Adolescence redefined


Scientists argue in an article published in the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health that adolescence (the phase of life stretching between childhood and adulthood) should be redefined as lasing from ages 10 to 24 rather than the traditional definition of 14 to 19. Children now reach puberty at an average age of 10, which is four years earlier than the previous 14 years. And, the body continues to develop even after the age of 19. For instance, the brain continues to mature even after 20. Even though the legal age starts at 18, young people are continuing their education longer and postponing marriage and parenthood because of which adulthood now begins much later. According to the study author, “our current definition of adolescence is overly restricted and the ages of 10 to 24 years are a better fit with the development of adolescents nowadays.”

“An expanded and more inclusive definition of adolescence is essential for developmentally appropriate framing of laws, social policies, and service systems. Rather than age 10 to 19 years, a definition of 10 to 24, corresponds more closely to adolescent growth and popular understandings of this life phase and would facilitate extended investments across a broader range of settings.”

Did you Know

Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences have cloned two
monkeys using the same cloning technique that created Dolly the sheep in 1996.


Obesity increases risk of prostate cancer

Prostate cancer patients who have their prostate removed (radical prostatectomy) have a higher risk of recurrence if they are obese and have metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors including high blood sugar, abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels, obesity and high blood pressure that increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. According to the study author Dr Arash Samiei, “Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, and up to 30 per cent of patients will develop recurrence after radical prostatectomy.” For the study presented at an American Association for Cancer Research meeting, researchers analysed data from 1,100 prostate cancer patients—average age 60—who had their prostate removed.

Thirty-four per cent of the patients were obese and 19 per cent had metabolic syndrome. During four years of follow up, prostate cancer returned in 32 per cent of obese patients compared to in about 17 per cent of those who were not obese.

Patients with metabolic syndrome had a more than fourfold higher risk of prostate cancer recurrence than those without the syndrome. “Our study indicates that prostate cancer patients who are obese or have metabolic syndrome undergoing radical prostatectomy may have a higher chance for recurrence of the disease, and they should have more focused follow-up care. By preventing metabolic syndrome, men with prostate cancer may have a higher chance of a favourable oncological outcome following surgery.”

Did you Know

Swatting may actually keep mosquitoes away. Mosquitoes are smart enough to associate the scent of a person with swatting vibrations and they tend to avoid that target and move on to the next one.

Current Biology

Gardening may help cancer survivors

Gardening could be a good hobby to improve health, physical activity and well-being of older cancer survivors. For the study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 46 cancer survivors—60 years and above—were randomly assigned to a year-long gardening intervention programme or to a waiting list for the gardening programme. The participants’ overall health, diet, physical performance, behavioural and psychosocial outcomes, and biomarkers were assessed before the study and one year later. The gardening group was helped by master gardeners to establish three seasonal vegetable gardens at their homes over the course of the year.

At the end of the study, gardeners tended to gain less weight around their waists and were eating more fruits and vegetables than the waitlist participants. Gardeners also reported a significantly increased feeling of worth, while the waitlist group saw a decline in feelings of worth. Ninety-one per cent of the gardeners stuck with the programme; 70 per cent rated their experience as excellent, and 85 per cent said they would do it again. Holistic approaches like gardening can “improve lifestyle behaviours and health of cancer survivors long term,” the study author noted.

Did you Know

Teens who spent a lot of time on digital media reported lower levels of happiness than teens who spent more time engaging in non-screen activities such as reading magazines and newspapers, sports, and direct social interactions. The happiest teens spent only an hour a day on digital media.


Age no bar

Age in itself is not a risk factor for surgical complications among older patients even though it is one of the factors that surgeons usually consider when assessing a patient’s risk of developing complications after surgery.

According to a study published in the journal BMC Medicine, factors like frailty, cognitive impairment, depression and smoking were more associated with developing complications after elective surgery than age. The findings were based on 44 studies including 12,281 patients—60 years and above—undergoing elective surgery.

Overall, 25 per cent of the patients experienced some complications following elective surgery. Patients who were frail or suffering from dementia had double the risk for serious complications like pneumonia, infections and blood clots, post-surgery. According to the authors, frailty represents a patient’s biological age as opposed to their chronological age. “Older adults are a diverse group of patients whose risk of postoperative complications is not solely defined by their age, comorbidities or the type of surgical procedure they receive. With this population, there is potential to intervene to improve outcomes following surgery by identifying and addressing risk factors before surgery, in particular with risk factors like smoking and depressive symptoms. These factors could be targeted in the preoperative clinic, potentially leading to better outcomes for older adults undergoing elective surgery,” the study author noted.

New hope for migraine sufferers

Two new drugs offer hope for migraine sufferers. The findings of stage 3 clinical trials of both drugs were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The erenumab trial included 955 people with episodic migraines who were randomly assigned to receive low dose monthly injection of the drug, high dose monthly injection of the drug or a placebo, for six months.

Forty-three per cent of those who received the low dose and 50 per cent of patients who received the high dose reported that their migraine frequency and severity was reduced by at least half. Only 26.6 per cent of those who received the placebo reported such improvement. Those who received either dose of erenumab also reported significant improvements in physical impairments caused by migraine and reduced use of acute migraine medications.

The fremanezumab trial included 1,130 people with chronic migraine who received either a monthly injection of the drug, a quarterly injection of the drug or a placebo. After three months, 41 per cent of those who received the monthly drug injection and 38 per cent of those who received the quarterly injection reported their headaches had been reduced by at least half compared to just 18 per cent of those who had received the placebo.

Teen drinking linked to liver disease

Drinking alcohol in your teen years can increase your risk of severe liver disease later in life. The study published in the Journal of Hepatology was based on an analysis of data on 43,296 men aged 18 to 20, when they entered military service in 1969 and 1970. Over 39 years of follow up, 383 of the men developed cirrhosis and other types of severe liver disease, as well as liver failure. Some also died from liver disease.

