Health News That Makes You Go …

Th­ese ab­surd-sound­ing the­o­ries are on the verge of go­ing main­stream

Reader's Digest (India) - - Contents - HAL­LIE LEVINE SK­LAR

Six fringe med­i­cal the­o­ries that may be­come main­stream.

THE­ORY

Gluten is­sues are caused by C-sec­tions!

Nine per­cent of all In­dian ba­bies are born by Ce­sarean Sec­tion, and the num­ber of C-sec­tion births have grown, es­pe­cially in ur­ban ar­eas. “A baby born vagi­nally gets ex­posed to a huge lot of bac­te­ria while trav­el­ling through the birth canal com­pared with a C-sec­tion baby who lands in a sur­geon’s ster­ile gloves,” ex­plains Chris­tine John­son, PhD, MPH, se­nior staff epi­demi­ol­o­gist at the Henry Ford Health Sys­tem in Detroit, USA. “But we now think this early bac­te­rial ex­po­sure is cru­cial to im­mune sys­tem de­vel­op­ment.”

One Ger­man study of al­most 2000 chil­dren found that those de­liv­ered by C-sec­tion were about 80 per­cent more likely to de­velop celiac disease, a di­ges­tive dis­or­der trig­gered by eat­ing foods with gluten, a pro­tein in wheat, rye, and bar­ley. C-sec­tion ba­bies are also more than five times more likely to de­velop cer­tain al­ler­gies if ex­posed to al­ler­gens dur­ing the first year of life, ac­cord­ing to a 2013 study con­ducted by John­son.

Th­ese find­ings tie into the hy­giene hy­poth­e­sis, which holds that the lack of early childhood ex­po­sure to bac­te­ria in­creases sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to al­ler­gies. “Our bod­ies are evo­lu­tion­ar­ily de­signed to fight in­fec­tion,” ex­plains Todd Mahr, MD, a pe­di­atric al­ler­gist at Gun­der­son Lutheran Med­i­cal Center in Wis­con­sin, USA, and a spokesper­son for the Amer­i­can Academy of Pe­di­atrics (AAP). “When you limit ex­po­sure to germs and in­fec­tions, your im­mune sys­tem in­stead re­acts to sub­stances like dust mites, cer­tain foods, or pet dan­der.”

Use the news Avoid elec­tive C-sec­tions, but if you need one for med­i­cal rea­sons, all is not lost. Sev­eral stud­ies have found that breast-feed­ing pro­tects against celiac disease and al­ler­gies. Ask your pe­di­a­tri­cian to rec­om­mend when your baby should start eat­ing solid foods. The lat­est re­search shows that in­fants in­tro­duced to gluten grad­u­ally be­gin­ning at four months had a sig­nif­i­cantly lower in­ci­dence of celiac disease com­pared with those who were given gluten af­ter six months, ac­cord­ing to a Swedish study pub­lished ear­lier this year. One caveat: The AAP ad­vises against giv­ing any solid food be­fore four months of age.

THE­ORY

De­pres­sion is an in­flam­ma­tory dis­or­der!

For the past 50 years, the con­ven­tional wis­dom among many psy­chi­a­trists was that de­pres­sion was caused by a brain­chem­i­cal im­bal­ance such as low

lev­els of the feel- good hor­mone sero­tonin. But this didn’t ex­plain why rates of de­pres­sion have been steadily climb­ing. A 2011 study based on the WHO’s World Men­tal Health Sur­vey Ini­tia­tive cited in news­pa­per re­ports named In­dia as the most de­pressed na­tion in the world, with 35.9 per­cent of In­di­ans suf­fer­ing from a ma­jor de­pres­sive episode. En­ter the in­flam­ma­tion the­ory: In­flam­ma­tion oc­curs when you’re in­jured or ex­posed to disease-caus­ing germs. In re­sponse, your body’s im­mune sys­tem re­leases chem­i­cals called cy­tokines to fight off harm­ful or­gan­isms and re­pair dam­age. But now some ex­perts be­lieve that chronic ex­po­sure to cy­tokines—from in­flam­ma­tion caused by stress, diet, and en­vi­ron­men­tal tox­ins—may lower sero­tonin and con­trib­ute to de­pres­sion, says Charles Rai­son, MD, as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor in the depart­ment of psy­chi­a­try at the Univer­sity of Ari­zona, USA.

