Feed and fortify


Breast feeding has immense heath benefits for not just the babies, but for moms, too.

A study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute suggests that breast cancer patients who had breast-fed their children had a 30 per cent overall decreased risk of their breast cancer recurring and a 28 per cent reduced risk of dying from their breast cancer.

The conclusion was drawn after reviewing the medical records of 1,636 women with breast cancer who also answered questions about their breastfeeding history. During an average nine years of follow-up, 383 women had a recurrence and 290 women died of the disease.

According to the lead author, “Women who breastfeed are more likely to get the luminal A subtype of breast cancer, which is less aggressive, and breastfeeding may set up a molecular environment that makes the tumour more responsive to anti-oestrogen therapy.”

Luminal A tumours are the most commonly diagnosed breast cancer. These tumours are less likely to metastasise and have better treatment outcomes.

While it is not clear why women who breastfeed develop less aggressive tumours, it is suggested that “breastfeeding may increase the maturation of ductal cells in the breast, making them less susceptible to carcinogens or facilitate the excretion of carcinogens, and lead to slower growing tumours.”

While the protective benefits were evident with any length of breastfeeding, it was stronger for women who breastfed for six months or more.

Quit smoking!


Smokers who quit the habit before undergoing angioplasty―a non-surgical heart procedure that removes blockage of the blood vessels and improves blood flow―have better outcomes. They reported better quality of life and more relief from chest pain after the procedure.

The study in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Intervention was based on 2,765 adults undergoing angioplasty for either heart attack or chest pain. They were divided into four groups: those who had never smoked, past smokers who had quit before the procedure, those who quit at the time of the procedure and those who continued to smoke after angioplasty.

One year after angioplasty, persistent smokers fared worse on disease-specific and overall health status compared to other groups.

Twenty-one per cent of those who quit smoking at the time of angioplasty continued to experience chest pain compared with 31 per cent of those who did not quit smoking and 19 per cent of those who had never smoked or quit smoking before angioplasty.

“It’s a no-brainer. Stopping smoking seems like a relatively easy way to increase your chances of getting the best outcomes from angioplasty. Cardiologists have to work with patients to help them stop smoking, whether it means nicotine replacement, a smoking cessation programme or some other intervention,” the study author said.

Incidental gains

If preventing measles is not reason enough to get your kids vaccinated against the deadly virus, here's one more from the journal Science―“measles vaccination may also provide indirect immunological protection against other infectious diseases”.


Measles virus can attack the immune system and cause “immune amnesia” a condition in which the virus wipes out the memory cells of a person's immune system, which helps the body fight other deadly infections.

Without the immune memory, children are at a greater risk of contracting pneumonia, encephalitis and other infectious diseases for up to three years after infection with measles. “If you get measles, three years down the road, you could die from something that you would not die from had you not been infected with measles.”

“Our findings suggest that measles vaccines have benefits that extend beyond just protecting against measles itself,” said the lead author.

"In other words, reducing measles incidence appears to cause a drop in deaths from other infectious diseases due to indirect effects of measles infection on the human immune system.”

To find out how long it takes for the immune system to fully recover and fight infections after exposure to the measles virus, the researchers analysed data about death rates and measles incidence among children aged 1-9 in Denmark, England and Wales and among children aged 1-14 in the US during pre-and post-vaccine eras.

“In these countries, before the introduction of measles vaccine, measles may have been responsible for over 50 percent of all childhood infectious disease deaths."

Eat to think

Two new studies have underscored the importance of eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts and olive oil to help preserve brain health and reduce the risk of cognitive decline which can lead to dementia and Alzheimer's.


For the first study published in the journal Neurology, researchers followed 27,860 people aged 55 and older across 40 countries for five years. Thinking and memory skills were tested at the start, at two years and five years. The eating habits of the participants were also analysed. A diet rich in vegetables, fruits, fish, nuts and whole grains was considered healthy. An unhealthy diet included red meat, deep-fried food and sweets.

