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.