Sci­en­tists first made the con­nec­tion in the 1980s when they in­jected an­i­mals with bac­te­ria to trig­ger in­flam­ma­tion. The an­i­mals ex­hib­ited symp­toms of de­pres­sion: lethargy, loss of ap­petite, and avoid­ing so­cial con­tact. Sub­se­quent stud­ies by Dr Rai­son and oth­ers have found that de­pressed peo­ple have higher lev­els of in­flam­ma­tory chem­i­cals such as C-re­ac­tive pro­tein. In­trigued, Dr Rai­son’s team gave in­flix­imab—an anti-in­flam­ma­tory drug that treats au­toim­mune dis­eases—to peo­ple with ma­jor de­pres­sion and found that sub­jects with high lev­els of C-re­ac­tive pro­tein re­ported greater im­prove­ment in de­pres­sion symp­toms than those with­out in­flam­ma­tion.

While in­flam­ma­tion isn’t likely to be the pri­mary cause of de­pres­sion, ex­perts in­creas­ingly agree that it can pro­long or worsen it. Treat­ing de­pres­sion in pa­tients who have high lev­els of in­flam­ma­tion with anti-in­flam­ma­tory drugs may have a big im­pact on their mood.

Use the news The life­style choices that boost emo­tional well­be­ing (healthy diet, ex­er­cise, suf­fi­cient sleep) also re­duce the risk of in­flam­ma­tion—and thus de­pres­sion. A Span­ish study of more than 10,000 mid­dle-aged adults showed that those who ate a diet high in pro­cessed foods were about twice as likely to de­velop de­pres­sion com­pared with those who fol­lowed a Mediter­ranean diet (high in fish, fruits, veg­eta­bles, nuts, and mo­noun­sat­u­rated fats such as those in olive oil). You may also lower in­flam­ma­tion risk by us­ing med­i­ta­tion tech­niques, in­clud­ing deep breath­ing, walk­ing med­i­ta­tion, or yoga. Th­ese ac­tiv­i­ties help re­duce stress-in­duced in­flam­ma­tion among peo­ple with an in­flam­ma­tory-re­lated disease such as rheuma­toid arthri­tis or asthma, ac­cord­ing to a 2013 study by re­searchers at the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin-Madi­son, USA.

THE­ORY

Obe­sity is caused by a virus!

In­spi­ra­tion first struck obe­sity re­searcher Nik Dhu­rand­har at a din­ner party in Mum­bai, 25 years

ago. “I was speak­ing with a ve­teri­nar­ian who was an old fam­ily friend when he men­tioned that thou­sands of chick­ens that had died from a virus had be­come very fat,” re­calls Dhu­rand­har. “I said, wait a minute. You’d think a dy­ing chicken would waste away, not the op­po­site. My mind be­gan to spin. Was it pos­si­ble some­how that both con­di­tions were re­lated?”

Dhu­rand­har con­tin­ued study­ing the phe­nom­e­non. He soon re­al­ized that an­i­mals in­fected with the com­mon cold virus AD-36 gained weight. When he tested his the­ory on more than 500 peo­ple, he found that 30 per­cent of the obese sub­jects tested had been ex­posed to the AD-36 virus com­pared with only 11 per­cent of lean in­di­vid­u­als. Since then, fol­low-up stud­ies by other re­searchers have pro­duced sim­i­lar find­ings.

