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Eat less to live long

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Cutting daily calorie intake can help slow ageing and metabolism, and protect against age-related diseases, according to a US study published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

Animal studies have already linked lower calorie intake to longer lives. But, this is the first time the effects of calorie restriction has been studied in humans.

Fifty three healthy, non-obese adults aged 21 to 50 were included in the study. Among them, 34 participants were assigned to a calorie-restriction group and reduced their calorie intake by 15 per cent for 2 years, and 19 to a control group.

Those in the calorie restriction group lost an average of about 9kg, although they did not follow any particular diet, while the controls gained 1.8kg.

Calorie restriction also decreased oxidative stress and has slowed metabolism.

Oxidative stress can lead to overproduction of free radicals and has been linked to age-related neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, as well as cancer, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Slower metabolism is associated with healthy ageing as the organisms that burn energy most efficiently have a longer lifespan.

"Restricting calories can slow your basal metabolism, and if by-products of metabolism accelerate ageing processes, calorie restriction sustained over several years may help to decrease risk for chronic disease and prolong life," the lead author explained.

High blood pressure linked to miscarriages

Keep your blood pressure in check for a healthy pregnancy. Having elevated blood pressure before pregnancy and early in pregnancy can increase the risk of miscarriage, even in women who do not have a diagnosis of hypertension.

The study published in the journal Hypertension included 1,228 women, of an average age 28.7 years, who had already suffered a miscarriage and were trying again to become pregnant.

The women had their blood pressure taken while trying to conceive and again during early pregnancy. Average blood pressure reading before pregnancy was 111.6/72.5 mmHg. Twenty four per cent of the 797 women who conceived within six months suffered a miscarriage.

Every 10-point increase in diastolic blood pressure (lower number) was associated with an 18 per cent higher risk of miscarriage. Every 10-point increase in mean arterial pressure (an average of the lower and higher numbers) was associated with a 17 per cent higher risk of pregnancy loss.

The findings were similar for preconception and early-pregnancy blood pressure.

“The impact of cardiovascular risk factors starts really early in life. Physicians treating women of reproductive age should pay attention to slightly elevated blood pressure because it may have other not-well-recognised effects, such as adverse pregnancy outcome. Preconception is a previously unrecognised critical window for intervention such as lifestyle changes that can help prevent later heart disease and may also improve reproductive health,” the senior author of the study added.

Did you Know

Applying an ice cube to the skin for two minutes could significantly reduce the pain associated with local anaesthetic injections.

Emergency Medicine Journal

Video game helps calm schizophrenia patients

Schizophrenia patients can be trained to control the part of the brain associated with verbal hallucinations using an MRI scanner and a computerised rocket game.

The British study published in the journal Translational Psychiatry provides hope for schizophrenia patients who do not respond to medications to control these symptoms.

Seventy per cent schizophrenia patients hear hallucinated voices causing great distress and disruption to daily life. Around 30 per cent of patients who experience these verbal hallucinations do not respond to medication.

Twelve patients who experienced verbal hallucinations daily were asked to play a video game while in an MRI scanner.

The researchers designed a 'neuro-feedback' technique, where patients in a MRI scanner could monitor their own neural activity in a brain region—sensitive to speech and human voices—and is hyperactive in people with schizophrenia and verbal hallucinations.

Using their own mental strategies, the participants had to move a computerised rocket —which represented the neural activity in the speech sensitive region of the brain—and land it on earth.

After doing this over four visits, the patients were able to reduce neural activity in the brain region and eventually were able to control their brain activity without the visual feedback from the space rocket.

The patients learnt lasting strategies that helped them “to calm their external voices down, so that they were able to internalise them more,” the study concluded.

“We encouraged our patients to use at home the same control strategies that they learnt in the MRI scanner. The patients know when the voices are about to start—they can feel it, so we want them to immediately put this aid into effect to lessen them, or stop the voices completely. Our study has shown that people with schizophrenia can learn some sort of mental strategy to help their symptoms—something which several years of medication has not helped with,” the lead researcher noted.

Unwanted hair growth in women should be tested

Women with unwanted dark, coarse hair growing on their face, chest or back should be tested for polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and other underlying health conditions, according to an Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

"Excess facial or body hair is not only distressing to women, it is often a symptom of an underlying medical problem. It is important to see your health care provider to find out what is causing the excess hair growth and treat it,” said the chair of the guideline task force.

Hirsutism, a condition where women have unwanted hair growth in areas where men typically grow hair, affects about 5 to 10 per cent of women, and can be caused by PCOS—a common condition that can cause infertility and metabolic health problems.

As per the new guidelines, all women with hirsutism should be tested for elevated levels of testosterone and other male sex hormones called androgens. Although all women have small amounts of these hormones, women with PCOS and other conditions that cause hirsutism tend to have elevated levels.

Mild cases of hirsutism with no sign of an underlying condition can be treated with medication or direct hair removal. Oral contraceptives are recommended as the first line treatment for most women with hirsutism who are not trying to become pregnant.

For women who choose hair removal therapy, the Society recommends photoepilation for women with unwanted auburn, brown or black hair, and electrolysis for those with unwanted white or blonde hair. Women of colour, who choose photoepilation should opt for a long wavelength, long pulse-duration light source to avoid complications.

Did you Know

Older adults with slower walking speeds, and those who experience a greater decline in their walking speed over time, are at a higher risk for dementia.

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society

In utero epilepsy drug exposure linked to lower school grades

Foetal exposure to certain epilepsy drugs is linked to significantly lower school test scores, according to a UK study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.

