Monday, December 19, 2011

Schizophrenia, Depression, the Hippocampus, and Information

19/12/2011 4:46PM

A review of a Nature Reviews Neuroscience paper, and then I just sortta wonder off and babble incessantly ... .

Nature publications generates some high quality reviews that are great for catching up on the latest developments in a given area. I've always  had a bit of interest in the hippocampus so was pleased that Nature Reviews Neuroscience offered the extensive review article below for free(each month the Review series and I believe some other Nature journals offer free articles).
Article:  A pathophysiological framework of hippocampal dysfunction in ageing and disease
Authors:   Scott A. Small, Scott A. Schobel, Richard B. Buxton, Menno P. Witter and Carol A. Barnes
Journal: Nature Reviews Neuroscience, Oct 2011.
Abstract | The hippocampal formation has been implicated in a growing number of disorders, from Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive ageing to schizophrenia and depression. How can the hippocampal formation, a complex circuit that spans the temporal lobes, be involved in a range of such phenotypically diverse and mechanistically distinct disorders? Recent neuroimaging findings indicate that these disorders differentially target distinct subregions of the hippocampal circuit. In addition, some disorders are associated with hippocampal hypometabolism, whereas others show evidence of hypermetabolism. Interpreted in the context of the functional and molecular organization of the hippocampal circuit, these observations give rise to a unified pathophysiological framework of hippocampal dysfunction.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Free Will, the Law, and other Meanderings.

I do get carried away. The below arose from a FB discussion. Normally I stay away from these debates but thought Sergio was worthy of a considered reply. No time to proof. Sorry about that.

6/10/2011 12:19AM

You're a good chap Sergio and worthy of a considered reply. I've done my best but it is well past midnight and work beckons ...

Warning! I have an unusual approach to these questions, my thinking very much informed by online discussions long ago with Frank Lefever and a few others. I am an iconoclast. One of my key epistemological heuristics is this: if many brilliant people have been trying to resolve issues over many decades, let alone centuries, then, in the absence of new information, I have no chance of developing any further insights and so will direct my attention elsewhere.

No time to proof this. Sorry.

1. I don't entertain free will, I am to blame for my actions.

I don't entertain free will because it provides no explanatory power. The great power of human cognition arises when we ask the questions that provide us with further insight into the relevant matter. Mathematicians refer to this as "fertility". So even an abstract idea can be useful but it must have fertility. This is why in science there is the insistence that ideas should be falsifiable. If we cannot prove or disprove idea how can we ever know if it is true? We still cannot say with certainty that free will is existent yet we continue on our way. Most people who don't believe in free will do not fall into antinomianism, the belief that they cannot be responsible for their actions. This was a big issue with the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, many christians arguing that to believe God elects us "before the beginning of time"(Eph chapter 1 I think) is to invite moral anarchy. It doesn't. We far too often think about behavior being driven by thoughts. Now without venturing into radical behaviorism and its view that even thinking is behavior, a view I find favourable but wonder if it is just semantics, it is perfectly clear to me that my thoughts are but one aspect of how my behavior is formed. In fact I would argue that our thoughts about how other people perceive our behavior and our anticipation of the potential consequences of that perception is a far more powerful modulator of our behavior than our preferred philosophical position.

2. Neuroscience and Cognition.

The great fuss about how neuroscience is deepening our understanding of behavior is a fancy. Modern neuroscience is like a hunter gatherer looking for the first time at a car and seeing the wheels turn, thinks, the wheels make the car go forward. He sees the wheels, but the wheels do not move the car, the engine does. He cannot see the engine. Modern neuro-imaging is only seeing the wheels. It may even be worse than that, it may only be seeing the dust kicked up by the wheels. Even in recent months some long held assumptions about the classic model of neural function have been very much demolished. If you read enough of the literature, if you keep reading, you soon come across experiments that make a mockery of textbook explanations of neural function. There are deep and very difficult philosophical questions here, many of which revolve around Information Theory. That is a long and difficult road, I went down the road on a fast motorcycle, turned out the first corner was a decreasing radius turn and I'm still licking my wounds ... .

3. Blame is a reinforcer

If I am speeding down the road and without intention, quite unconsciously, I will still receive a speeding ticket and no amount of pleading will prevent that. If I unintentionally kill someone I will still be charged with manslaughter. That we know that breaking the law can have serious personal repercussions reinforces lawful behavior. Whether I break the law intentionally or unintentionally does not alter the fact that I broke the law. Unintentional breaking of the law may mitigate liability but it does not get me off the hook. So the linkage between "freely choosing" and "blaming" is not consistent. We blame people as a way of modulating their behavior and the behavior of others. Irrespective of my willing I am culpable for my actions. Even in cases of known psychopathology the pathology is at best a mitigating factor, it does get people off the hook and nor should it. The law is about much more than personal responsibility, it is very much about establishing reinforcement contingencies to maintain social order. The Law can never be a conceptually and philosophically consistent system. The Law is very much a response to the problem arising from the vagaries of human behavior and the environment. It is primarily driven by the need to maintain social order, not be a neat and tidy system of thought. In short, the world is messy so the Law will always be messy.

