Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Vitamins and cognitive decline

The last post was about the benefits of exercise to preserve brain function as we age and slow the pretty inevitable cognitive decline that occurs in our 70s and beyond.

Sadly, though, but very understandably, most people would prefer to eat their way to better brain function rather than work their way in that direction, which is why there are all sorts of studies going on to try to find perfect – and easy to swallow – dietary and nutritional tools to slow brain function.

So towards that end, two recent studies of note, and there’s the usual good news/bad news divide from the findings.

The good news is that in one study, fish oil supplements seemed to improve cognitive function in a group of seniors, (although as always, I’d argue that if supplements work, then the real thing – fishies and shellfishies – would likely work even better).

The bad news in another study that claimed to have reviewed date on over 20,000 people – and this will be bad news for millions of people who’ve put their faith in this tactic - taking B vitamin supplements (including the very popular folic acid) had no benefit on easing cognitive decline or preventing dementia in seniors.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Exercise and your brain

Everyone should know by now that regular exercise is probably the best tool for preserving brain function as we age.

It’s especially important, of course, for older people with study after study showing that even if a person has done no exercise at all prior to entering their senior years, they can still slow cognitive decline by beginning to become more active.

What’s really important to stress, though, is that exercise seems to be particularly beneficial at preventing cognitive decline in the fist place, that is, that if you do some exercise starting earlier in life, say in early adulthood or even in midlife, you have a much better chance at preserving your cognitive function in your older years than if you all of a sudden take up jogging at the age of 75.

And it doesn’t take much exercise to get this benefit.

In fact, two recent studies from the venerable Mayo Clinics conclude that any exercised at all in midlife – that’s any exercise at all – slows cognitive decline and lowers the risk of dementia.

But clearly, the more you do (within reason, of course), the better for your brain.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Suppressed data

A study that received absolutely no attention from any health news reporters – it’s such an unsexy beast – is, however, a very important one for all of you to note.

In this report published in the journal, PLOS ONE, researchers from Boston University School of Public Health looked at 400 randomly selected clinical trials (what you and I would call “medical studies”) that were completed in the year 2008, and found that 118 of them had not been published.

In other words, about 1/3 of the findings of studies that were started with a view to finding out clinical information never got shared with the public.

Why not?

One can only speculate.

Most of the unpublished studies had been funded by pharmaceutical companies so one can only guess that if the data was unpublished, the most likely reason is that the data didn’t meet the expectations of the funders.

As well, of course, researchers way prefer to publish “positive” reports – they are much more likely to keep getting funded if their fata is helpful – and journals also prefer to publish “positive” stuff.

Bottom line: you should never be surprised when you learn that some drug that’s been out for a few years has been shown to have some unintended consequence.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Organic produce

A recent review of over 300 studies published in the British Journal of Nutrition concluded that organic produce contained more nutrients and less pesticide than non-organic produce.

To which my comment is: so what?

There is no way that this research – which has been heavily disputed - can indicate that people should who eat more organic produce are healthier than people who don’t eat that expensive stuff, and to the researchers credit, they admit that (albeit reluctantly and begrudgingly, I think).

In other words, the main nutritional benefits from fruits and veggies comes from the fact that they are fruits and veggies and adding in a bit more (or even a lot more) nutritional “hits” won’t make them any more useful for those of us who eat a lot of that stuff anyway.

Besides, there is a distinct potential risk to promoting only organic produce and that is the cost, so it would very likely be the case that some people who converted to organic produce from non-organic sources would cut down on their produce intake to save money (organic cherries at my favorite food outlet were 6.99 a pound this week, compared to non-organic cherries which could be had for 4.59; that’s roughly a 40 % difference in price).

Eat yer fruits and veggies and if you can afford them, buy the organic kind. But not because you’ll be healthier as a consequence, only because you think they taste better and they might be a bit better for the planet.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Test for Alzheimers disease

When is a medical “breakthrough” never a  real breakthrough?

Nearly always.

Simple 2 reasons: first, these days medical researchers hype their data beyond all reason, and second, very, very, very few medical reporters have absolutely any idea at all about how to interpret what they are fed by PR departments, on top of which hardly any of them – us, really – know the first thing about statistics.

Great example: a study out this week heavily hyped by British reporters and headlines (researchers were British) about a “breakthrough” blood test for Alzheimer’s in which the researchers claim to have come up with a test that can determine with “up to 87 %” accuracy which of the many people who have mild cognitive impairment (MCI) will actually go on to get AD over the next 10 years.

Only trouble is, when people better at this than me parsed the data, they concluded that the real predictability of this test as to whether any particular individual may develop AD is roughly 50 % (in fact, it can be as low as 47 %).

Hey, I don’t have to know anything at all about you and I can predict with 50 % accuracy whether you – or I – will develop AD simply by guessing “yes” or “no”.

Doubt that that would qualify as a breakthrough, though.