Early Alzheimer’s indicator
Coinciding with National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month in June, a new study released last month by University of Southern California [USC] researchers suggests that current estimates of older Americans who are likely to develop the disease may be woefully low.
Their analysis, which looked at 10 years of data, found that one in three adults over age 65 has elevated levels of amyloid protein – a brain-clogging plaque and Alzheimer’s precursor – even though their cognitive skills do not yet show any signs of disease. If Alzheimer’s prevalence estimates included this “preclinical” stage before symptoms begin, the number of people affected would more than double from the current estimate of 5.4 million Americans, the study found.
Although elevated levels of amyloid are associated with subsequent cognitive decline, the study did not prove a causal relationship. However, it concluded that the presence of the sticky protein in the brain represents the earliest stage of the disease before symptoms can be detected. It also noted that the period of time when an older person has elevated amyloid plaques but no Alzheimer’s symptoms actually can last longer than the dementia stage itself.
“To have the greatest impact on the disease, we need to intervene against amyloid, the basic molecular cause, as early as possible,” said Paul Aisen, the study’s senior author and director of the USC Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Research Institute [ATRI] at the Keck School of Medicine. “This study is a significant step toward the idea that elevated amyloid levels are an early stage of Alzheimer’s.”
Comparing amyloid plaque in the brain to cholesterol in the blood – warning signs that produce no outward symptoms until something catastrophic occurs – Aisen said that finding a way to treat the plaques could be a way to fend off Alzheimer’s disease, just as treating high cholesterol can help prevent a heart attack.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, also indicated that most people with elevated amyloid will progress to symptomatic Alzheimer’s within 10 years. The research was based on data from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, which is exploring biomarkers that can be used to predict Alzheimer’s and is based at USC.
Essential oils for menopause
Mainstream medicine is only beginning to seriously study the effects of essential oils, which are made from fragrant essences found in certain plants and are rapidly rising in popularity as a non-pharmaceutical treatment for a wide variety of health problems.
Although research on their effectiveness is currently limited, some studies suggest that certain essential oils may help reduce the uncomfortable symptoms of menopause. Supporters of essential oils report that diffusing them in water for aromatherapy is enough to get good results. Essential oil diffusers for that purpose are widely available at stores and online. The oils also can be diluted with a carrier oil, such as coconut or jojoba oil, and used for massage or applied to pulse points.
Although essential oils are considered extremely safe, experts recommend that women who want to try them begin with just one essential oil at a low concentration to test tolerance, gradually adding more oils or a higher dosage as needed. The following essential oils may provide some benefit for menopausal symptoms:
Lavender: Long used in aromatherapy to promote feelings of relaxation and support healthy sleep, lavender may help relieve common menopausal issues such as anxiety, hot flashes, headaches and heart palpitations.
Pine oil: A past rodent study showed that pine oil helped to reduce bone loss and protect against osteoporosis, and suggested that it also may provide those benefits for humans.
Vitex agnus-castus oil: Also called chasteberry and Abraham’s balm, this oil from the chaste tree is perhaps the most backed by research, which has suggested that oils from both the berry and the leaf can improve a variety of menopausal symptoms, including irregular periods and mood swings.
Phytoestrogens: This category of essential oils, which includes angelica, clary sage, coriander, cypress and fennel, contains plant-based estrogens. Because many of the changes associated with menopause are due to declining estrogen, these oils may help with a wide range of symptoms including hot flashes, mood swings and irregular periods.
Geranium and rose oils: These two oils may produce similar hormone-balancing benefits, such as menstrual regularity, improved mood and reduced hot flashes.
Eating to starve cancer
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer afflicting U.S. men, with about six out of 10 new cases diagnosed every year occurring in men over 65. Over the past decade, some research has pinpointed the cancer-fighting potential of plants, including chemicals available from foods. These compounds help to fight inflammation in the body, one of the key risk factors for cancer.
Now, new research at The University of Texas has identified several natural compounds found in common foods, including turmeric, apple peels and red grapes, as key ingredients that could slow or even prevent the growth of prostate cancer.
The new study, published in Precision Oncology, used a new approach to test numerous plant-based chemicals in combination instead of testing them one at a time, and discovered specific combinations that may shrink prostate cancer tumors.
“After screening a natural compound library, we developed an unbiased look at combinations of nutrients that have a better effect on prostate cancer than existing drugs,” said study author Stefano Tiziani, an assistant professor at UT-Austin. “The beauty of this study is that we were able to inhibit tumor growth in mice without toxicity.”