Obviously, the concept of free will is not a critical determinant of the legitimacy of our legal system.

4. Childrens' behavior is not guided by their belief in free will.

In fact children rarely if ever consider themselves to be free willing agents. Children are not engaging into those types of cognitive behaviors, that type of operational function only really emerges, at best, post puberty. Often never! Children are amongst the first to proclaim, "Johnny made me do it!" Adults abandon that habit because it becomes socially unacceptable. Not because they delve into the philosophical arguments surrounding Free Will but because it is in their best interests not to blame others. Blaming ourselves, as much if not moreso than blame from others, is a strong contingency that modulates our behavior. Blaming is not about free will, it is about behavior modification. Arminianism, the theological school of thought in opposition to Calvinism, can eat my shorts. I have no interest in free will,  that I consciously decide to do something provides me with absolutely no insight into the causes of my behavior. As the experiments of Sperry and Gazzaniga make worryingly clear, we have this habit of rationalising the causes of our behavior. We provides reasons after the event but the work of those two great neuroscientists indicate that we appear to make up stories to explain our behavior. As that wonderful line made by Geoff Goldbloom in the movie "The Big Chill" goes: You can go for a week without sex but can you go for a week without a rationalisation? (Same meaning, closely to that, and dreadfully true.)

5. The history of Free Will

My understanding is that the prominence of this concept in our culture primarily derives from the post Reformation great theological debates. I actually like the Calvinist approach because John Calvin himself was very much about setting up Geneva through laws, education, democracy, and social control. With regard to the latter he was sometimes unforgivingly ruthless and cruel. Eastern cultures, with Buddhism being a prominent example, don't seem as preoccupied with this question. Mayahana and Zen Buddhism will even assert that "self" and "free will" are illusions. Said conclusions arose from extensive exercises in enhancing "self awareness", which as the previously mentioned neuroscientists and many others have indicated, is hopelessly insufficient for understanding the true causes of our behavior. This again comes back to the theme of radical behaviorism that thought is behavior. The thoughts we acquire from our culture, not from our cognition, may be closer to the primary causes of our interest in this question than any "rational" deliberation of the legitimacy of that mode of analysis.

6. Self Awareness.

Who was that Greek chap, Aristotle? Was he the one who carried on about the need for self awareness. What are we observing when we observe "the self"? Look closely, you are not looking at some whole or some entity within yourself, you are thinking about individual instances of your behavior and attempting to coalesce these individual fragments into some coherent whole. The most successful areas of psychology are not in the "Big Ideas" but rather in the attempts to modify specific behaviors. For decades the psychologists peddled self-esteem as the cure all for so many human problems. Bollocks, the research of Ray Baumeister, circa 2002, pretty much put that fancy to rest. There is not so much talk about self esteem these days. Why? The studies don't support the claim that changing one's view of one's self makes any significant difference. Nonetheless I do believe our self perception does have implications for our behavior but that brings us back to the radical behaviorist idea of thinking being behavior.

I prefer the advice of Baumeister. Want to change your behavior? Then focus on those behaviors you wish to change. Establish in your life the appropriate environmental contingencies, and by environment I include the people around you, and your behavior will change. That is why religious bodies are so successful at behavior modification: the creation of a social environment that establishes multiple reinforcers modify behavior to be in accordance with the group. As the studies of Milgram and Zimbardo illustrate, or for that matter the SS of the Nazis, or even just plain being in a war zone, our environment, and especially the people in that environment, are vastly more determinative of our behavior than our philosophy. I grant you there are rare exceptions but as numerous historical examples illustrate, even the most religious of people can become murderous assholes. Only last night I heard a philosopher state how during the rise of Japanese militarism the Buddhists were often fully on board with justifying the incredible cruelty that Japanese military government managed to engender during that period. And contrary to the popular view, the Japanese at that time were far more brutal than the Germans. But that's another story.

Self awareness is also important but it can also be crippling. I prefer the attitude of Albert Camus, "Forever shall I be a stranger to myself."(The Myth of Sisyphus). Or this wonderful line from the great American street writer Henry Miller ....

Even the psychic invalid throws away his crutches, in such moments [large external threat]. For him the greatest joy is to realise that there is something more important than himself. All his life he has turned on the spit of his own roasted ego. He made the fire with his own hands.

