Weekend Health Wrap-Up | February 5th, 2011

Posted on February 5, 2011

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The past few days were terribly busy & have kept me from posting.  Here are some of this week’s most interesting findings:

  • Aerobic exercise boosts hippocampal volume: The hippocampus is a small region of brain that is critical to the storage & retrieval of long-term memory and spatial reasoning – it’s also the first to go in those with Alzheimer’s Dementia.  Researchers have found that modest increases (~2%) in hippocampal volume could be achieved in elderly individuals who walked three times per week over the course of a year, effectively off-setting the natural decline in volume we all experience as we age, but the same was not true for those taking a stretching class (who experienced an average volume loss of 1.4%).  Participants in the aerobic group also showed higher levels of BDNF, a growth factor implicated in many diseases (including Huntington’s & Major Depression).  The researchers concluded that “starting an exercise regimen later in life is not futile for either enhancing cognition or augmenting brain volume” – but further research is certainly warranted, as the two groups did not significantly differ from one another in memory testing at the end of the one year period.  Read about it at MedPage Today.
  • Higher sugar intake may put US kids at risk for cardiovascular disease: Researchers at Emory University School of Medicine conducted a cross-sectional study examining the intake of “added sugars” (i.e. those in soft drinks and sports beverages) and their effect on common markers of cardiovascular disease.  They concluded that as consumption of added sugars rises, so do predictors of cardiovascular disease, including LDL & triglycerides (while protective markers like HDL decline).  Most surprisingly, perhaps, was that the average self-reported daily intake of added sugars was a whopping 21.4% of daily calories.  Recently, the safety of so-called “energy beverages” has been called into question by researchers at the Mayo Clinic.  I would urge parents to at least share these findings with their children and consider making such beverages less available in the home.  Read this NYTimes piece on the concerns about energy drinks.
  • Undiagnosed & uncontrolled cardiovascular risk in the uninsured:  A recent CDC report estimates that those without health insurance are more than twice as likely to go undiagnosed for hypertension and high cholesterol than those who had any type of insurance.  Additionally, in those who were screened and diagnosed, control rates were equally dismal.  Don’t sit around and wait for health care reform to provide you with the means to be screened – search for local health fairs and free screenings if you are unsure of your risk level or haven’t been tested in years.  There are plenty of non-pharmacological interventions you can implement to lower your risk for cardiovascular disease.
  • Moderate internet use correlated with better health outcomes among adolescents:  Researchers discovered a U-shaped relationship with several measures of health when plotted against teens’ intensity of internet use (an example of a U-shaped association can be seen here, displaying body weight & mortality).  Those considered “occasional” or “regular” internet users had better health measures than those who were considered “heavy” internet users and those who reported no internet use in the past month.  We probably could have guessed that those who spent the most time online were less likely to be healthy, but the surprising finding is that the opposite is also true (additionally, those who reported the least time online appear to be at greater risk for depressive symptoms).  The researchers conclude that health professionals should “consider regular Internet use as a normative behavior without major health consequence.”

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