Health News That Makes You Go …
These absurd-sounding theories are on the verge of going mainstream
Six fringe medical theories that may become mainstream.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.