Women who take epilepsy drugs are advised to continue taking them during pregnancy because seizures can harm both the mother and the unborn child.

Taking certain epilepsy drugs like sodium valproate during pregnancy is already associated with neuro-developmental disorders and cognitive impairment.

The researchers examined math, language and science test scores of 440 children, of an average age 7, whose mothers had been diagnosed with epilepsy before their pregnancy. They were compared with a matched group whose mothers did not have epilepsy.

The mothers took either carbamazepine, lamotrigine or sodium valproate; a combination of drugs; or no drug treatment. Children born to mothers who took no drugs, or carbamazepine or lamotrigine, performed just as well as those born to mothers without epilepsy.

But those whose mothers took sodium valproate during their pregnancy scored 13 per cent lower on their tests than those in the comparison group.

Children born to mothers who took a combination of epilepsy drugs performed the worst:19-22 per cent lower.

"Women with epilepsy should be informed of this risk and alternative treatment regimens should be discussed before their pregnancy with a physician who specialises in epilepsy," the study authors noted. "While this study highlights the risk of cognitive effects in the children of mothers prescribed sodium valproate or multiple [anti-epilepsy drugs], it is important to acknowledge that some epilepsies are difficult to manage without these treatment regimens."

Antacids and antibiotics increase allergy risks in infants

Babies who are given antacids or antibiotics in the first 6 months of infancy have a significantly higher risk for allergies or asthma in childhood.

The study published in JAMA Paediatrics was based on 7,92,130 children who were followed for an average period of 4.6 years.

Babies who were given antacids had double the risk for developing food allergies, and about a 50 per cent increased risk for asthma, medication allergies, hay fever (allergies to dust and pollen) and for developing a severe allergic reaction to foreign toxins known as anaphylaxis.

Antibiotic exposure in infancy doubled children's future asthma risk and also increased their risk for hay fever, eye allergies and anaphylaxis by 50 per cent.

Acid suppressing drugs and antibiotics can alter the normal human micro-biome and contribute to allergic diseases. A balanced environment of microbes is critical for the immune system to function optimally.

Antacids can also reduce protein digestion in the stomach which may lead to food allergies. According to the researchers, parents should be cautious about giving antacids to babies who spit up a lot. Instead, they should try feeding babies smaller and more frequent meals and burping them often.

“Acid-suppressive medications and antibiotics should be used during infancy only in situations of clear clinical benefit,” the study concluded.

Injectable Bandage

A US research team led by Dr Akhilesh K. Gaharwar has developed an injectable bandage that can stop bleeding quickly and heal wounds faster, especially internal wounds.

The researchers used a commonly used thickening agent known as kappa-carrageenan, obtained from seaweed, and clay-based nanoparticles, to form injectable hydrogels which promote hemostasis (stop bleeding) and wound healing.

Hydrogels are a 3-D water swollen polymer network, similar to Jell-O, simulating the structure of human tissues.

“Injectable hydrogels are promising materials for achieving hemostasis in case of internal injuries and bleeding, as these biomaterials can be introduced into a wound site using minimally invasive approaches,” said Gaharwar. “An ideal injectable bandage should solidify after injection in the wound area and promote a natural clotting cascade. In addition, the injectable bandage should initiate wound healing response after achieving hemostasis.” The findings were published in the journal Acta Biomaterialia.

Non-surgical option for osteoarthritic knee pain

A nonsurgical treatment called geniculate artery embolisation (GAE) could reduce knee pain and improve quality of life for patients with osteoarthritis, according to the findings of a research presented at the annual meeting of the Society of Interventional Radiology.

Much of the pain associated with knee arthritis is due to inflammation in the lining of the knee joint, which is often aggravated by increased blood flow to the lining.

The minimally invasive procedure involves blocking the tiny blood vessels in the lining using micro-particles, made from a synthetic gel-like material, that are injected using a catheter run through a pinhole-sized incision.

The procedure takes about 45 to 90 minutes and there are no side effects. Physical therapy is not required before or after the procedure.

Thirteen patients with moderate to severe arthritis pain had the procedure. The patients reported significantly reduced pain and stiffness, and improvement in physical function and range of motion.

Overall, there was an 80 per cent improvement in function compared with pre-procedure conditions.

According to lead researcher Dr Sandeep Bagla, the procedure will be most effective for people between ages 40 and 70 who are not ready to go through knee replacement, or people who are on chronic pain medication for their knee arthritis.

"This procedure could have a significant impact in the treatment of osteoarthritis pain as a whole,” said Bagla. “The current mainstay of treatment in patients who have arthritis are pain medications, which come with significant side effects and risks. But GAE provides another option for patients struggling with pain and may even allow patients to avoid the painful recovery of knee surgery.”

Did You know

Children born to parents who are cousins have an increased risk for common mood disorders such as depression and anxiety and psychoses.

JAMA Psychiatry

Selfies can distort the face

Are you happy with your selfie? In a survey conducted by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 42 per cent of surgeons say people come to them for cosmetic procedures because they want to look better in their selfies and pictures on social media.

According to a research letter published in JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery, selfies can distort the face and make the nose look larger because the camera is held so close to the face.

Selfies are usually taken about 12 inches from the face and this makes the nasal base appear about 30 per cent wider and the nasal tip 7 per cent wider than if the photograph had been taken at 5 feet, which is the standard portrait distance that provides a more proportional representation of facial features.

“Young adults are constantly taking selfies to post to social media and think those images are representative of how they really look, which can have an impact on their emotional state. I want them to realise that when they take a selfie they are in essence looking into a portable funhouse mirror,” the study author explained.

Contributor: SHYLA JOVITHA ABRAHAM

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