October 7th, 2011
The Huffington Post
By: Delia Lloyd
Ever have one of those mornings where you wake up, jump in the shower, turn on the radio and hear the best news you’ve gotten in ages?
No, not world peace, but close.
Apparently, coffee is now good for you. It holds a host of physical — not to mention psychological — benefits which scientists are only now beginning to appreciate.
In a household where our espresso machine holds a hallowed place, this is definitely grounds for rejoicing. I haven’t been this excited since I learned that sugar made a comeback.
So hear ye, hear ye: Five reasons to drink (more!) coffee:
1. It reduces depression in women. This just in. A new study out of Harvard University shows that women who regularly drink coffee — the fully caffeinated kind — have a 20 percent lower risk of depression than nondrinkers. This comes on the heels of previous research showing that the risk of suicide decreases with increased coffee consumption.
2. It lowers the risk of lethal prostate cancer in men. But it’s not just the ladies who will benefit from more java. In another study out of Harvard (what are they drinking there? ahem!), men who drank six or more cups per day had a 60 percent lower risk of developing the most lethal type of prostate cancer, and a 20 percent lower risk of forming any type of prostate cancer compared to men who did not drink coffee. Given that prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men, that’s nothing to sneeze at.
3. It may protect against head and neck cancers. A study from the University of Utah showed that people who drank more than four cups of coffee a day had a 39 percent decreased risk of cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx combined, compared with those who didn’t drink coffee. Regular consumption of coffee has also been linked to a lower risk for brain tumors, reduced rates of colorectal and endometrial cancer, as well as liver cancer and cirrhosis.
4. It may ward off Alzheimer’s disease. Several studies looking at how caffeine affects brain development in mice have confirmed that caffeine significantly decreases abnormal levels of the protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease. When aged mice bred to develop symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease were given caffeine — the equivalent of five cups of coffee a day — their memory impairment was reversed, according to a report issued by the Florida Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centre. Should these results be replicated on humans, it might suggest coffee as an effective treatment for this disease, rather than just a protective strategy.
5. It appears to stave off diabetes. Numerous studies have shown that coffee may be protective against Type 2 Diabetes, although the precise mechanism is not well understood. An analysis in the Archives of Internal Medicine, for example, found that people who drink three to four cups of coffee a day are 25 percent less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than those who drink fewer than two cups. In the U.S. alone, nearly 24 million children and adults — nearly 8 percent of the population — have diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of the disease and accounts for about 90 to 95 percent of these cases.
Whether these studies will prove robust in coming years — or be cancelled out by some of caffeine’s adverse effects on things like sleep and high blood pressure — remains to be seen.
But I’m going to blithely hedge my bets and carry on enjoying my cuppa (or two).
Latte or Cappucino?
July 12, 2011
Using debit and credit cards have become second nature to most people who don’t want to run to the bank every time they’re out of cash, but new research shows that cash could help your eating habits.
Over a six-month spread researchers looked at the register receipts of a random sample of 1,000 loyal shoppers at a Northeastern supermarket chain and analyzed what they bought and how they paid for it, reports MSNBC.
The study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that shoppers were more likely to buy items considered “unhealthy” when they paid with credit or debit cards than if they paid with cash, and that weekend shoppers were more likely to stick to a list.
Researchers say they were surprised to find that debit cards had the same psychological effect as credit cards, since money is deducted from bank accounts immediately, but with any kind of plastic payment seems people are willing to spend more.
But to make sure that the spending patters weren’t more related to penny pinchers versus those who like to live large, the study also analyzed 125 students in a computer simulated shopping task.
October 11, 2010
NEW YORK — More than two hours a day spent watching television or playing computer games could put a child at greater risk for psychological problems, suggests a new study.
British researchers found the effect held regardless of how active kids were during the rest of the day.
“We know that physical activity is good for both physical and mental health in children and there is some evidence that screen viewing is associated with negative behaviors,” lead researcher Dr. Angie Page of the University of Bristol told Reuters Health in an e-mail. “But it wasn’t clear whether having high physical activity levels would ‘compensate’ for high levels of screen viewing in children.”
Page and her colleagues studied more than 1,000 kids between the ages of 10 and 11. Over seven days, the children filled out a questionnaire reporting how much time they spent daily in front of a television or computer and answering questions describing their mental state — including emotional, behavioral, and peer-related problems. Meanwhile, an accelerometer measured their physical activity.
The odds of significant psychological difficulties were about 60 percent higher for children spending longer than two hours a day in front of either screen compared with kids exposed to less screen time, the researchers report in the journal Pediatrics. For children with more than two hours of both types of screen time during the day, the odds more than doubled.
The effect was seen regardless of sex, age, stage of puberty, or level of educational or economic deprivation.
Psychological problems further increased if kids fell short of an hour of moderate to rigorous daily exercise in addition to the increased screen time. However, physical activity did not appear to compensate for the psychological consequences of screen time.
