Monthly Archives: August 2009

Obesity linked to smaller brain size

Fat shadowObesity (which currently affects about 26% of the world’s population) is associated with a wide range of health problems. Obese individuals are more likely to develop:

-Heart disease and stroke
-High blood pressure
-Gallbladder disease and gallstones
-Breathing problems, such as sleep apnea and asthma
-A generally poorer quality of life

and we can now add to that list: SMALLER BRAIN.

Researchers at UCLA Neurology have found a correlation between body mass index and brain weight. Their findings indicate that individuals who are obese tend to have smaller and lighter brains (6% smaller).

The most pronounced differences were observed in the prefrontal cortex (executive region of the brain, responsible for cognition (planning, decision making, etc)), and the parts of the brain that support memory, such as the hippocampus. The differences in brain mass and size made the brains of obese individuals look 16 years old than those of healthy weight. The researchers believe that these differences put obese individuals at a much higher risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia and reduced cognitive abilities.

However, some researchers are skeptical; suggesting that this may be a chicken or egg situation. Some of the brain areas that were found smaller in the obese also control aspects of eating and metabolism. They suggest that shrinkage in these brain areas may lead to obesity, rather than the other way around.

Regardless, the number of health risks associated with obesity are significant. Solution? As always, proper diet and exercise.


Out with the old, in with the new: Two potential avenues for asthma treatment!

That inhaler may look cool, but what’s inside may change in the coming years, and that, too me, is what’s really cool.

Currently, asthma is primarily treated with two types of  medicine; corticosteroids (long acting, anti-inflammatory) and bronchodilators (fast-acting, airway opening).   There are others (i.e. antihistamines, decongestants, immunotherapy injections) but the two previously mention types of meds are far and away the most commonly prescribed.  Even though these drugs are effective, there are side effects/drawbacks.  Some are less serious, such as tremors, or mild agitation, but other reports, even if rare, are pretty scary.  For example, some research has indicated that if a patient over-relies on bronchodilators, as opposed to taking their daily maintenance anti-inflammatory medication, they may end up worsening their condition (Salpeter et al. 2004). Even scarier, is the FDA’s investigation into Singulair’s effect on mood and suicidality.

Both of these a fore mentioned medications work at a relatively superficial level. And, as just mentioned, the existing medications have physiological side effects but can also effect the mind, mood and behavior. Fortunately, two new possibly superior treatment avenues have recently emerged.  Actually, the stories hit press over the course of two days!  (It is a very exciting time for asthma research!)

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, right here in Philadelphia, have discovered that a form of communication between cells, known as “cellular crosstalk” is responsible for the creation of smooth muscle matter in the lungs (and cardiovascular system).

One aspect of asthma, especially severe and chronic asthma, is that repeated irritation and inflammation causes airway walls to become thickened.  These researchers are suggesting that new treatments may interject on this specific type of cellular communication, thereby disrupting the creation of unnecessary airway muscle.  While it is great that we are beginning to understand some of the underlying etiology of asthma to this degree, this avenue for treatment will not likely be applicable to the majority of asthma sufferers who have a mild or moderate severity.

The second recent advancement in the asthma treatment research field was the discovery of an enzyme linked to initiation of inflammation (aldose reductase).  The researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston found that aldose reductase is the enzyme primarily responsible for the initiation of allergic inflammation in the lungs (one of the primary characteristics of asthma).  The great new is that aldose reductase inhibitors have already been proven effective in animal models for other disorders such as atherosclerosis, and colon cancer. The researchers claim that this form of treatment may also be able to be inhaled, and have a much longer lasting effect.

Only time, research and clinical trials will tell, but it’s great to see that we are closing in on treatments that could be more effective, work on a deeper level, and have less side effects than the current medications.

Not’s Newt all that bad!

I’m back.  Let’s get down to business.

This wouldn’t be a proper health blog without some discussion of the newest push for health care reform.

With all the arguing, yelling and misinformation surrounding the current push for health care reform it’s really nice to see people getting along.  Here’s a positive statement from former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich regarding the new plan.

“One of the biggest components missing in the current health debate is health. We must ensure that health is always the driving focus of any reform effort. We at the Center for Health Transformation call this “health-based health reform.”

Exactly!  Seems intuitive, but obviously this stuff gets messy once existing programs, insurance, etc all get thrown in.

One aspect of the new reform that is inherently “health-based” are the preventative care measures.  Preventive care, at it’s core,  has the goal of optimal health in mind.  Preventive care measures ignore the messy parts and shoot directly at improvements in health (pro-actively, which is something the American health care system desperately needs, a switch from reactive to a proactive stance on health). A major component of the proposed reforms include preventive care programs.  Newt goes on:

“I give President Obama high marks for his recent letter to Sens. Max Baucus and Edward M. Kennedy which noted that health reform must entail more than insurance coverage. He stressed the importance of finding what works and then creating incentives for its widespread adoption. What he needs to do is put specific policies behind his words.”

That’s right.  No one wants to reinvent the wheel. But it is tough to see where the plan’s rubber meets the road.  To do this, I think, they should emphasize  the smaller changes to the system, those that will more directly lead to cost-reduction AND improved outcomes (e.g. making ALL medical records electronic, making coordinated care the standard, etc).  These are a far cry from socialism or a fully government-run health care system.

Why are people so eager to ignore these aspects of the proposed reform?  I guess they like paying nearly double what most developed countries pay for care.