Sexus, page 337.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Intrinsic and Probably Constitutive Arterial Cleansing

Cardiovascular Disease remains a big killer in modern societies. While various drug interventions have enabled millions to go on living when they would otherwise be dead, the spikes in obesity and type 2 diabetes in the last 30 years are harbingers of a cardiovascular disease epidemic in the making. This has already been hinted at with a piece of recent research. As stated in the news release:
A large study has revealed that the rate of strokeamong children, adolescents and young adults in the USA has been increasing at an alarming rate. The rate at which ischemic stroke patients are being hospitalized has also increased considerably, the authors reported in Annals of Neurology.
 If you go to the above link the authors have kindly provided a breakdown of the stats. The nutshell is that from 1995 to 2007 we have witnessed a 50% rise in ischemic stroke among males aged 35-44 years, a rise of 46% for males aged 15-34, for females the rates are considerably lower, 29% and 23% respectively.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Patrick Lockerby's Arctic Ice August 2011

Here's the link.
If we accept, as the perfectly normal Arctic behavior of many centuries, that ice extent should diminish in the last two weeks of August, it does not augur well for minimum extent in 2011.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Patrick Lockerby's Arctic Ice July 2011

You can read it here.

I am not interested in debates about AGW. I am interested in research items published and Patrick's monthly reports contain extensive data

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Myth of Alzheimers

The Myth of Alzheimers: What You Aren't Being Told About Today's Most Dreaded Diagnosis
Peter J. Whitehouse, M.D., Ph.D, with Daniel George, M.Sc.
St. Martin's Griffin, New York, 2008

Peter J. Whitehouse is a respected neurologist with over 30 years experience in the relevant field.

The Website for the book. 

Amazon Link.

This text takes a courageous stand. I appreciate the central thrust of their argument but also believe they have somewhat overstated their case. Nonetheless this text offers some valuable insights into what is wrong with so much media reporting about dementia and helps us understand why the concept of a cure of alzheimer's is predicated upon faulty assumptions concerning the causes and nature of the condition.

It is pleasing to note that the authors are quite upfront and acknowledge that loss of cognitive function is inevitable with age. There is far too much nonsense out there which purports to provide strategies so that we can have a timeless mind that does not age. Such claims are errant nonsense peddled by the either the naive or dishonest who are more interested in selling books than being honest to the truth about aging. My typical response to people who make such claims is this:

You say you can halt brain aging. Tell me, could you run as fast as when you were 20 years old? Can you recover from sleep deprivation or a night out partying as quickly as when you were 20 years old? The brain is the most vulnerable organ in our bodies yet you expect me to believe that  with your greying and receding hair, your reading glasses, your creaking joints and liver spots, your spider veins and botox manipulated forehead, you have managed to protect your brain from the effects of aging. I suggest that to entertain such a fallacy is evidence to the contrary.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Typing Away Our Memories?

"I think [technology] might hurt the type of memorization that we usually think about, like remembering the name of an actress, but I think there might be some benefits, too," said study author Betsy Sparrow, an assistant professor in the department of psychology at Columbia University in New York City. ...

Yes, that is true. Remember that fairy tale that human memory is infinite? I used to laugh at that because it was obvious to me that my memory was anything but infinite. So in my early 20's I set about learning as much as I could about memory and devised a simple memorisation system that must have been effective because many people comment on the strength of my memory. My typical response is anyone can have a good memory they just need to know the tricks. That isn't really true. I was fortunate in that I inherited a good memory ability and then built on that. Nonetheless all of us need to think about the implications of relying *too much* on modern technology as an information storage utility.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Pregnant Arab Women often have very poor Vitamin D status

I had long speculated about the impact of completely covering the skin on vitamin D production. This study highlights the risk to pregnant Arabian women. If you are someone who doesn't receive daily sunlight exposure it is absolutely critical to take charge of your vitamin D status. Foods will not be sufficient, you will need supplementation.

Pregnant Arab women have an "extraordinarily high prevalence" of vitamin D deficiency - a potential health issue for them and their babies, according to a new Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center study.


Alzheimers - Prevention is Better than Cure

This news article highlights the problem of treating dementias. The relevant article from Nature can be found here.

Prevention is always better than cure. In relation to dementias it is now clear that years, if not decades, before symptoms arise a neurodegenerative process has been in play. As noted at the top of the news release, once alzheimers is established there probably is never going to be a cure. We may be able to forestall progression of pathology but that is all we will be able to do.