Give kids screen-time budget
The researchers also found that sedentary time itself was not related to mental wellbeing. “It seems more like what you are doing in that sedentary time that is important,” said Page, noting the lack of negative effect found for activities such as reading and doing homework.
Page and her team acknowledge several limitations in their study, including the potential for a kid to inaccurately recall his or her activities when filling out the questionnaire.
Dr. Thomas N. Robinson of the Stanford University School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study, said the new research was not enough to decipher whether the relationship between screen time and psychological wellbeing was truly cause-and-effect.
“They would have needed to do an experiment, a randomized controlled trial, to see whether limiting television or computer time improves psychological difficulties when compared to a control group that does not limit screen time,” he told Reuters Health in an e-mail.
Robinson noted that his own related research, conducted in this way, found that limiting screen time reduced weight gain, aggression and consumer behaviors in kids.
“There are already lots of reasons to reduce kids’ screen time and this is potentially another,” said Robinson. “In our studies we find that giving children a screen-time budget and helping them stick to that budget is the most effective way to reduce their television, video game, computer and other screen time, and to improve their health as a result.”
He usually aims for a budget of about an hour per day, or a reduction of at least 50 percent from a kid’s starting screen time.
“Parents as well as kids tell us that budgeting kids’ screen time has profound positive effects on their families’ lives,” added Robinson.
February 26, 2010
By Kathleen Doheny
Women with breast cancer who choose to have a preventive mastectomy on their disease-free breast do reduce their risk of cancer in that breast, studies have shown.
But now new research finds that the survival benefit from that preventive surgery is small and not equal among all women.
“The survival benefit was limited to a small subset of all breast cancer patients [studied],” said study author Dr. Isabelle Bedrosian, an assistant professor of surgical oncology at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston.
Those most likely to derive a survival benefit, she said, were those younger than 50 who had been diagnosed with early-stage cancers that were estrogen receptor (ER)-negative.
ER-negative tumors don’t require estrogen to grow, as do ER-positive tumors, and the prognosis is poorer for the ER-negative cancers, according to the American Cancer Society.
The study is published online Feb. 25 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
According to Bedrosian and others, experts have long known that women diagnosed with breast cancer have an elevated risk of developing cancer in the opposite breast. Removing that breast as a preventive measure reduces, but does not eliminate, the risk of cancer in that breast.
“But we have never really established the difference it makes in the survival of breast cancer patients,” she said. So, Bedrosian and her colleagues used data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database, evaluating 107,106 women with breast cancer who had undergone mastectomy for that cancer between 1998 and 2003, along with a subset of 8,902 who had the opposite breast removed as a preventive measure.
After a five-year follow-up, 88.5 percent of those who had the opposite breast surgery were alive, versus 83.7 percent of those who did not, a difference of less than 5 percent. The improved survival was clear for a select group, mostly the women aged 18 to 49 with early-stage, ER-negative tumors, the researchers found.
There was no information from the database on whether the women had genetic mutations to boost breast cancer risk, Bedrosian noted.
After five years, what might happen? “We actually would expect that number [the nearly 5 percent benefit] would increase over time,” Bedrosian said.
The findings makes sense to Dr. Allison W. Kurian, an assistant professor of medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine in Stanford, Calif., who has published research on the topic.
“These results are consistent with other studies,” she said, including her own research published in 2009 in the same journal, which found that the risk for a breast cancer in the opposite breast is affected by a variety of factors, with those having ER-negative tumors in the original breast cancer having a higher risk of getting second tumors in the opposite breast.
Bedrosian said her research suggests most women diagnosed with breast cancer shouldn’t be concerned about the opposite breast: “We cannot demonstrate for most of them a survival benefit [with preventive mastectomy on the opposite breast].”
However, she said, psychological factors should also be taken into account. “There are some patients who may feel they still want to do this,” she said.
Kurian agreed: “This paper does give more information [about the outlook for various women], but it remains a personal decision for women to discuss with their doctor.”
February 11th, 2010
By Joseph Brownstein
When she was a girl, Jane Fraser recalls her father, Malcolm, asking her to give their name when they checked into a hotel.
Malcolm Fraser was one of the founders of the Genuine Parts Company, which is now part of NAPA Auto Parts. But this successful man was also a stutterer.
“It’s all over my family, and a lot of us stuttered as children but got therapy early on,” said Jane Fraser, noting that she received speech therapy because of the suspicion at the time that stuttering runs in families. For her, the therapy may have spared her from the condition.
“None of my generation or their children or their grandchildren have that problem,” she said.
On Wednesday, researchers confirmed what some have long suspected by finding genes that account for some cases of stuttering, a condition that affects about 3 million Americans.
It is a development that Fraser and others believe will allow better recognition of the condition and more early intervention and be the first step toward resolving an ailment that affects many worldwide.
“I think one of the most exciting things [about the finding] is that people who stutter have to spend their lives telling people it is not psychological, it is not emotional,” said Fraser, who is now president of the Stuttering Foundation of America, an organization founded by her father.
This study, she said, “takes that burden off of people of having to explain what it is.
