Friday, September 29, 2017

High, Low Levels of Magnesium Linked to Dementia Risk

Having magnesium levels that are too high or too low may put you at risk for Alzheimer’s and other dementias, Dutch researchers report.

In a study of more than 9,500 men and women, the highest or lowest levels of magnesium appeared to increase the chances for dementia by as much as 30 percent.

“At this moment, magnesium levels are not routinely measured in daily clinical practice,” said lead researcher Dr. Brenda Kieboom, of Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam. “If our study results are replicated, magnesium levels could be used to screen for dementia, especially in people at risk for low magnesium levels.”

Kieboom said she also wants to study whether low magnesium levels also associate with a decline in mental function over time. “Mental function can be seen as a precursor stage of dementia, and if we find similar associations with dementia this will support our theory for a causal association,” she said.

“We already found that proton pump inhibitors [acid reflux drugs such as Nexium and Prilosec] are associated with a higher risk for abnormally low magnesium levels, but we continue looking into other drugs,” she said.

Those at risk for low levels of magnesium include people who use proton pump inhibitors or diuretics, or people who have a diet low in magnesium, Kieboom said.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Wisdom Wednesday: Death Risk from Triathlons May Be Higher Than Thought

Could some triathlon participants be pushing themselves too hard? New research suggests the odds that an athlete will die during these tests of endurance are higher than previously believed.

“We identified a total of 135 deaths and cardiac arrests in the U.S. triathlons from the inception of the sport in 1985 through 2016,” said study lead author Dr. Kevin Harris. Most were due to undiagnosed heart issues.

“The vast majority of the deaths occurred in the swim,” added Harris, a cardiologist with the Minneapolis Heart Institute at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.

Researchers also discovered that race-related fatalities most often involved middle-aged or older men. And the investigators found that sudden death, cardiac arrest, and trauma-related death during triathlons are not rare.

Overall, risk of dying during a triathlon was 1.74 for every 100,000 athletes – the equivalent of about five triathlete deaths a year, investigators found. This is higher than previous estimates.

“To put this in context, the risk is about twice as high as that reported in marathon races,” Harris said. Also, “compared to populations of athletic individuals, the risk for a single triathlon seems to exceed the annual risk for recreational athletes. Still, in absolute terms the fatality risk among triathletes remains low, Harris said.

As to what might explain the findings, Harris pointed to the “acute stress” of triathlon participation. “It is important to realize that an athlete may be physically fit but have severe underlying cardiovascular disease that becomes manifest only under very significant stress,” he noted. Harris suggested that male triathletes over 40 review their risk factors for coronary disease when considering entering a race.

Of the 135 fatalities, cardiac arrest and sudden death were the most common causes: 90 occurred during the swim portion, 15 while running and 7 while bicycling. Another 15 deaths during biking were attributed to traumatic injury, and 8 competitors died during post-race recovery, according to the report.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Acid Reflux? Try Going Vegetarian

A mostly vegetarian diet may provide relief similar to widely used medications for people with acid reflux, a new study suggests.

The study looked at close to 200 patients at one medical center who had been diagnosed with laryngopharyngeal reflux.

It’s a condition where stomach acids habitually back up into the throat, and it’s distinct from the much better-known gastroesophageal reflex disease (GERD) – or what most people call heartburn.

People with laryngopharyngeal reflux usually don’t have heartburn, explained Dr. Craig Zalvan, the lead researcher on the new study. Instead, they have symptoms like hoarseness, chronic sore throat, persistent coughing, excessive throat clearing and a feeling of a lump in the throat.

Still, the problem is often treated with GERD drugs known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). PPIs include prescription and over-the-counter drugs like Prilosec, Prevacid and Nexium, and they rank among the top-selling medications in the United States.

PPIs do help some people with laryngopharyngeal reflux, said Zalvan. He’s chief of otolaryngology at Northwell Health System’s Phelps Hospital, in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. And Zalvan, himself, used to prescribe them regularly. However, it became clear that the medications were not effective for many patients, Zalvan said. At the same time, he noted, studies began raising concerns that PPIs are not as safe as thought.

Zalvan encouraged patients to go 90% plant based – eating mainly vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains and nuts. Meat and dairy were to be limited to two or three modest servings per week. In addition, Zalvan gave his patients the standard reflux-soothing advice to avoid coffee, tea, alcohol and fried or fatty foods.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Best Way to Diagnose a Food Allergy

Diagnosing a food allergy isn’t always simple, but the best way to do it is through an oral food challenge, according to a new study.

“It’s important to have an accurate diagnosis of food allergy so an allergist can make a clear recommendation as to what foods you need to keep out of your diet,” said study senior author and allergist Dr. Carla Davis. She is an associate professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

During an oral food challenge, patients are asked to eat a very small amount of a suspected allergen while under the close supervision of a specially trained doctor, called an allergist. This doctor will evaluate the person for signs of an allergic reaction.