While it is tempting to think that alzheimers is all about the brain we must remember that the brain functions within a body. Our overall health is fundamental to cerebral health. Due to my lack of reading lately I can't be sure about all the relevant factors but the below list will serve as a useful guide:

  • There has been a longstanding relationship between cardiovascular health and cerebral health. Maintaining good cardiovascular health is absolutely essential in addressing dementia. This appears to be particularly true for cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Keep check of these levels. Note however that for people over 60 there is evidence to suggest that slightly higher cholesterol levels are protective for the brain. Only slightly higher, the safer bet probably being higher but still within normal ranges.
  • Immunological status is very important. Preventing excessive inflammation is very important for protecting the brain because systemic inflammations plays a cardinal role in promoting dementias. Diet is very important here, as is adequate vitamin D intake. Because many people lose the ability to manufacture vitamin D with age, and because dietary sources are usually of low quantities, supplementation is often a good idea. Before going down that road though have your vitamin D status checked. If it is low start taking supplements.
  • Do not let low level infections linger. These promote systemic inflammation.
  • Maintain oral health. Poor oral health is not only a risk factor for dementias but also heart disease. Again, systemic inflammation can arise from poor oral health.
  • Maintain a appropriate fat intake. Keep the balance right. Avoid trans fats at all costs. Eat fish on a regular basis, watch your omega 3 - omega 6 balance because the modern diet tends to have too much omega 6 and too little omega 3, this promotes inflammatory mediators because omega 6 fats promote the generation of inflammatory prostaglandins while omega 3's promote anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. It is very important to cook fish the right way - baked or broiled, grilled and fried fish may actually promote dementias and heart disease because the high temperatures oxidize the fats.
  • Be very careful about sugar rich foods. Sugar in strict moderation is fine but many processed foods are loaded with too much sugar. Popular carbonated drinks are sugar laden and should not be consumed as a habit.

Meditate Away the Aging Brain

This recent news item highlights some unusual findings with respect to meditation practice. Basically they found that:

Meditation prevents age related cerebral atrophy.
Meditation *appears* to be strengthens the connections between various brain regions.

This study is one in a long line of meditation studies pointing to the potential value of meditation not just in addressing conditions like depression, and also improving immune function but modulating the stress response and most importantly, promoting happiness. The abstract is below:

Enhanced brain connectivity in long-term meditation practitioners

Very little is currently known about the cerebral characteristics that underlie the complex processes of meditation as only a limited number of studies have addressed this topic. Research exploring structural connectivity in meditation practitioners is particularly rare. We thus acquired diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) data of high angular and spatial resolution and used atlas-based tract mapping methods to investigate white matter fiber characteristics in a well-matched sample of long-term meditators and controls (n = 54). A broad field mapping approach estimated the fractional anisotropy (FA) for twenty different fiber tracts (i.e., nine tracts in each hemisphere and two inter-hemispheric tracts) that were subsequently used as dependent measures. Results showed pronounced structural connectivity in meditators compared to controls throughout the entire brain within major projection pathways, commissural pathways, and association pathways. The largest group differences were observed within the corticospinal tract, the temporal component of the superior longitudinal fasciculus, and the uncinate fasciculus. While cross-sectional studies represent a good starting point for elucidating possible links between meditation and white matter fiber characteristics, longitudinal studies will be necessary to determine the relative contribution of nature and nurture to enhanced structural connectivity in long-term meditators.
Neuroimage, Volume 57, Issue 4, 15 August 2011, pages 1308-1316 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Patrick Lockberby - Arctic Ice Update - July 2011

This is the link to Scientific Blogging.
Within recent decades, and especially in the 21st century, we constantly see reports that total ice extent is the lowest, 2nd lowest or 3rd lowest ever recorded.  So far the lowest ever ice extent was in 2007 and we have charts and reports which show no such low extent since at least the 16th century.  It needs no great mathematical skill to deduce that if every year shows an ice extent amongst the lowest ever, there must have been some great change in the Arctic dynamic.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Nuts May Help Prevent Diabetes Type 2 Complications

This link from Science Daily highlights the value of moderate consumption of nuts. Previously spurned because of their high fat content, recent research is finding that nuts are an excellent addition to our diet. Of particular interest note the finding in March claiming that walnuts are the best overall nut for consumption. Walnuts contain good quantities of gamma tocopherol, a much better form of vitamin E than that commonly found in tablets which typically contain alpha tocopherol. In fact high consumption of alpha tocopherol appears to impede the absorption of the better forms of vitamin E. So nuts to you.

Australian Tourism Promo

Cannabinoids as Medicine

Today I was caught by surprise from  a US Federal Government statement. They stated that in their opinion there is no medical value in marijuana. The claim is premature and in contradiction to a world wide research interest into cannabinoids for therapeutic purposes ranging from the management of atherosclerosis to cancer to neurodegeneration.

