an average of 800 IU per day as a
single 100,000 IU dose every four months.
“It clearly showed a reduction in fracture risk in people who were
getting vitamin D,” he said.
In an editorial, Dr. Robert Heaney of Creighton University Medical
Center in Omaha, Nebraska, said the problem with the conflicting studies
may be that most have failed to consider each person's vitamin D levels
to start with.
Giving it to people who already have enough, or not giving enough to
people with very low levels, may show no benefit, he said.
“In this regard, as in several other respects, nutrients are unlike
drugs. Once an adequate concentration has been achieved, additional
intake has no effect,” said Heaney.
Bischoff-Ferrari said the new results came without directly including
the Trivedi results. “The authors lost the data sets to a computer
accident,” she said.
The new analysis is based on 11 trials that tested various regimens
of oral vitamin D in people age 65 and older, mostly women, against an
inactive placebo. Some of the trials also included calcium.
Overall, there were 4,881 hip and other fractures (not including
breaks of the spine) among more than 31,000 people.
Vitamin D did not cut the rate of hip fracture significantly, and the
drop in other fractures was small. When the researchers looked at people
getting the highest doses of the vitamin, typically 800 IU daily, the
benefits were clearer, with a 30-percent drop in hip fractures and
14-percent decline in other broken bones.
“Notably, there was no reduction in the risk of hip fracture at any
actual intake level lower than 792 IU per day,” the researchers said.
The benefits at the higher dose were seen regardless of age,
additional calcium intake, whether the patients lived at home or in an
institution, and baseline levels vitamin D.
Bischoff-Ferrari said the clearest impact was seen in nursing home
patients, who were given the highest doses of vitamin D and regularly
took their pills because the nurses were giving them.
Just as important is the discovery that too much calcium - more than
1,000 mg per day - may dilute vitamin D's benefits to bones, she said.
Because many supplements contain 1,000 mg, the calcium people get in
their diets may send people over the limit.
“This is a very, very important public health message,”
Bischoff-Ferrari said. “There are still doctors around who are giving
calcium without vitamin to hip fracture patients. Imagine giving a
calcium supplement and increasing the fracture risk.”
In an earlier study, she added, fewer than 10 percent of the people
coming into the hospital for a hip fracture had been taking the vitamin.
And 60 percent of them had suffered another fracture in the prior
decade, yet “the red flag is not coming up.”
“In the medical world, vitamin D seems like a very low priority. It
may be the lack of lobbying for it, the fact that it costs almost
nothing” and some people think it's too good to be true, she said. “But
the data are impressive.”
NEW YORK Reuters Health
Breast cancer: how South Asian women are learning to treat it
Once considered to be a very low risk group, growing numbers of South
Asian women are now having to confront breast cancer – and one support
group is helping to raise awareness.
Nine years ago, Bharti Patel discovered a lump in her breast. She was
47 years old. “Breast cancer changes you,” she says slowly, running one
hand through her short, streaked hair. “It affects what you wear, what
you look like, who you are.”
Bharti Patel (centre), co-founder of the Asian Women's
Breast Cancer Group, with fellow members Bharti Patel
(left) and Shaila Rasania (right). Picture by Teri Pengilley
Now, at 56, she is a breast cancer survivor and finally moving on.
This summer, she is going to live in an ashram in northern India for two
months. “I've come on in leaps and bounds since the cancer,” she says.
“I've forgiven people. I've done so much. I've changed my life.”
Like many women with breast cancer, Patel was physically and
emotionally exhausted by her treatment. But the loneliness such strains
can bring was exaggerated by what Patel describes as cultural barriers.
“One of the biggest taboos of Asian culture is that if you are ill,
you just don't talk about it,” she says. “You don't talk about your
breast cancer to the outside world. You don't even say the word
‘breast'. It's just too private.”
While waiting for her radiotherapy treatment one day, she saw a
poster for Cancer Black Care, a support group for black and
ethnic-minority patients. She called them, explained her Indian heritage
and that she was hoping to meet someone of a similar background. A few
days later, she was given the number of Pushpa Martin, an Indian woman
who, like Bharti, had been searching for other Asians with breast
cancer. “We spoke for hours on the phone, before we'd even met,” says
A medical researcher based at Northwick Park, the hospital in Harrow
which treated Patel, invited the women to a group interview for her
thesis on post-cancer treatment. Amarjit Panesar also attended and the
three hit it off. Together, they founded the Asian Women's Breast Cancer
Group, based in Kenton, north London, holding their first meeting in
October 2003. News of the group spread quickly via word of mouth and
leaflets. Now there are more than 50 members, who meet each month at a
local Hindu temple to share their experiences.
Historically, south Asian women were considered to be at a very low
risk of breast cancer compared with white women. Doctors put it down to
a combination of lifestyle factors common to the Asian subcontinent,
including a tendency to have large families at a young age and to
breastfeed for long periods.
But last year a study conducted by Dr Anne Stotter, consultant breast
surgeon at Glenfield hospital, Leicester, concluded that south Asian
women can no longer be considered at a reduced risk, estimating that the
number of Asian women being diagnosed with breast cancer has more than
doubled since 1998, from 60 to 130 women per 100,000 Asian women every
A national study into south Asian women and breast cancer is
currently being undertaken by Cancer Research UK. “The trend is for an
increased diagnosis of breast cancer nationally in south Asian women,”
- The Guardian
Rainy day diet
Spices help enhance digestion and improve immunity.
Picture by M. Periasamy
Keep an eye on what you eat during the rains. With the onset of the
monsoon, everybody has a smile on their face. Irrespective of age,
everybody enjoys the rainy season.
But this is also a season of illness. So make sure you eat a
nutritious and healthy diet and follow basic hygiene to stay safe.
The rainy season often leads to sewage overflowing and mixing with
This leads to gastrointestinal disorders. The season also sees the
onset of waterborne diseases such as typhoid, diarrhoea and jaundice.
There is also a chance of respiratory problems being aggravated. People
may experience problems in breathing, as the air is extremely humid.
The high level of humidity also leads fungal growth, which can lead
to exacerbation of allergies like allergic rhinitis, bronchial asthma
and bronchitis. Due to the change in weather, people are more prone to
- The Hindu