At the end of the study 14 per cent of those with the healthiest diets showed cognitive decline compared to 18 per cent of those with the least healthy diets. This translated to a 24 per cent lower risk of cognitive decline for the healthy eaters.

Another Spanish study published in JAMA Internal Medicine has found that participants who followed a Mediterranean diet with added olive oil and nuts for four years did better on tests that assessed memory and cognitive function than those who followed just a low-fat diet.

“It's never too late to change your dietary patterns to improve your health. If you intervene with a healthy dietary pattern in people who are at high risk of cognitive failure, even in people who still haven't had any memory complaints or loss of cognitive function, you can prevent cognitive deterioration,” the study author noted.

Shades of blue

Depression by itself is a debilitating condition. New studies suggest that it is extremely important to seek treatment for depression because it can also lead to a number of other medical conditions including Parkinson's disease, stroke and heart disease.


For a Swedish study published in the journal Neurology researchers compared 1,40,688 people with a diagnosis of depression with 4,21,718 people without depression. All the participants were at least 50 years old and were followed for up to 26 years. While 1 per cent of those with depression developed Parkinson's disease, only 0.4 per cent of those without depression developed the disease.

People with depression developed Parkinson's disease earlier than those without the disorder. The risk for Parkinson's also increased with the severity of depressive symptoms: those who had been hospitalised for depression were three times more likely to be diagnosed with Parkinson's disease than those who had not been hospitalised for depression; those hospitalised for depression five times or more were 40 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with Parkinson's disease than those who had been hospitalised for depression only once.

“We saw this link between depression and Parkinson’s disease over a time span of more than two decades, so depression may be a very early symptom of Parkinson’s disease or a risk factor for the disease,” the study author noted.

Last year a Norwegian study found that people with moderate to severe depression have a 40 per cent increased risk of heart failure. A study presented last week at the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology’s Heart Failure Association finds that heart failure patients who also suffer from depression have a five-fold increased risk of all-cause mortality irrespective of other comorbidities and severity of heart failure. However, heart failure patients without depression have an 80 per cent lower risk of death.

“Our results show that depression is strongly associated with death during the year following discharge from hospital after an admission for the exacerbation of heart failure,” the study author concluded.

Another study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association suggests that middle-aged adults who suffer from depression have twice the risk of stroke as those who do not and the elevated risk remained even after symptoms of depression eased, particularly for women.

Walk 2 minutes every hour

Sitting for long daily has been known to increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes and even early death.


A study published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology suggests that trading two minutes of sitting with light walking every hour can reverse the adverse health effects of prolonged sitting.

The 3,243 volunteers in the study wore accelerometers that measured the intensity of their activities. During the three years that the volunteers were followed, 137 of them died.

The study compared longer durations of low-intensity activities such as standing with light intensity activities such as walking, light gardening and cleaning to see whether either extended the life span of people who are sedentary for more than half of their waking hours.

While standing more did not provide any health benefits, replacing two minutes of sitting with two minutes of light-intensity activity each hour lowered the risk of premature death by 33 per cent.

About two thirds of adults don't meet the current exercise recommendation of at least 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity each week. But short walks every hour can add up and get you closer to your recommendation.

“Based on these results we would recommend adding two minutes of walking each hour in combination with normal activities, which should include 2.5 hours of moderate exercise each week,” noted Srinivasan Beddhu, the lead author.

Ice and heat

Should you use ice or heat on injuries and aches and pains?


Here are some guidelines from the department of sports medicine at Penn State Hershey Medical Center:

If you get injured, follow the RICE programme―rest, ice, compression and elevation.

Icing an injury helps narrow the blood vessels and prevents blood from accumulating at the site of the injury and causing too much inflammation or swelling that can delay the healing process. It also reduces the amount of secondary tissue damage and provides pain relief. The recommendation is to use ice for 20 minutes, once an hour. This gives the skin a chance to recover from each icing session and prevents further damage to the skin.