Just today Science Daily posted this news items indicating that blockade of the CB 1 receptor(CB=cannabinoid) accelerates neurodegeneration in the animal model. The abstract of the relevant study reads ....

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Blood Pressure, salt, and potassium

This link from Foodconsumer highlights a recent finding regarding potassium and blood pressure.

We have all heard how bad salt can be for our blood pressure. What we are not told is that the studies do not always support this conclusion. This study highlights what I believe to be a big reason for this. The salt - potassium balance is out of kilter, hence leading to high blood pressure. Potassium intake appears to be much higher in the past, with studies on some hunter gatherer groups who typically display low blood pressure indicating very high potassium intake.

The USDA recommends 4,700 grams of potassium a day. That is a lot, difficult to achieve with modern foods. For a list of potassium rich foods see this link.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Mismatch: Why Our World No Longer Fits our Bodies

Mismatch: Why our world no longer fits our bodies
Peter Gluckman and Mark Hanson. Foreword by Robert Winston
Oxford University Press, 2006

About the Authors:

Gluckman and Hanson are doctors who hold posts in academia.

Amazon link

If you have a copy of The Selfish Gene throw it away. Don't give it to anybody, throw it away because it is a dangerously misleading text. I still recall reading it so long ago and being amused by such a simplistic and naive view of inheritance. Replace it with this text. Seriously, this text is a very good introduction to an emerging view of genetics that is transforming our understanding of evolution. If you are familiar with epigenetics and how it is now a huge focus of research you *may* find this text light and breezy. Nonetheless I can guarantee there are research reports in this book that will astound you. If you are someone who has long held The Selfish Gene in high esteem you definitely need to read this text. That is a serious recommendation. As the authors state:

"Our thinking has moved a long way from simplistic views of the interaction between genes(nature) and the developmental environment(nurture).

Hooray, how I have longed to see a popular text that takes the whole neodarwinian paradigm to task and politely pushes it to one side. With regard to Dawkins though I won't be polite, I think Doofus Dawkins is responsible for leading a huge cross section of the educated(?!) public up the garden path to the smelly outside dunny. I cannot recall the number of times people have addressed my criticisms of Dawkin's approach with bewilderment, as if Dawkins was the be all and end all of genetics.(That was NEVER true, Dawkins was popular with the educated (?!) public, not geneticists. In fact if you think I'm severe on Dawkins, trust me, I've seen others almost apoplectic over his claims.) Yes, I have long regarded The Selfish Gene as one big fat load of bollocks. But enough of my general contempt for that text.

Read Wiki for an introduction to epigenetics. 

I did not take any substantial notes on this text because for many years now I have been following the changing of the guard with respect to genetics. It is an exciting time, the emergence of a much more powerful, sophisticated, and complex model of evolution is going to take some decades to mature. To give you an idea of this approach consider the following:

Children brought up in poor societies but then adopted to rich one's is associated with much earlier puberty - with some girls having their first period at 6-8 years of age.
The text is replete with like examples, the research literature is now bulging with research into epigenetics and its implications for public health in general and individual health in particular.

My cognitive style is iconoclastic(ah der, no kidding John). I'm always on the look out for new ways to understanding being human and the the processes of Life. So I am delighted that the authors of this text have written a highly accessible text, certainly any educated person will have no trouble understanding this text. I suspect that is probably why I found it somewhat light and breezy because for myself, while I am not aggressively tracking the research in this area, I have long been interested in the newly emerging paradigm.

Mismatch should replace "The Selfish Gene". I certainly hope that turns out to be true. The authors paint a picture of a new kind of genetics that is both complex and beautiful, an amazing testament to the power of evolution to manage adaptation. This is the New Stuff, the future of genetics. If you have any interest in genetics and understanding why type 2 diabetes is turning into one huge public health disaster, you need to read this text. Oh just read it, it is a great and easy read that will open your eyes to the complexities of adaptation that hitherto most of us never dreamed possible.

Great stuff! Thanks to the authors.

Africa Doesn't Matter by Giles Bolton - Book Review

Africa Doesn't Matter: How the West Has Failed the Poorest Continent and What We Can Do About It.
Giles Bolton 2007
Arcade Publishing, NY

A long time ago I was introduced to Chomsky. His scholarship is impressive, his arguments are strong, but after reading a couple of his texts I thought to myself, "What do I gain from reading more of the same sad story about the influence of power in human affairs?" Chomsky left me frustrated because while he can powerfully articulate an argument and raise many important issues, he does not seem to proffer any real solutions to the problems he raises. Perhaps I am wrong about that, perhaps I have forgotten his prescriptions for action, but I am pleased to report that Giles Bolton does make a genuine and fruitful effort to put forward solutions and attitudes we can adopt to help recover the cradle of humanity.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Aging Health Issues- Avoid Making Incontinence Worse

No one likes to talk about incontinence. It's on the list of hush-hush topics that people just don't discuss. Don't worry. I won't tell your friends that you're reading this blog. However, I do want you to keep reading and learn about ways that you're really making your bladder control issues worse than they have to be. It's obvious that drinking too much will agitate the situation, but there are other issues that you might not know about when it comes to controlling your incontinence.