“Every day, we hear from hundreds of parents who call us, and their first question is, ‘Did I cause my child’s stuttering?’” she said. “Knowing there is a biological base at least relieves that person of guilt.”
November 23, 2009
Los Angeles Times
By Joe Markman
The most sweeping federal anti-discrimination law in nearly 20 years takes effect today, prohibiting employers from hiring, firing or determining promotions based on genetic makeup.
Additionally, health insurers will not be allowed to consider a person’s genetics — such as predisposition for Parkinson’s disease — to set insurance rates or deny coverage.
Not since the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 has the federal government implemented such far-reaching workplace protections. Stuart J. Ishimaru, acting chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said in a statement that the law reaffirms the idea that people have a right to be judged solely on merit.
“No one should be denied a job or the right to be treated fairly in the workplace based on fears that he or she may develop some condition in the future,” he said.
The National Federation of Independent Business, a nonprofit lobbying group for small businesses, filed a number of concerns in April with the EEOC, which oversees the law. The concerns included whether employers who “innocently discover” genetic information about their workers may be held liable for having that information in their files, the “confusing” interplay of other federal statutes, and the lack of an exception for publicly available genetic information on the Internet.
The business group is seeking to teach its members that under the law, any piece of medical history — whether an employee’s own or that of a family member — constitutes genetic information, said Elizabeth Milito, senior counsel at the federation.
Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for the industry group America’s Health Insurance Plans, said that his association originally supported the bill, but that the resulting regulations ultimately would disrupt efforts to stay healthy through wellness and disease-management programs.
“If a patient is at risk for a particular condition, they are a good candidate to do more preventive screenings, and this would prohibit some of that information even being gathered,” Zirkelbach said.
There is not a lot of evidence that this kind of discrimination has been taking place. As of May, no genetic-employment discrimination cases had been brought before U.S. federal or state courts, according to the National Human Genome Research Institute. The government filed suit in 2001 against the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. under the ADA for secretly testing some workers for a genetic defect that some believe can predispose a person to carpal tunnel syndrome. The railway settled the EEOC suit for $2.2 million.
Peter Bennett, an attorney in Maine who specializes in employment law, said he knew of no pending genetic discrimination cases, but expects them to pile up soon, in what he called a “kabuki dance” of litigation to sort out who is liable for what.
The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, signed by President Bush in May 2008, is a huge victory for proponents of personalized medicine, which includes using genetic tests to aid in the diagnosis of disease and the selection of medicine.
“The psychological security regarding employment and insurance was a stumbling block to the advancement of personalized medicine,” said Edward Abrahams, executive director of the Personalized Medicine Coalition.
November 13, 2009
Only around 36,000 of the 180,000 people on the drugs in the UK derive any benefit from them, it said.
Overprescribing of the drugs is linked to an extra 1,800 deaths a year among elderly people.
Phil Hope, the care services minister, promised to crack down on the practice, including appointing a new national clinical director for dementia.
He also promised measures to ensure more use of psychological therapies rather than relying on drugs.
Anti-psychotic medicines are licensed to treat people with schizophrenia and are used off-licence for dementia patients in care homes and hospitals.
In his review, Sube Banerjee, professor of mental health and ageing at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, said the rate of use of anti-psychotic drugs could be cut to one third of its current level with appropriate action.
He said this could be done safely over three years.
Jeremy Wright, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Dementia, called for more training to be given to care home staff and for greater involvement of the patient’s family and friends over the decision on whether to prescribe.
He told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: “We need to give people other ways of avoiding the problem and that means making sure staff who work in care homes are properly trained in dementia.
“We need to involve family members and friends and loved ones much more in the decision to prescribe and the decision to keep prescribing these drugs.”
He added: “If we can deal with training, if we can deal with regular reviews and if we can involve family and friends much more often, we will start to reduce the incidence of this very widespread over-prescription.”
Nadra Ahmed, chairman of the National Care Homes Association, said the blame did not lie solely with care homes.
She explained it was GPs who made the decision to prescribe dementia sufferers with anti-psychotic drugs.
She told the programme: “One of the things we need to get absolutely clear here is these drugs are prescribed by general practitioners, they are not prescribed by the care home providers. This is about medical conditions which are obviously reviewed by GPs.
“We have clients who come into our homes, sometimes already on these drugs and actually very good providers do tend to use their initiative and try to manage the conditions and wean people off drugs.
“Very often what happens is that GPs are just not giving us enough time in our services to come and review the medication and people can be on this medication and once they’re on it, people, quite rightly, are reluctant to take them off.”
She also rejected claims that some care home providers sedate dementia sufferers as it makes them easy to manage.
There are around 700,000 people with dementia in the UK. That figure is expected to soar in the coming decades as life expectancy lengthens.
Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, said: “It’s critical that the dangers of wrongly-prescribed anti-psychotics are understood and Government action is taken to prevent putting more people at risk.
“Alzheimer’s Research Trust scientists at the Institute of Psychiatry are investigating alternative safer means of reducing agitation among dementia patients.
“We must urgently develop safe and effective treatments for people with dementia.