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Past News Items - January 2010

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In the News

Health Care Community Highlights Self Care, Patient-Physician Communication

Toxicants Detected in Asian Monkey Hair May Warn of Environmental Threats to People and Wildlife

Higher Levels of Protein Hormone Associated With Lower Risk of Dementia, Alzheimer Disease

Regular Coffee, Decaf, and Tea All Associated With Reduced Risk for Diabetes

Released: 01/01/10

Health Care Community Highlights Self Care, Patient-Physician Communication

Organizations and individuals all over the world will be celebrating International Integrative Medicine Day on January 23, 2010, an initiative spearheaded by the American Medical Student Association with partners Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine and the American Chronic Pain Association.  

International Integrative Medicine Day will increase awareness and availability of integrative medicine, promote interprofessional collaboration, encourage self-care, foster cultural awareness, and enhance patient-physician communication. Individuals and organizations that celebrate the day are encouraged to enhance health and promote a sense of community by sharing a healthy meal in a group setting, hosting experiential workshops that increase awareness of integrative medicine, or simply taking a moment to slow down from the rush of daily life.

As defined by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, integrative medicine "combines mainstream medical therapies and CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) for which there is some high-quality scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness” while addressing the whole person—body, mind, and spirit. Research shows that cardiac complications, diabetes, and obesity may be alleviated and even prevented through the use of integrative modalities like a nutritious diet, physical activity, stress management, and healthy lifestyle choices.

“The Integrative Medicine approach empowers patients and may increase their quality of life,” says Ilana Seidel, fourth-year medical student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and coordinator for International Integrative Medicine Day. “Because many integrative modalities are inexpensive or even free, they are an option for underserved communities, resulting in more accessible health care and the ability to create a healthier nation.”

If your organization is interested in becoming an International Integrative Medicine Day partner, please e-mail Partners are organizations, institutions, or agencies that facilitate, organize, fund, or promote an activity.

Toxicants Detected in Asian Monkey Hair May Warn of Environmental Threats to People and Wildlife

Testing hair from Asian monkeys living close to people may provide early warnings of toxic threats to humans and wildlife, according to a study published recently in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

In parts of South and Southeast Asia, macaques and people are synanthropic, which means they share the same ecological niche. They drink from identical water sources, breathe the same air, share food sources, and play on the same ground.

"Macaques are similar to humans anatomically, physiologically, and behaviorally," said the senior author on the study, Dr Lisa Jones-Engel, a senior research scientist at the National Primate Research Center at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle.

"They are also similar in their response to toxic exposures," said lead author Dr Gregory Engel, a physician at Swedish Cherry Hill Family Medicine in Seattle and a research scientist at the UW National Primate Research Center. When macaques live in environments polluted by motor vehicles, openly disposed garbage, and industrial waste, they can come into contact with toxic substances such as lead, just as their human neighbors might.

Lead toxicity, the authors noted, remains a significant public health problem around the world. Intense exposure to lead can damage the nervous, circulatory, and reproductive systems, as well as the kidneys and liver. Exposure during childhood, according to other studies, may cause more subtle effects, such as decreased intelligence.

According to Jones-Engel, the researchers hypothesized that young macaques, in particular, would be good sentinels for human exposure to lead exposure because they tend to pick up objects and put them into their mouths, just as young children do.

She and her team of primatologists, physicians, epidemiologists, veterinarians, and toxicologists decided to test urban macaques as a potential early indicator that their human neighbors, especially the children, are being exposed to lead and other toxic metals. They took hair samples from three groups of free-ranging macaques at the Swoyambhu temple overlooking Kathmandu, Nepal. The macaques patrolling the site have abundant contact with people and with human-made environments. This World Heritage Site temple is located in a densely populated urban area with poor infrastructure that leaves point sources like discarded lead batteries, flaking leaded paint, and lead-contaminated soil, a by-product of decades of leaded fuel, in the environment.

Hair lead levels differed among the three groups of macaques and were much higher in younger macaques. The researchers’ data did not support the idea that these lead levels were from basic differences in the animals’ diet and instead suggested that in this population of macaques, behavioral or physiological factors among young macaques might play a significant role in determining exposure to lead and subsequent tissue concentration.

Animals have been used as sentinels of poisonous conditions for people for centuries. For instance, from the 19th century and well into the 20th century, coal miners sent canaries into mining shafts to check if the air was safe to breathe. Researchers in this study concede that using animal sentinels is not new but also argue that young macaques sharing the same ecological niche with humans may be the most relevant animal sentinels to study.