Caffeine: This means coffee, tea, soda, and even chocolate are your enemy. Caffeine is a bladder irritant and a diuretic, which means it is only going to make your incontinence worse. Reduce your intake or eliminate it completely from your diet if you can.

Spicy Cuisine: Spicy food might be your favorite, but it probably isn't a favorite of your bladder. Certain spices, such as curry, chili pepper, and cayenne can agitate the bladder and make incontinence worse. If you eat something and notice it aggravates your condition, don't eat it anymore.

Citrus: Everyone tells you to get more fruit and vegetables in your diet, but when you suffer from incontinence, that might be a bad idea. Acidic foods and juices are irritating to the bladder, and since the fruits are mostly water, they can increase fluid intake without you noticing.

Medications: You can't stop taking your medications just because they make it harder to control your bladder. However, you should keep an eye on medications that might be contributing to the condition so that you can let your doctor know.

Dealing with incontinence is about knowing what is making the issue worse. You don't have to discuss it with your friends or compare symptoms and irritants, but you should be educating yourself and talking to your doctor so that you can get the relief that you deserve. You can do a lot more to alleviate this embarrassing issue than you might realize. Take the time to learn about ways to prevent and reduce your incontinence so that you can enjoy life more and spend less time worrying. You can read more about your health at my senior safety and health blog.

Mary Albert is a health advocate and blogger at Lifestyle Health Guide. She blogs regularly on senior health issues and medical alert devices.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Antidepressants for Hot Flashes?- Looking for Alternatives to HRT?

Menopause and post-menopause is a rough time. Most doctors recommend hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to help alleviate the symptoms of menopause. While it is effective, there are many different side effects and issues that come up with hormone replacement therapies that make them undesirable for so many people. Hot flashes and other symptoms are difficult to deal with and finding the best treatment is difficult for some women. At our age, we deserve to enjoy life. I've tried HRT and quite frankly, I didn't like the effects that it gave me. I chose to stop taking the treatments and found natural solutions to deal with my issues.

According to a new study, the antidepressant desvenlafaxine was shown to help control hot flashes in the women involved in the study. A lot of women can't take estrogen and other hormone treatments. Some simply don't like the way that the HRT works. In either situation, having a better alternative is going to help a lot of people. Within 12 weeks, many women saw a 62% reduction in their hot flashes and other symptoms after taking the anti-depressant. While it is effective to take hormone therapies, some women prefer the use of this medication because it offers better solutions with fewer adverse effects.

HRT is also not an option for women who have or have a risk of breast cancer, which is what sparked the search for better alternatives for menopause relief. As it turns out, many different forms of antidepressants can actually help alleviate the hot flashes for women who need an alternative to traditional treatments. These medications are often used for health issues outside of depression, so this news isn't exactly surprising to many people. However, the use of antidepressants to treat menopausal symptoms is definitely going to help many women who are looking for something different.

Studies are still ongoing and in time things will likely get better in time, but for now this health science advance is enough for some people.

Mary Albert is a health advocate and blogger for Lifestyle Health Guide, where she contributes regularly on topics like senior aging, health news, and medical alerts.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sodium Reductions Might Not Affect Heart Health

According to an article written in Time magazine, they've been doing research in Europe that proves that lower sodium intake might not actually help heart health in the long run. Studies have shown that people who have high blood pressure or heart disease would benefit from lowering salt intake. However, in a study of more than 3,500 people who didn't have heart problems, the ones who had the highest salt intake were the lowest risk for heart disease-related death. The study was done for more than eight years and those with the highest sodium levels only had a 0.8% death rate. Those with low sodium had a 4% death rate.

All the unique things that the health science world is doing today never cease to amaze me. It's like the blog that I wrote awhile back on senior safety and wellness, which talked about how education is so very important to your health. COPD symptoms can be reduced with exercise, Alzheimer's can be staved off with walking, and now apparently sodium isn't going to be terribly bad for your heart. But why is this?

According to researchers, while salt intake does affect blood pressure, it doesn't increase the risk of hypertension or a death related to heart disease. It apparently doesn't have as much of an effect as they thought, and is much less of an issue. The American Heart Association is still hard at work trying to convince people to lower their sodium intake just for the sake of their health, but there's apparently less of a connection to heart health than was previously thought.

