Monthly Archives: April 2012

Weight Loss Surgery Levels Off

The first bariatric surgery for weight loss was performed in 1954, but the technique really became popular after several high-profile recipients went public in the early 2000s. Recently, however, the growth has slowed, and the operation’s popularity now seems to have reached a plateau.

The procedure isn’t about vanity. A surgeon in New Zealand is looking into the possibility of bariatric surgery on diabetic patients who are not obese in the hopes of fighting the disease directly. The surgeon said he hopes the operation will “switch off” type 2 diabetes.

It is still an elective procedure, however, and often a last resort. This is believed to be one reason for the leveling off, as the economy discourages people from spending money on elective surgery. Another reason often seen is a growing awareness of the limitations of the surgery.

Gastric bypass patients need to observe lifestyle changes after the surgery to maintain their new weight. More would-be patients are aware of the changes required, and apparently do not feel this is something they are able to do. Some of the same celebrities who discussed having the surgery later discussed the struggles they went through properly caring for themselves afterward.

The Benefits Of Berries

One of the biggest fears many people have about growing older is a loss of mental faculties. Fortunately, scientists are finding ways you can fight cognitive decline.

Recent research has found that blueberries and strawberries help prevent age-related memory loss. Women who reported eating berries showed fewer signs of mental decay as they got older.

“As the U.S. population ages, understanding the health issues facing this group becomes increasingly important,” said Dr. Elizabeth Devore with Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Mass. According to census data, the number of people over 65 increased nearly twice as fast as the population as a whole between 2000 and 2010.

These berries have high levels of compounds called flavonoids. Flavonoids have anti-inflammatory properties that scientists believe may help protect the aging brain from the damage that causes cognitive impairment.

A study a year ago found that berry consumption might also protect against Parkinson’s disease.

In addition to diet, there are other ways to prevent or reverse cognitive decline. Mental exercise is as helpful for the brain as physical exercise is for the body. For that matter, physical exercise can also benefit mental acuity as well as overall health. Diet and exercise will keep you thinking for a long time to come.

Get Your Child Vaccinated

There are 14 serious diseases that you can easily protect your child from. Just make sure he or she is up to date on immunizations

In 2010, pertussis killed 25 babies under 12 months in the United States. In 2011, there were 222 American cases of measles. In years past, however, these numbers were much grimmer.

What changed was immunization. Vaccines for these and other diseases are protecting children’s health and saving lives. Immunization on the proper schedule will protect children against diphtheria, hepatitis A and B, measles, mumps, pertussis, polio, rubella, tetanus, rotavirus, chickenpox and other serious illnesses. Some diseases that once injured or killed thousands of children, have been eliminated completely and others are close to extinction, primarily due to safe and effective vaccines.

There are stories of risks of vaccines, some accurate but many willy exaggerated. Although, as with any medication, there are some side effects in some people, most are better off with than without vaccination. There may be some discomfort, and a degree of pain, redness, or tenderness at the site of injection, but this can be treated easily. It is minimal compared to the pain, discomfort, and trauma of the diseases these vaccines prevent. The disease-prevention benefits of getting vaccines are much greater than the possible side effects for almost all children.

Contact your pediatrician for more information about vaccination.

Soy For Your Health

The healthfulness properties of soy protein are a matter of some debate recently. Although soy and soy-based foods are common as meatless sources of protein, there are some reports of dangers from these products.

While studies involving compounds found in soy have shown a link with certain types of cancer, experts believe that in soy-based products the negative effects of these compounds are counteracted by other components. Moreover, the isoflavones that are often cited as the culprit really don’t become dangerous except in large doses.

Soy protein may even help fight breast cancer. It has also been shown to be good for weight loss, arthritis relief and improved brain function, and can help alleviate menopausal symptoms. Soy is also rich in antioxidants, which can help fight and prevent a variety of chronic illnesses.

Soy has other benefits as well. It has been shown to increase muscle mass while lowering cholesterol, and it is much lower in saturated fat than other protein sources such as red meat. In addition, say milk brings many of the benefits of dairy to people who can’t have lactose or otherwise need to avoid it.

Meningitis

Today is World Meningitis Day, a day to think about the over one million people worldwide who will fall victim to acute bacterial meningitis during the year. One hundred seventy thousand of them will not survive, many in the developing world. Untreated meningitis is fatal in half of all cases.

Even survivors are not usually unscarred. Meningitis frequently has lasting effects that include hearing loss or deafness, brain damage, and learning difficulties. Septicemia is also common, wherein bacteria spread in the bloodstream.

Meningitis is highly contagious. When a Washington, DC, bus driver was diagnosed yesterday, officials suspended service on the whole route and disinfected the entire fleet. It can also be fast-moving, and is always treated as a medical emergency.

Meningitis often manifests with flu-like symptoms. Contact your doctor if you experience fever, vomiting, headache, confusion, stiff neck, sensitivity to light, and drowsiness.

There is a vaccine for meningitis available, recommended for children and adolescents, incoming college dorm residents who haven’t been previously vaccinated, and people who may have been exposed or are likely to be, such as through travel.