Researchers who analyzed more than 6,300 oral food challenges found these tests were safe and caused very few people to have a serious allergic reaction. Most of these tests involved children and teens younger than 18.

Of these cases, 14% resulted in a mild to moderate reaction that involved just one part of the body, such as a skin rash. The researchers noted that 2% resulted in very severe reactions that affected multiple body systems (anaphylaxis).

The results were published Sept. 7 in the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Wisdom Wednesday: Do Fewer Nightly Dreams Mean Higher Dementia Risk in Seniors?

Seniors who spend less time each night in the dream stage of sleep may be more likely to succumb to dementia as they age, new research suggests.

Known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, this critical phase “occurs in intervals throughout the night, and is characterized by more dreaming and rapid eye movements,” explained study author Matthew Pase. He is a senior research fellow with Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, and a visiting researcher in the department of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine.

“We found that persons experiencing less REM sleep over the course of a night displayed an increased risk of developing dementia in the future” Pase said. He noted that for every 1% drop in REM sleep, the seniors in his study was their dementia and Alzheimer’s disease go up by about 9%.

While prior research has pointed to the REM-dementia link, the current investigation is the first to link less REM sleep to a higher risk for developing dementia up to 18 years down the road. And that, said Pase, means that “changes in REM sleep may not simply be a consequence of dementia,” but rather a contributing cause.

Pase’s study focused on 321 men and women aged 60 and up (average age 67) who had participated in the Framingham Heart Study (FHS) between 1995 and 1998. The research team first tracked the sleep cycle of the men and women over the course of a single night. All the patients were then tracked for signs of dementia for up to 19 years (12 years, on average). Ultimately 32 participants developed dementia. Twenty-four of those people developed Alzheimer’s.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Could Folic Acid Fight a Cause of Autism?

By taking folic acid around the time of conception, mothers-to-be may reduce their child’s risk of pesticide-related autism, a new study suggests.

“We found that if the mom was taking folic acid during the window around conception, the risk associated with pesticides seemed to be attenuated,” said study first author Rebecca Schmidt.

“Mothers should try to avoid pesticides. But if they live near agriculture, where pesticides can blow in, this might be a way to counter those effects,” said Schmidt. She is an assistant professor of public health sciences at the University of California, Davis.

It’s estimated that one in 68 U.S. children has an autism spectrum disorder, which can range from mild to severe. There is no single cause, but research suggests a combination of genetic and environmental influences plays a role, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

The new study included about 300 children aged 2 to 5 with autism and 220 without the developmental disorder. Children whose mothers took 800 or more micrograms of folic acid (the amount in most prenatal vitamins) had a much lower risk of developing autism, even when their mothers were exposed to household or agricultural pesticides, the researchers said.

Autism risk was higher among children whose mothers were repeatedly exposed to pesticides or whose mothers had low folic acid intake and exposure to agricultural pesticides between three months preconception and three months afterward, the findings showed.

Folic acid is the synthetic form of vitamin B9, found in supplements and fortified foods. While taking it reduced the associated risk of pesticide-related autism in children, it did not entirely eliminate it, the report noted.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Could Common Vitamin Supplements Raise Lung Cancer Risk?

Men, and especially male smokers, appear to be more likely to develop lung cancer if they take high doses of vitamins B6 and B12, new research suggests. For men taking these vitamin supplements, the risk of lung cancer was nearly doubled. For men who smoked, the risk was between three and four times higher, the study found.

“High-dose B6 and B12 supplements should not be taken for lung cancer prevention, especially in men, and they may cause harm in male smokers,” said study lead author Theodore Brasky. He is a research assistant professor at Ohio State University.

Most people in the United States get enough vitamin B6 through their diets, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). Some people with certain health conditions may need supplements.

As for vitamin B12, the NIH reports that most Americans get enough from their diet. But some groups – such as older people and vegetarians – may be deficient and need supplements. The vitamin may also cause interactions with medications.

Dietary sources of vitamin B6 and B12 include fortified cereals and foods than are high in protein.
The new study included more than 77,000 adults, aged 50 to 76, in Washington State. The participants were recruited from 2000 to 2002, and answered questions about their vitamin use over the previous 10 years.

The researchers found that just over 800 of the study volunteers developed lung cancer over an average follow-up of six years. The study found no sign of a link between folate and lung cancer risk. And vitamin B6 and B12 supplements didn’t seem to affect risk in women.

However, “we found that men who took more than 20 mg per day of B6 averaged over 10 years had an 82% increased risk of lung cancer relative to men who did not take supplemental B vitamins from any source,” Brasky said. Men who smoked at the beginning of the study period and consumed high levels of the B vitamins were 3 to 4 times more likely to develop lung cancer, he added.