The study does have its flaws, of course. The volunteers were all younger, so the follow-up might not have been effective enough due to the age at which these heart issues usually occur. Either way, it is a complicated issue that people have to face and learn about for themselves. Nothing is more important than being educated and you really need to read up. Medical science never ceases to impress me with its findings, but this just goes to show that you have to get the details before you tip the salt shaker.

Mary Albert is a health advocate at Lifestyle Health Guide, where she contributes regularly on health issues and medical alert systems.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Educate Yourself on Alzheimer's- New Studies that Will Surprise You

In a blog I wrote a while back on healthy aging and elderly safety, I spoke about how education is such a valuable resource for people who want to maintain an active, healthy life. Being constantly in fear of your health and aging is not any way to enjoy retirement. You have to take the time to learn about your health issues, your lifestyle, and the things that will help you live the longest, healthiest life possible. In doing some research on different topics, I found a new article that was quite intriguing. While I've done research that shows that walking and exercise can help both COPD and Alzheimer's on my lifestyle and medical alert blog, this new article was quite eye-catching.

According to new studies being done, it seems that there is a gene for Alzheimer's Risk that disrupts the wiring of the brain as much as 50 years before the disease actually strikes. There has been knowledge of genetic involvement in Alzheimer's for a long time, but this is totally new information that has been made available. In a study done at UCLA, this new gene was tested and studied to figure out exactly what it does. Known as the CLU gene, it shows the ability to start damaging the brain as much as 50 years before the normal onset of Alzheimer's.

During the study, researchers took the time to scan the brains of those who had this gene as well as those who didn’t, and the result was that young, healthy people who carried this gene were already showing a decrease in the integrity of white matter in the brain. That means that they're already showing effects that are putting their brains at risk for developing full-blown Alzheimer's in the future. This is remarkable, but also scary for many people.

Fortunately, as research continues to become available and give people the resources that they need, it will hopefully be easier to pinpoint the effects of genes and find a way to stop them from leading to this terrible condition. My mother suffered from Alzheimer's and I personally don't want to face it for myself after seeing what she went through. This study proved that 88% of the Caucasian population has this gene and while all of them don't end up getting Alzheimer's, it does put them all at risk for developing the condition. Hopefully they will continue to develop this research and find a way to put it to good use.

Mary Albert is a health and lifestyle blogger at Lifestyle Health guide. She commonly writes about aging and health issues as well as medical alert systems.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Medical Advances- Understanding Technology and Health News

I was recently reviewing a blog I wrote awhile back about the benefits of medical alarm systems, and really wanted to reach out and talk about medical and health technology and advances that can be used to our advantage. As retirement approaches, or as it carries on for some of us, knowing the different advances in technology that are available is often helpful. Medical technology like medical alert systems is constantly growing and changing, and it doesn't always have to be high-tech to be successful.

The medical alert system has remained largely unchanged since it was first debuted decades ago, and its simplicity is often what makes it such a popular item. There are a lot of highly technical products and services on the market today, but they only offer benefits when their technology is suited to the audience accordingly. I'm not incompetent, but I also don't have months to spend learning about all these new gadgets and gizmos that are supposed to make life 'better'. Heck, it took my kids quite a few years to convince me to set up one of those Facebook pages, and I barely understood that.

Being educated about health technology is important, no matter how simple it might be. These advances and new innovations are designed to make our lives better and more enjoyable, which is why staying on top of things will always be beneficial. There's a lot going on in the medical industry right now and technology is creating changes almost every single day. While this can seem difficult to keep up with, the internet makes it easy. Find the best resources for health news and technology updates so that you can be an informed consumer.

Education is the key to getting rid of your fears or confusion about anything. If you want to have a happy, healthy retirement that you can enjoy, you need to understand how technology is working to benefit you and what types of advances are being made in healthcare and other areas that will positively benefit your life. Being a health advocate, it's easy for me to stay educated and share that education with others. Thanks to the internet, however, anyone can learn about advances in technology, including medical alert systems and other health and wellness solutions.

Mary Albert is a health writer for Lifestyle Health Guide, and a professional health advocate.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Patrick Lockberby - Artice Ice Update - March 2011

Hmmm, this is not good:

"Arctic sea ice extent for February 2011 tied with February 2005 as the lowest recorded in the satellite record." 

Interestingly, 2005 was a year of very high sunspot activity and this year sunspot activity is also high.

