Friday, February 27, 2009

Health News: Questions on Heart Therapies; Where NOT to Have a Heart Attack

Today's Wall Street Journal offers some less-than-encouraging news on one of the nation's leading killers and most-studied health problems: heart disease.

One article notes that for all the research that goes into heart disease, "just 11% of more than 2,700 recommendations approved by cardiologists for treating heart patients are supported by high-quality scientific testing," according to a new study published in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association. The research says that much of the recommended advice for cardiac patients is based on subjective expert opinion.

Another article says that a hotel may be the worst place for your heart to stop beating, because of the lack of automated external defibrillators (AEDs). The story explains that while AEDs have become standard equipment on airplanes, health clubs, and even some shopping malls, hotel chains are hesitant to adopt them because of concerns over liability. Some of the chains the Journal talked to either cited low percentages of defibrillators in their hotels, or didn't want to say how many they had.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Brain Research: New Alzheimer's Theory, and those "Brain Exercises"

Research on the brain and how it works has yielded some interesting findings related to cognitive function, namely how it may decline and whether popular techniques can really stave off this decline.

Scientists at the biotech company Genentech have offered a new theory of how Alzheimer's disease kills brain cells, a finding that could yield new ideas for developing effective treatments. The researchers "believe a chemical mechanism that naturally prunes away unwanted brain cells during early brain development somehow gets hijacked in Alzheimer's disease." A chemical called amyloid precursor protein (APP), which is a key part of the plaques found in the brain in Alzheimer's patients, is thought to be the "driving force" behind the process.

In another dementia-related finding, the author of a study on "brain exercises" that have been pitched to older adults says that these programs are not effective at warding off cognitive decline, at least not in healthy adults.

The programs, which range from Web sites to PC-based games, have seen sales skyrocket as older adults try to find ways to prevent Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. Reuters Health quoted Dr. Peter J. Snyder of Lifespan Affiliated Hospitals in Providence, Rhode Island as saying, "These marketed products don't confer any additional benefit over and above being socially and intellectually active in one's normal daily life."

The study found that some types of "brain training" may be of use to patients who already have memory problems, but they haven't clearly shown a benefit to patients who don't have cognitive impairment.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The "Dream Diet": How to Lose Weight through Sleep

Yes, it sounds too good to be true, but sleep can really help you lose weight. But what scientists have found is not really a "diet" per se, but rather new insight into the relationship between sleep and weight. In a nutshell, it has been found that the amount of sleep you get and the quality of that sleep can affect hormones in your body that have been found to impact appetite.

A number of studies have shown that lack of sleep can affect the levels of two appetite-related hormones, leptin and ghrelin. The studies have revealed that people who sleep less weigh more. The article noted above also examines another sleep-weight interaction, the relationship between weight and sleep apnea.

Of course, today's horrible economic times don't exactly encourage restfulness and a good night's sleep, but with the many real benefits of getting enough sleep, it's definitely a worthwhile thing to put at the top of even the longest to-do list.