Don’t Let Stress Take Over Your Life

It may be hard to believe, but stress is supposed to be good for you. That is, the stress response is designed to help you deal with short-term physical threats such as predators.

However, your body can’t tell the difference between stress caused by a predator and stress caused bysomething mundane, such as your job. Not only that, but the stress response—a rush of energy, a reduced immune response in order to divert resources to dealing with the stressor—is not meant to be long-term. The hormonal surge can, if sustained, ultimately be harmful.

Long-term stress is associated with heart disease, trouble sleeping, menstrual problems, depression and obesity, and can exacerbate eczema and other skin conditions. That’s why it’s important to manage stress and stay calm in ordinary circumstances.

Stress can be managed through changes in attitude, though that’s easier said than done. However, it can be helpful to try to learn to let things go. Not everything is important. Time management is also part of stress management. Learning to say no to things, when you can, will help clear your schedule and let you focus on things you do need and want to do.

Relaxation also helps. That could mean a massage, or it could be simply taking a few deep breaths and stretching. Carve out a little time for yourself to ease some of the pressure.

Cells Need Their Space

Healthy cells have a healthy respect for privacy. That’s the latest findings from the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah. Researchers at the Institute found that, like many people, cells don’t like crowds.

This discovery could help fight the various varieties of cancer. In all cancers, cells shed their need for space and crowd together, growing uncontrollably and creating tumors.

Normally when cells in the epithelium, the outer and inner surface of the body where most cancers originate, get too close together, some are ejected to make more room. This occurs even to cells that haven’t undergone cell death.

Cancer grows by accumulating cells while not allowing any to die. If, as scientists believe, they are nonetheless vulnerable to extrusion, that could suggest an entirely new approach to curing cancer. Researchers aren’t yet sure why the normal extrusion method doesn’t work in tumors, or how best to induce it without disrupting healthy cells.

The research also revealed more about how cell death itself works, Dead cells must be immediately replaced. It was discovered that as they die, cells send out an alert so that gaps won’t form. Learning the mechanism behind that could also allow for better treatments for certain illnesses, such as colitis.

Psoriasis Gene Found

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that causes red and irritated skin. It is not contagious but it is inherited. Though there is no cure for psoriasis, it can be treated with medications and the symptoms alleviated with creams. Psoriasis usually strikes patients between 15 and 35.

Although doctors have long believed psoriasis had a genetic component, it is only recently that the specific genetic mechanism has started to be uncovered. Earlier discoveries tracked the condition to gene clusters responsible for the outer layers of skin cells. The latest research has found a particular gene, known as CARD14, that appears to be implicated in the condition.

Psoriasis is generally treated with either topical or systemic medication. Topical treatments are applied where psoriasis outbreaks occur. Systemic treatments include methotrexate and cyclosporine, with biologics such as adalimumab given if those prove ineffective. However, a recent study seems to suggest that biologics are not significantly more effective than the more common medications.

If you have irritated, flaky skin, particularly on your elbows or knees, contact your doctor to see if you have psoriasis.

Helping Babies Breathe Easier

Sleep apnea is common among premature infants. In fact, half of all babies born prematurely have apnea episodes in the first year of life. When an infant stops breathing, a gentle tap on the foot is generally enough to get him or her to resume, but only if a parent or caregiver notices.

This is particularly a problem in developing countries, where inadequate prenatal care means more babies are born prematurely, and insufficient staff at neonatal care facilities may not immediately see when a baby has stopped breathing. Monitors are available to detect this, but they’re costly, and of little help when the caregiver is overextended.

Now a team of Rice University students have unveiled a device that might help. The inexpensive, battery-operated Babalung detects when breathing has stopped, and uses a vibrating motor to replicate the gentle tap. This is the first apnea monitor that tries to restart breathing as well. If this is unsuccessful a visual indicator signals for the caregiver’s attention. An audio alert was deemed impractical in a busy, noisy care facility.

The device can also be used to record respiratory data, allowing doctors to track a baby’s progress and health. This information is stored, and it can also be transmitted via Bluetooth.

The team hopes to make the device available in the developing world, where it could save as many as six million lives, and eventually market it in the United States as well. They say the biggest complaint they heard about existing monitors is false alarms, a problem they say theyfixed in the Babalung.

Brain Cancer Vaccine

One of the biggest dangers for cancer patients is relapse. In many cases, even when cancer is cured there’s a risk of it coming back, requiring the patient to go through the whole treatment ordeal again. Indeed, in many cases it comes back resistant to treatment.

Now researchers have created a way to help keep some cancers from coming back. At a conference in Miami, oncologic researchers announced success in trials of a process to create a cancer vaccine from tumors.

Glioblastoma multiforme, the specific kind of brain cancer for which the process was demonstrated to be effective, is the most common cancer affecting the brain, as well as the most aggressive. It kills thousands of Americans each year.

Vaccination has proven difficult, because each incidence—each tumor—is biologically unique. That means a general solution is unlikely to be effective, because no two patients’ tumors are alike. The scientists have now found a way to use the tumor tissue to create a vaccine against each person’s specific strain.

The next step is to test the treatment in combination with the current standard therapy. The hope is that the combination will be more effective than either alone.