The research team concluded, "Chemical analysis of hair is a promising, noninvasive technique for determining exposure to toxic elements in free-ranging, nonhuman primates, and further multidisciplinary research is needed to establish whether it can be used to predict lead levels in humans who live in the same areas."

Higher Levels of Protein Hormone Associated With Lower Risk of Dementia, Alzheimer Disease

People with higher levels of leptin, a protein hormone produced by fat cells and involved in the regulation of appetite, may have an associated reduced incidence of Alzheimer disease (AD) and dementia, according to a study in a recent issue of JAMA.

Previous studies have shown that overweight and obesity in midlife are associated with poorer cognitive function in the general population and an increased risk of dementia. There has been evidence that leptin exerts additional functions on the brain outside the hypothalamus (a region of the brain that controls body temperature, hunger, and thirst).

Wolfgang Lieb, MD, of the Framingham Heart Study, Framingham, Massachusetts, and colleagues examined the relationship between measurements of plasma leptin concentrations and incidence of dementia and AD. For this study, plasma leptin concentrations were measured in 785 people without dementia (average age, 79 years; 62% female) who were in the original Framingham study group at the 22nd examination cycle (1990-1994). A subsample of 198 dementia-free survivors underwent volumetric brain magnetic resonance imaging between 1999 and 2005, approximately 7.7 years after leptin was measured. Two measures of brain aging were assessed: total cerebral brain volume and temporal horn (a region of the brain) volume, both of which are markers of early AD pathology and subsequent dementia risk. The researchers conducted follow-up for new cases of dementia and AD until December 2007. During a median (midpoint) follow-up of 8.3 years, 111 participants developed dementia; 89 of them were diagnosed with AD.

The researchers found that higher leptin levels were associated with a lower incidence of all-cause dementia and AD. The incidence of dementia decreased gradually across increasing levels of leptin: a person with a baseline leptin level in the lowest quartile group had a 25% risk of developing AD after 12 years of follow-up, whereas the corresponding risk for a person in the top quartile group was only 6%.

Higher leptin levels also were associated with higher total cerebral brain volume. Lower temporal horn volume was not significantly related to leptin levels.

“These findings are consistent with recent experimental data indicating that leptin improves memory function in animals through direct effects on the hippocampus and strengthens the evidence that leptin is a hormone with a broad set of actions in the central nervous system. Due to the exploratory character of the present analyses, we did not adjust for multiple comparisons and acknowledge that our findings require confirmation in independent samples,” the authors wrote.

They concluded, “If our findings are confirmed by others, leptin levels in older adults may serve as one of several possible biomarkers for healthy brain aging and, more importantly, may open new pathways for possible preventive and therapeutic intervention. Further exploration of the molecular and cellular basis for the observed association may expand our understanding of the pathophysiology underlying brain aging and the development of AD.”

Regular Coffee, Decaf, and Tea All Associated With Reduced Risk for Diabetes

Individuals who drink more coffee (regular or decaffeinated) or tea appear to have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to an analysis of previous studies reported in a recent issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

By the year 2025, approximately 380 million individuals worldwide will be affected by type 2 diabetes. "Despite considerable research attention, the role of specific dietary and lifestyle factors remains uncertain, although obesity and physical inactivity have consistently been reported to raise the risk of diabetes mellitus," the authors wrote. A previously published meta-analysis suggested drinking more coffee may be linked with a reduced risk, but the amount of available information has more than doubled since.

Rachel Huxley, DPhil, of The George Institute for International Health, University of Sydney, Australia, and colleagues identified 18 studies involving 457 922 participants and assessing the association between coffee consumption and diabetes risk published between 1966 and 2009. Six studies involving 225 516 individuals also included information about decaffeinated coffee, whereas seven studies with 286 701 participants reported on tea consumption.

When the authors combined and analyzed the data, they found that each additional cup of coffee consumed in a day was associated with a 7% reduction in the excess risk of diabetes. Individuals who drank 3 to 4 cups per day had an approximately 25% lower risk than those who drank between 0 and 2 cups per day.

In addition, in the studies that assessed decaffeinated coffee consumption, those who drank more than 3 to 4 cups per day had about a one-third lower risk of diabetes than those who drank none. Those who drank more than 3 to 4 cups of tea had a one-fifth lower risk.

Because of the association between decaffeinated coffee and diabetes risk, the association is unlikely to be solely related to caffeine. Other compounds in coffee and tea—including magnesium, antioxidants known as lignans or chlorogenic acids—may be involved, the authors noted.

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