The researchers first tested 142 natural compounds on mouse and human cell lines to see which inhibited prostate cancer cell growth, either when administered alone or in combination with another nutrient. The three most promising active ingredients they discovered were then tested on model animals: ursolic acid, a waxy natural chemical found in apple peels and rosemary; curcumin, the bright yellow plant compound in turmeric; and resveratrol, a natural chemical commonly found in red grapes and berries.
The study also showed how combinations of these plant-based chemicals work together to fight cancer. Combining ursolic acid with either curcumin or resveratrol, for example, prevented cancer cells from taking in glutamine, which they need in order to grow.
“These nutrients have potential anti-cancer properties and are readily available,” said Tiziani. “We only need to increase concentration beyond levels found in a healthy diet for an effect on prostate cancer cells.”
Fighting fat in the liver
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease [NAFLD] is an umbrella term for a range of liver conditions affecting people who drink little to no alcohol. As its name implies, the main characteristic of NAFLD is too much fat stored in liver cells. In its most serious form, which is similar to liver disease caused by alcoholism, it is characterized by liver inflammation that may progress to scarring, irreversible damage, cirrhosis and liver failure or even liver cancer.
For reasons not yet completely understood, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is becoming increasingly common around the world, especially in Western nations. In the U.S., it is the most common form of chronic liver disease, affecting an estimated 80 to 100 million people, mainly those in their forties and older. In general, it is related to health issues such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome – a group of abnormalities including increased abdominal fat, insulin resistance, high blood pressure and high blood levels of triglycerides – although researchers don’t yet know why it afflicts some people and not others.
Researchers in the U.K., where NAFLD also is a serious health issue affecting one in five adults, recently cooperated with teams from the Mayo Clinic and a medical center in the Netherlands to identify the mechanism that causes the buildup of liver fat – and were able to reverse it in mouse models. The international research team found that old liver cells, called senescent cells, store excessive fat because their mitochondria, the cells’ “batteries,” become damaged and cannot effectively use the fat as a source of fuel, storing it instead. The researchers used both drug and genetic approaches to kill off senescent cells in mice, decreasing the buildup of dangerous fat in the liver and restoring liver function to normal.
Lead U.K. researcher Dr. Diana Jurk, of Newcastle University’s Institute for Ageing, said of the results: “This is the first time that we have an effective therapy for fatty liver disease. What is exciting is that we have been able to reverse this damage in mice by removing these older, worn-out cells, which opens the door to a potential cure.” She added that the team hopes to start human testing of the interventions they discovered in the near future.
On the calendar
An AARP Smart Driver Course is offered from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on Wednesday, July 12 at St. Luke’s Hospital, 222 S. Woods Mill Road in Chesterfield in the North Medical Building. The course covers safe driving strategies, information about the effects of medications on driving, how to prevent driver distractions, proper use of new technologies and more. The cost is $15 for AARP members and $20 for non-members. Register by calling (314) 780-8465.
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Knee Replacement: Is It Right for Me?, a discussion with an orthopedic physician about minimally invasive knee replacement surgery and other treatment options for arthritic knees, is offered from 6-7 p.m. on Tuesday, July 18 at St. Luke’s Hospital, 222 S. Woods Mill Road in Chesterfield, in the third floor conference room. Attendance is free. Register online at www.stlukes-stl.com; call (314) 542-4848 for more information.
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Medication Management and Nutrition, part of a free monthly course series for senior caregivers presented by BJC, is available from 1-2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 18 at Missouri Baptist Medical Center, 3015 N. Ballas Road in Town & Country, in Auditorium 1. The session will include tips for setting up, storing, recording and managing medications. A registered dietitian also will provide instruction on how to help meet dietary requirements and manage physician-prescribed diets. To register, call (314) 996-5433.
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Seniors living with any type of cardiovascular disease are invited to attend a free OASIS Institute Program, Pump It Up to Beat Cardiovascular Disease, from 9:30-11:30 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 7 at the Samuel C. Sachs Library Branch, 16400 Burkhardt Place in Chesterfield. The program, led by a physical therapist, teaches how to begin or improve upon a daily activity routine to help manage heart disease. To register, call (314) 996-5433.
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Conquer Your Hip Pain, a free seminar offering information about non-surgical and surgical hip treatment options, is offered from 6-7 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 9 at Des Peres Hospital, 2315 Dougherty Ferry Road in St. Louis, in the MyNewSelf Education Room. The session is conducted by an orthopedic physician. To register, visit www.despereshospital.com or call (855) 290-9355.