Posts tagged with "Alzheimer’s disease"

No sweat? Prolonged use of hormones linked to slightly higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease

March 12, 2019

Hot flashes, mood swings, sleep problems. Many women trade these uncomfortable, annoying—even embarrassing—symptoms of menopause in for a prescription for oral hormone therapy, and never look back.

But now there’s a reason to reevaluate. Researchers reported on March 6 that long-term use of oral hormone therapy may be associated with a small increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease in postmenopausal women.

The study, conducted by researchers affiliated with six Finnish healthcare organizations, looked at nearly 85,000 postmenopausal women, between the ages of 70 and 80, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease between 1999 and 2013.

They found that use of oral hormone therapy for ten or more years in women who started the pills before age 60 had a 9% to 17% increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Women who used vaginal hormone therapy showed no increased risk.

Interestingly enough, prior research had indicated that hormone therapy reduces the risk of vascular dementia; but the new study found no such good news related to Alzheimer’s.

“It prompted us to do research on Alzheimer’s disease to see if the same results persisted, but it doesn’t look like hormonal therapy provided a protective effect on Alzheimer’s,” lead author Dr. Tomi Mikkola, supervisor for the obstetrics and gynecology doctoral program in clinical research at the University of Helsinki, told NBC News during a recent interview.

The specific reasons behind this increased risk are elusive, but biological differences between Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia may be one reason why, Mikkola said.

“Alzheimer’s is a completely different type of disease, we don’t know the mechanism behind the disease. What we know is that the disease has started decades before we see symptoms of memory loss,” said Mikkola.

It is possible that the hormone therapy speeds up progression of the disease, he added.

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. And of the nearly 6 million Americans who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s; fully  two-thirds (66%) are women—including 200,000 under the age of 65. By 2050, experts predict that this number will rise to nearly 14 million, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

“Given the lack of effective Alzheimer’s treatments and increased prevalence of the disease, medical and public health efforts have focused on primary prevention, including risk factors and preventive strategies, especially to women,” said Dr. JoAnn E. Manson, chief of the Division of Preventive Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, in an editorial written in response to the study.

“But the findings should not be a cause for alarm. For the short-term management of hot flashes, night sweats and disruptive sleep, the benefits of hormone therapy seem to outweigh the risk.”

In recent years, considerable attention has been given to the role of menopausal hormone therapy. Two 2017 studies found that the period when a woman starts to produce less estrogen, usually in her 40s, may be a critical point in whether she’ll go on to develop Alzheimer’s or not. Researchers concluded that the hormone estrogen is protective for a woman’s brain, stimulating growth and keeping it healthy. But the natural drop in estrogen during menopause means women lose that layer of protection, NBC News reported..

Both Mikkola and Manson agree that most women under 60 are safe to use short courses of hormone therapy for menopause symptoms.

 “Women should not use hormone therapy for the expressed purpose of trying to improve memory or reduce cognitive decline, but when used for early menopause the benefits are sure to outweigh the risk for short term treatment,” said Manson.

Because the study was observational, it isn’t definite that long-term hormone therapy causes Alzheimer’s disease. Other risk factors, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or having the APOE gene weren’t included in the study — these may have also contributed to many of the women’s increased dementia risk.

“Women should not be scared to use hormone therapy if needed,” Mikkola told NBC News. “Women who use hormone therapy for symptom relief have a much better quality of life.”

Research contact: @NBCNews

Closer to a cure: United Neuroscience tests Alzheimer’s vaccine

January 18, 2019

Today, 5.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s—and, every 65 seconds, someone in the United States develops the disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

For the past 20 years, biotech companies have been striving to tackle Alzheimer’s—with little success.  However now, Bloomberg reports, a four-year old Dublin-based biotech team—comprising leaders in neurology, vaccines, drug development, and disruptive ideas—believes it may be on to something.

To be clear, the news outlet says, United Neuroscience hasn’t solved Alzheimer’s yet, nor has it claimed to. But previously unreported results from a small, recent United clinical trial find that 96% of patients responded, without serious side effects, to the Alzheimer’s vaccine the company calls UB-311. The researchers describe the drug as “a novel synthetic peptide vaccine targeting beta amyloid [the main component of the amyloid plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer patients] in the treatment of Alzheimer’s.”

The patients demonstrated improved brain function and showed a reduction in the protein plaque gumming up their neurons, the company’s report says.

“The positive results show that we can safely raise and maintain [anti-beta amyloid] antibody titers in a predictable and sustained manner,” said Peter Powchik, EVP of Research and Development at UNS, in a company release.

“High response rates, reproducibility of response, and generation of antibodies directed to relevant toxic protein species are key elements of an effective therapeutic vaccine for neurodegenerative conditions. The UNS platform is proving that it can deliver on these requirements,” Powchik claimed.