Apocalypse 2012: An Investigation into Civilisation's End

Book Review: Apocalypse 2012: An Investigation into Civilisation's End.
Lawrence E. Joseph.
Broadway Books, New York, 2007

I find this a perplexing text. So many new ideas from so many different sources. The author traveled around the world to interview scientists, psychics, Mayan ancestors, and various individuals ranging from shamans to mystics. It would take me far too long to investigate all the claims in this text. Other reviews on this text indicated a mixture of respect and caution in judging this text. There are errors, there must be errors, but there is enough solid material in this text to leave me interested.

The first two thirds of the text are an entertaining read. The author employs an easy reading style that doesn't become too technical and bogged down. Thankfully the text is not alarmist or written as if being some great document of revelation. He quotes the relevant individuals, he puts forward their ideas clearly and without editorialising their statements.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Counter Intuitive Study on Longevity

There is no easy way to establish strategies for living a long life. This news release adds to our confusion. I proffer the following cautions:

  1. This study contradicts many other studies. When that occurs don't accept the study at face value, it needs to be subject to critical review by many people, and believe me that is far superior to peer review! 
  2. This study is relying on data gathered a very long time ago, when experimental methods were much less refined than today. 
  3. It relates to analysis of "more than 1500 bright children". Small sample, and just what do they mean by "bright". 

The new release does not point to a published paper, the results are being published in book form. I would much prefer that they first publish a series of papers then publish their book. By publishing the book first they are putting out a view on longevity that has not been subject to (1) above.

For myself at least I have to disregard the claims of this news article. Yes I can see elements that I find plausible but in the absence of a series of papers that have been subject to critical review and discussion by a wide range of people it is virtually impossible to know if all their conclusions are valid.

There is a good lesson here in relation to health news. There are also sorts of claims being made about the secrets to longevity. There are no secrets, we're still learning, but obviously a good deal of common sense goes a very long way. Eat well, exercise regularly, and don't go looking for fountains of longevity.

The Brain's "Reward" Centre Also Responds to Fear

One of my pet hates in neuroscience is the propensity to attribute highly specialised functions to currently identified brain regions. If only it were that simple. This study, remarkable in its detailed analysis, again reminds us that the brain is not only a wonderful thing but an incredibly wonderfully complex thing.

It has long been known and studied that the ventral tegmental area(VTA), a rather small nucleus in the midbrain, is very much involved in "reward" processes. Illicit drug use very often involves the VTA dopamine neurons becoming rather active. Even marijuana, who some claim is not addictive, will involve activation of these neurons.  Note though that the abstract refers to a specific location in the VTA - the posterior region. These nuances in how these "cerebral modules" respond needs to be kept in mind. For example, we often read that the amygdala is a "fear center". For example, consider this recent news release which appears counter intuitive. In that news release, the so-called "fear centre" - amygdala appears to play a role in reducing anxiety. Note though that is very misleading to refer to a "fear centre". Neurons don't experience fear, we do! As the linked Wiki article states, the amygdala can be subdivided into many regions. For an excellent introduction to the amygdala, try reading "The Emotional Brain" by Joseph LeDoux, who pioneered important research into this region.

This study identified 3 types of dopamine neurons in the VTA. While Type 1 and Type 2 neurons did not respond to fearful events, actually decreasing their firing rates but with a rebound at the cessation of the fearful event, Type 3 neurons increased their firing rate. Thus ...

Moreover, the excitation duration of type-3 dopaminergic-like neurons also correlated with the duration of fearful events.
However I am puzzled by this and have to wonder if it points to error in identifying these Type 3 neurons:

Our pharmacological results revealed that the vast majority (96%; 23/24) of type-1 and type-2 putative dopamine neurons were significantly suppressed, while surprisingly the type-3 neurons (n = 9) otherwise showed excitation by apomorphine
The bods then went onto to test how these neurons responded to both positive and aversive events:

Neuronal activity recordings in these conditioned mice (after 1-week training) revealed that VTA putative dopamine neurons responded significantly to the conditioned tone that predicted a sugar pellet in the reward chamber (Figure 6D, left panel). Interestingly, the same VTA neurons also responded reliably to the same conditioned tone when it predicted free fall in the free fall chamber (Figure 6D, middle panel). When the same conditioned tone was delivered to mice in a neutral chamber that was not associated with any event, it did not produce significant changes in firing.
What this suggests is that these neurons in the VTA are not only responding to reward or adversity but also to the expectation that something in the environment is about to change. It would be interesting to see if any of these neurons would respond to innocuous environmental contingencies. I have a sneaking impression that what we are witnessing here is a general alerting function to a change in the environment, with different neurons providing information about the nature of the environmental change. This information is highlighted by a sentence in the closing paragraph of the paper:

These putative dopamine neurons respond to different negative events in a similar manner and more importantly, their temporal durations of dynamic firing changes are proportional to the durations of the fearful events.