“We think the virus in­fects fat cells, caus­ing them to di­vide and grow faster than nor­mal,” ex­plains Dhu­rand­har. The sil­ver lin­ing: The virus ap­pears to im­prove blood­c­holes­terol and blood-su­gar lev­els. “Your body may pro­duce more fat cells, but that means there’s less fat left to travel to your liver and blood,” says Dhu­rand­har. This may help ex­plain why some over­weight peo­ple are less likely to have heart disease or di­a­betes than their thin­ner coun­ter­parts. While Dhu­rand­har ac­knowl­edges that the virus isn’t the sole cause of obe­sity, it may ex­plain why some peo­ple strug­gle to lose ki­los. “If you do have the obe­sity virus, it doesn’t mean you’re in­ca­pable of los­ing weight—it just means you’ll have to work a lot harder,” he ex­plains.

Use the news Over the next decade, re­searchers hope an obe­sity vac­cine will be­come avail­able to in­oc­u­late peo­ple against AD-36. (Re­searchers are also work­ing to iden­tify other viruses tied to obe­sity in hu­mans.) There’s no rea­son to get tested to de­ter­mine if you have been ex­posed to the virus; since about half of obese peo­ple haven’t, it’s clear that other fac­tors, such as life­style and ge­net­ics, play a big­ger role.

THE­ORY

The her­pes virus causes Alzheimer’s!

Could that pesky lit­tle cold sore be re­spon­si­ble for de­stroy­ing your mem­ory? It sounds in­cred­i­ble, but re­search done over the past 20 years sug­gests there’s a link be­tween the her­pes sim­plex virus (HSV-1) and Alzheimer’s disease. Ruth Itzhaki, PhD, a neu­ro­bi­ol­o­gist at the Univer­sity of Manch­ester in the United King­dom, de­cided to study this the­ory af­ter she learned that a rel­a­tively rare in­fec­tion called her­pes en­cephali­tis af­fected the same re­gions of the brain that Alzheimer’s does. Itzhaki went on

to do more re­search on HSV-1.

Af­ter she stud­ied post­mortem brain sam­ples, Itzhaki found that up to 75 per­cent of el­derly peo­ple, in­clud­ing Alzheimer’s pa­tients, had HSV-1 in their brains, while peo­ple who died of other causes at younger ages had no traces of the virus. Other stud­ies have shown a sim­i­lar link, in­clud­ing one by Columbia Univer­sity Med­i­cal Center pub­lished re­cently. It found a con­nec­tion be­tween blood lev­els of HSV-1 and cog­ni­tive de­cline in older adults. Itzhaki now wants to study whether tak­ing an oral an­tivi­ral drug pro­phy­lac­ti­cally can slow or stop the pro­gres­sion of Alzheimer’s.

Though shock­ing, the find­ings don’t mean that if you get cold sores, you are doomed to de­velop Alzheimer’s. How­ever, peo­ple who carry the virus and have other risk fac­tors may be more prone to de­men­tia. For ex­am­ple, those who have both HSV-1 and the APOE e4 gene, al­ready linked to Alzheimer’s, are much more likely to de­velop the brain disease than those with­out ei­ther, Itzhaki’s re­search found.

Use the news It’s best to re­duce your Alzheimer’s risk through life­style choices such as main­tain­ing a healthy body weight and ex­er­cis­ing reg­u­larly. The more phys­i­cally ac­tive you are, the less likely you are to de­velop Alzheimer’s, ac­cord­ing to a 2012 study by Rush Univer­sity Med­i­cal Center in Chicago, USA.

THE­ORY

Your wrin­kles pre­dict frag­ile bones!

Ex­perts reckon In­dia has some 36 mil­lion os­teo­poro­sis pa­tients, the ma­jor­ity of them older women. Even so post­menopausal women at risk aren’t al­ways screened for it. So could the state of your skin help im­prove os­teo­poro­sis screen­ing? When Yale re­searchers stud­ied 100 women in their late 40s and early 50s who had just en­tered menopause, they found that women with the most and deep­est wrin­kles also had the low­est bone den­sity at ma­jor sites such as the hip and spine.