Indeed, Bloomberg explains, United’s vaccine stimulates the patient’s own immune system to attack amyloid, which some researchers believe to be the leading cause. The vaccine’s job is to slow the proteins’ clumping and, if possible, reverse some damage and restore brain function.

United’s clinical trial, a Phase II study completed last year, tested the vaccine with a group of 42 patients who had mild cognitive impairment and appeared to be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

One set of patients was in the control group and received a placebo; while two other groups received three shots of the vaccine and then boosters either every three or six months over the course of a 18 months.

Although the small number of patients prevents United from drawing any major statistical conclusions, the company has been encouraged enough to move ahead with development of the vaccine, possibly with a larger partner, according to CEO Mel Mei Hu.

For now, United says it’s focused on raising capital to fund a more conclusive UB-311 study and to keep refining its widening range of vaccines. The 35-person company is gearing up to start trials of UB-312, aimed at Parkinson’s disease, and a second Alzheimer’s vaccine meant to combat tau [a protein that causes tangles in the brain].

“They have taken thoughtful initial steps with this very promising technology,” Eric Reiman, a leading Alzheimer’s researcher and an adviser to United Neuroscience, told Bloomberg. “But this is still the beginning of the beginning.”

Research contact: @UNSTechBio

Can intermittent fasting improve your health?

November 23, 2018

According to research by the Calorie Control Council, a typical Thanksgiving dinner can carry a load of 3,000 calories. That’s about 500 more calories than most Americans eat in a whole day—and also about 500 more than it takes to gain one pound.

And that’s also why, on the day after the holiday, many of us might be wondering about the pros and cons of intermittent fasting—one of the buzziest diets out there right now. After all, why diet diligently all week when you can drop the excess weight by skipping food entirely just two or three days out of seven?

Fans of this form of dieting say they have lost as much as 8% of their body weight within eight weeks by cutting calories by 20% every other day. They also say they are healthier and have less inflammation.

WebMD theorizes that the possible secret behind the diet’s health benefits is that fasting puts mild stress on your body’s cells. Scientists think that the process of responding to this stress can strengthen the cells’ ability to fight off some diseases—even disorders as serious as heart disease and cancer.

But are these claims legit? Honestly, researchers say, not enough is known yet to confirm whether fasting is advisable or not.

As Liz Weinandy, a staff dietitian at the Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, admitted to Men’s Health magazine in a recent interview, ““I don’t think anybody knows.This is all preliminary.”

In fact, the magazine says, most of the press coverage of intermittent fasting and its purported immune system benefits has focused on just one study: In 2014, Valter Longo— a professor of Gerontology and the director of the USC Longevity Institute—found that cycles of a four-day low-calorie diet that mimicked fasting (FMD) cut visceral belly fat and elevated the number of progenitor and stem cells in several organs of older mice—including the brain, where it boosted neural regeneration and improved learning and memory.

The test was part of a three-tiered study on periodic fasting’s effects—involving yeast, mice, and humans— o be published by the journal Cell Metabolism in June 2015.

Longo and his team had both mice and human cancer patients fast for four days. During the fast, both the mice and the cancer patients discarded old blood cells; once the fast was broken, their bodies produced shiny, new cells to take the place of discarded ones, thus effectively regenerating their immune systems.

In fact, Longo found, in the pilot human trial, three cycles of a similar diet given to 19 subjects once a month for five days decreased risk factors and biomarkers for aging, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer with no major adverse side effects.

Results of of the study led the USC team to conclude that prolonged periods of fasting could reduce the harsh side effects of chemotherapy for cancer patients—in fact, some patients are already trying this on their own, based on a story posted this year by U.S. News & World Report)—or even boost immunity for healthy people.

A 2015 study by Yale Medical School went one further, finding that hat a compound produced by the body when dieting or fasting can block a part of the immune system involved in several inflammatory disorders such as Type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Convinced and ready to start? First, read a few cautions from Men’s Health.

First, most intermittent fasting plans recommend not eating between 16 to 24 hours— a much shorter period of time than the four-day fast in Longo’s study. For this reason, Longo says it’s unlikely that his study has any long-term implications about the health benefits of intermittent fasting.

Your body won’t eliminate old cells “until two, three, or four days into the fasting,” he told the magazine. “It takes even longer for the system to start really breaking down muscle, breaking down immune cells, breaking down different tissues.”

Indeed, the report says, future studies will require a broader sample size than Longo’s, so we can determine how fasting affects different groups of people —for instance, the elderly, or diabetes patients, or those with low-functioning immune systems.

What’s more, if you have an active lifestyle, cut back on exercising because fasting could potentially drain your stores of sodium and potassium—two electrolytes that are essential for kidney, heart, and muscle function.