The risk was dose-dependent and increased with the number of drinks consumed. The risk was most pronounced in young men who had two drinks a day or more in their teen years. “Our study showed that how much you drink in your late teens can predict the risk of developing cirrhosis later in life,” said the lead researcher. According to the researchers, the current guidelines for safe levels of alcohol consumption by men need to be reconsidered. Depending on the country, current guidelines recommend no more than two to three drinks a day for men. “If these results lead to lowering the cut-off levels for a 'safe' consumption of alcohol in men, and if men adhere to recommendations, we may see a reduced incidence of alcoholic liver disease in the future.”

Don’t stifle a sneeze

Don’t try to stifle a sneeze, you could rupture your throat. BMJ Case Reports published the case study of a 34-year-old man, who ruptured the back of his throat and lost his voice after he tried to stop a sneeze by pinching his nose and closing his mouth. He experienced a popping sensation in his neck, which started swelling. He also experienced difficulty swallowing and speaking. The doctors found air bubbles in his neck and chest and determined that the stifled sneeze had perforated one of the man's sinuses. The patient had to spend seven days in the hospital. He was treated with antibiotics, had to be fed by tube, until his symptoms subsided.

“Halting sneeze by blocking nostrils and mouth is a dangerous manoeuvre and should be avoided, as it may lead to numerous complications such as pneumomediastinum, perforation of tympanic membrane and even rupture of cerebral aneurysm,” the study authors advised.

Did you Know

Regular religious participation can improve health and lower mortality. Middle-aged and older adults who attend religious services regularly—at least once a week—have a 40 per cent lower risk of death from all causes compared to people who don’t.


Reproductive factors influence cardiovascular risk

Several reproductive factors, including early age of menarche and menopause, pregnancy complications and hysterectomy, have a bearing on women’s risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVD), including heart disease and stroke later in life.

The study published in the journal Heart was based on over 500,000 people—aged 40 to 69—including 267,440 women without any cardiovascular disease at the start of the study. During seven years of follow up, there were 9,054 cases of CVD, of which 34 per cent were women. Women with their first period before 12 had a 10 per cent greater risk of CVD than those who started menstruating at 13 or above.

Women who went through menopause before 47 had a 33 per cent increased CVD risk and a 42 per cent greater stroke risk. Miscarriages were also linked to CVD risk, increasing by 6 per cent for every miscarriage. Stillbirth increased overall CVD risk by 22 per cent, and stroke risk by 44 per cent. Hysterectomy was linked to a 12 per cent greater CVD risk and a 20 per cent greater heart disease risk. CVD risk was doubled in women who had their ovaries removed before the hysterectomy. Women who had children at a young age also had an increased CVD risk. But, the risk dropped three per cent with each additional year. “More frequent cardiovascular screening would seem to be sensible among women who are early in their reproductive cycle, or who have a history of adverse reproductive events or a hysterectomy, as this might help to delay or prevent their onset of CVD,” the study authors suggested.

Fatal puff

Smoking just one cigarette a day can significantly increase your risk of heart disease and stroke, according to a study published in the BMJ.

“What this tells us is that people who smoke shouldn’t just cut down, they should aim to stop smoking altogether. There is no safe level of smoking,” said the lead author of the study. The researchers analysed data from 141 studies to estimate the relative risks for heart disease and stroke among those who smoked one, five, and 20 cigarettes per day. Compared to nonsmokers, men who smoked just once a day had a 48 per cent increased risk of heart disease and a 25 per cent increased risk of stroke. For women the increased risk was 57 per cent and 31 per cent, respectively.

When they focused on studies that controlled for several other risk factors, smoking just one cigarette a day increased the risks of heart disease and stroke by 74 per cent and 30 per cent, respectively, in men and 119 per cent and 46 per cent, respectively, in women. This is a wakeup call for smokers, especially young people, who believe that light smoking carries little or no harm. Smoking just one cigarette a day carries about half the risk for developing heart disease and stroke of smoking 20 cigarettes a day. “People who smoke less can benefit from big risk reductions for disorders like lung cancer. But, we would encourage those who are cutting back to go one step further and stop smoking entirely to reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke. The great news is that much of the risk of heart disease and stroke goes away only a few years after stopping.”

Turmeric improves mood and memory

Turmeric, a staple in Indian dishes, can improve mood and memory in people with mild, age-related memory loss, according to a study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. Curcumin—a compound found in turmeric—has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. To examine the effects of curcumin supplement on memory, 40 adults—aged 51 to 84—with mild memory complaints (not dementia) were randomly assigned to receive either 90 milligrams of curcumin or a placebo twice daily for 18 months. The participants took cognitive tests at the start of the double-blind study and every six months. Curcumin levels in their blood were assessed at the start and end of the study.

Thirty of the participants also had positron emission tomography (PET) scans, to determine the levels of amyloid and tau (two proteins linked to Alzheimer's disease) in their brains, at the start and end of the study. Unlike those in the placebo group, those who took curcumin supplements experienced significant improvements in their memory and attention abilities. They saw a 28 per cent improvement in memory tests. They also had mild improvements in mood. Their brain PET scans showed significantly less amyloid and tau signals in the amygdala and hypothalamus—regions of the brain that control memory and emotional functions—than those who took placebos. “Exactly how curcumin exerts its effects is not certain, but it may be due to its ability to reduce brain inflammation, which has been linked to both Alzheimer’s disease and major depression,” the study author said.

“These results suggest that taking this relatively safe form of curcumin may have a potential for not only improving age-related memory decline but also preventing or possibly staving off progression of neurodegeneration and eventually future symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.”