Bone and skin share com­mon build­ing blocks, a group of pro­teins known as col­la­gens, which de­crease with age, says study au­thor Lubna Pal, MD, di­rec­tor of the Pro­gram for Poly­cys­tic Ovar­ian Syn­drome at Yale Univer­sity School of Medicine, USA. Dr Pal stum­bled upon this re­search seven years ago, when she pre­sented a study show­ing that women with low ovar­ian re­serves (egg stores) also had lower bone den­sity. “As many of my pa­tients ap­proached menopause, they com­plained about changes in their skin and thin­ning of their hair,” says Dr Pal. “It made me won­der if sim­i­lar things were go­ing on in­side—as they were los­ing col­la­gen in their skin, were they also

los­ing it in their bones?”

But don’t panic about the strength of your skeleton if your face is full of wrin­kles (and Dr Pal says we need more long-term stud­ies to fully un­der­stand the re­la­tion­ship be­tween wrin­kles and frac­tures). Your com­plex­ion is heav­ily in­flu­enced by other fac­tors such as sun ex­po­sure and ge­net­ics, cau­tions Feli­cia Cos­man, MD, spokesper­son for the [US] Na­tional Os­teo­poro­sis Foun­da­tion, so you may not nec­es­sar­ily need a bone scan.

Use the news If you’re go­ing through menopause and have no­ticed a bevy of wrin­kles, talk to your pri­mary-care physi­cian about whether you should have a base­line bone-den­sity scan, es­pe­cially if you have other risk fac­tors such as a fam­ily his­tory of os­teo­poro­sis, be­ing over­weight, smok­ing, or heavy drink­ing (more than two drinks a day).

THE­ORY

Elec­tric­ity is mak­ing us sick and fat!

Elec­tric­ity al­lows us to stay glued to our lap­tops or Xboxes un­til the wee hours of the morn­ing, but it may have se­ri­ous im­pli­ca­tions for our health and waist­lines, ac­cord­ing to a UK study pub­lished last year in the jour­nal Bioes­says. “For thou­sands of years, we were up at sun­rise and did most of our ac­tiv­i­ties dur­ing day­light hours. When it was dark, we had lit­tle to do be­sides sleep,” ex­plains study au­thor Cathy Wyse, PhD, a re­search fel­low in the school of bi­o­log­i­cal

sciences at the Univer­sity of Aberdeen in Scot­land. “But over the past cen­tury, we’ve come to rely on elec­tric­ity and be­gun stay­ing up late. This forces us to go against our nat­u­ral cir­ca­dian rhythms, which throws off im­por­tant hor­mones like mela­tonin, in­sulin, and cor­ti­sol.” Other ex­perts note that there’s strong ev­i­dence that shift work­ers have higher rates of breast can­cer, heart disease, and di­a­betes.

Wyse first sus­pected there was a link be­tween elec­tric­ity and health back in 2005, as she was study­ing the ef­fects of jet lag on the per­for­mance of race­horses. But her eureka mo­ment oc­curred a few years later, when she found that al­ter­ing the usual amount of time that mice were ex­posed to dark­ness and light caused them to gain weight and short­ened their life spans. “I re­mem­ber think­ing I’d made a mis­take be­cause the re­sults were so con­sis­tent,” she re­calls. “But when I re­peated the study in other an­i­mals, I got the same re­sults.” An ear­lier study seems to sup­port Wyse’s the­ory. It showed that peo­ple who move north, away from the equa­tor— where pe­ri­ods of day­light and night­time re­main con­stant through­out the year—to lat­i­tudes with greater night-day fluc­tu­a­tions ex­pe­ri­ence more weight gain.

Use the news Elec­tric­ity is here to stay, but you can limit its ef­fects on your health by keep­ing a reg­u­lar sleep sched­ule: Go to bed and wake up at the same time on week­days and on week­ends. A 2012 Univer­sity of Mu­nich study found that peo­ple with dif­fer­ent week­day and weekend sleep sched­ules had higher odds of be­ing over­weight. Make your room as dark as pos­si­ble by block­ing light from alarm clocks or phones. And limit night­time TV and com­puter use: For ex­am­ple, shut off ev­ery­thing by 10pm.

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