And finally, don’t forget to drink. Water is always a great choice, all day, every day. Sparkling water is fine—but don’t use artificial sweeteners. They will wreak havoc on your insulin levels and defeat your end purposes entirely.

Research contact: melissa.matthews@hearst.com

All is not lost: When dementia patients wander, GPS devices can locate them quickly

August 27, 2018

Now where was I? That’s a phrase many of us use when we lose track of our thoughts for a moment. However, for people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, that question often should be taken much more literally.

The disorientation that comes with these diseases often results in wandering—a common and serious concern for caregivers, who may fear that their loved ones are oblivious to their surroundings, or frightened and even in danger, according to Alzheimers.net.

Life-saving GPS devices can help caregivers to quickly track and find wanderers, before they go too far astray. Among those recommended by Alzheimers.net are the following:

  • AngelSense is a device that can be attached to a patient’s clothing and can only be removed by the caregiver. It provides a daily timeline of locations, routes, and transit speed—and sends an instant alert, if a loved diverts from a safe radius. Caregivers can use the device to listen in to what is happening around their loved one; to receive an alert if the patient has not left for an appointment on time; or to communicate with a lost person, wherever he or she may be.
  • GPS Smart Sole fits into most shoes and allows caregivers to track their loved one from any smartphone, tablet, or web browser. The shoe insert is enabled with GPS technology and allows real-time syncing, provides a detailed report of location history, and empowers users to set up a safe radius for their loved one.
  • iTraq can be used to track pretty much anything—from loved ones to luggage. This tracker pairs with a smartphone app and, for seniors, includes a motion or fall sensor that will send an alert if a fall is detected. It also has a temperature sensor. The company’s newest device, the iTraq Nano is marketed as “the world’s smallest all-in-one tracking device that has global tracking, two months of battery life, is water and dust resistant, and is able to be charged wirelessly.” The device also has an SOS button that will send an instant alert to friends and family, notifying them of their loved one’s precise location.
  • MedicAlert Safely Home originally was created to help emergency responders treat patients who could not speak for themselves. Today, the device also helps people with dementia who wander. The device is worn as a bracelet and—when a loved one goes missing—caregivers can call the police and have the police call the 24-hour hotline to get the location of the missing person. Caregivers also can call the hotline themselves to get information. In addition to a tracking device, the bracelet has important medical information engraved on it.
  • Mindme offers two lifesaving devices—one,a location device; and the other, an alarm. The alarm allows the user to alert a Mindme response center, in case of a fall or other emergency. The locator device is specifically designed for people with dementia or other cognitive disabilities. The simple device works as a pendant that can be put in a bag or pocket and allows caregivers to track the user online at any time. Caregivers also can set a radius for the user and receive an alert if the person travels outside that zone.
  • PocketFinder was founded in 2005 by a single parent who wanted to know the whereabouts of his young son. Their slogan, “If you love it, locate it!” says it all. Tracking everything from luggage to pets to children to seniors, the company offers a wide range of emerging technological products. PocketFinder is designed to be the smallest tracker on the market: The device can fit in the palm of your hand. It has a battery life up of to one week and allows caregivers to track wearers through a user-friendly app. The device was updated in January 2017 and now includes three location technologies—including GPS, Cell ID, and Google Wi-Fi Touch. It now also has an SOS button.
  • Project Lifesaver provides enrolled seniors with a personal transmitter that they wear around an ankle. If they wander, the caregiver calls a local Project Lifesaver agency and a trained team will respond. Recovery times average 30 minutes and many who wander are found within a few miles of their homes.
  • Revolutionary Tracker has location-based systems to keep tabs on seniors who may wander. This GPS-enabled personal tracker features an SOS button for emergencies and offers real-time tracking ability. The device allows multiple seniors to be tracked at the same time and syncs directly to a caregiver’s smart phone or computer.
  • Safe Link, also GPS-enabled, is a small device carried by the person who may wander. The device periodically sends its geographic coordinates to central server; and family members and caregivers can view the wearer’s location via website. The device needs to be charged and worn at all times. All devices have an SOS button for emergencies.
  • Trax is touted by the company as “the world’s smallest and lightest live GPS tracker.” The device sends position, speed, and direction through the cellular network directly to your app on a smartphone. Trax comes with a clip that is easy to attach to a loved one. The app allows caregivers to set “Geofences” and will send an alert if a loved one enters or leaves a predetermined area. Trax Geofences have no size limit: Caregivers can create as many fence areas as needed, and can schedule when those virtual fences are in effect.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 5.7 million Americans of all ages are living with Alzheimer’s dementia in 2018. This number includes an estimated 5.5 million people age 65 and older and about 200,000 individuals under age 65 who have younger-onset Alzheimer’s. One in 10 people age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s dementia.

Research contact: @alzassociation