“Elevation is probably the most important thing because it limits the amount of blood flow to the area and the amount of swelling.”

Heat, on the other hand, is best for muscle aches and pains. “Heat typically brings blood flow to the area, which provides nutrients that the tissues need for healing and increases the flexibility of tendons and muscles.”

Athletes with chronic issues or old injuries usually heat before they get active and ice afterwards.

Weight-loss herb

Could a Chinese herb be the miracle cure to tackle obesity?


A Harvard University study published in the journal Cell suggests that an extract from the Chinese medicine plant thunder god vine may help suppress hunger and lose weight.

The weight-loss compound called Celastrol reduced food intake substantially and led to a 45 per cent decrease in body weight in obese mice.

Celastrol works by enhancing the action of the hunger-suppressing hormone called leptin.

Within just one week of treatment with Celastrol, the mice reduced their food intake by 80 per cent compared with obese mice that did not get the extract and by three weeks, they lost nearly half of their initial body weight almost entirely by burning fat stores.

Celastrol also produced other positive health effects including decreased cholesterol levels and improved liver functions and glucose metabolism.

The weight loss was much more significant than with bariatric surgery done on patients who are extremely obese.

While Celastrol did not produce any toxic effects in mice, its safety in humans is yet to be determined.

“If Celastrol works in humans as it does in mice, it could be a powerful way to treat obesity and improve the health of many patients suffering from obesity and associated complications, such as heart disease, fatty liver, and type 2 diabetes,” said the lead researcher.

A grip on heart health

Your grip strength may predict your risk for heart attack and stroke.


An international study published in The Lancet has found a link between weak grip strength and a greater risk of having a heart attack or stroke and shorter survival.

Using a handgrip dynamometer, researchers assessed the grip strengths of 1,39,691 adults aged 35 to 70 from 17 countries including India and followed them for an average of four years; 3,379 of the participants died during the study period.

Every 5kg decline in grip strength was associated with a 16 per cent higher risk of death from any cause; a 17 per cent greater risk of cardiovascular death; a 17 per cent higher risk of non-cardiovascular mortality; a 9 per cent increased risk of stroke, and a 7 per cent higher risk of heart attack.

The link persisted even after accounting for factors that can impact mortality or heart disease such as age, education, employment, physical activity and tobacco and alcohol use.

Grip strength was a stronger predictor of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality than systolic blood pressure.

“This study suggests that measurement of grip strength is a simple, inexpensive risk-stratifying method for all-cause death, cardiovascular death, and cardiovascular disease. Further research is needed to identify determinants of muscular strength and to test whether improvement in strength reduces mortality and cardiovascular disease,” the study concluded.

Fast fat

If you think starving can get you in shape, a new study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry may be disappointing. Skipping meals can actually lead to abdominal weight gain.


The study was done in mice. One group ate all their food as a single meal and fasted the rest of the day. Another group was allowed to eat throughout the day. After three days, food was gradually added and by day six all mice were fed the same amount of food.

Initially the mice that ate one meal lost weight, but regained their weight as calories were added back into their diets.

Mice on the restricted diet had more belly fat than mice that were allowed to nibble all day long. They also developed insulin resistance in their livers, a sign of prediabetes. When the liver doesn’t respond to insulin signals telling it to stop producing glucose, that extra sugar in the blood is stored as fat.

The mice on the restricted diet also developed gorging behaviour―they would eat all their food in about four hours and end up fasting for the next 20 hours even when the food restriction was lifted.

This gorging and fasting also caused other metabolic changes including inflammation and higher activation of genes that promote storage of fatty molecules and plumper fat cells, especially in the abdominal area.

“This does support the notion that small meals throughout the day can be helpful for weight loss, though that may not be practical for many people. But you definitely don’t want to skip meals to save calories because it sets your body up for larger fluctuations in insulin and glucose and could be setting you up for more fat gain instead of fat loss,” noted the lead author.

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The Week

Topics : #health

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