January 18th, 2012

Dr Art Hister – Memory Loss

No real need for midlifers to get alarmed about a recent study published in The British Medical Journal that concluded that those senior moments all us aging baby boomers now accept as a normal part of our latest transformation actually begin to happen to people much earlier in life.

In that study which looked at just under 8000 British civil servants three times over the course of a decade or so, the researchers concluded that our memories actually begin to fail in our forties, much earlier than most other studies have found.

The reason not to get too alarmed about this, though, if you just happen to be a 45-year-old who can’t suddenly find his car keys, is that the loss in memory was pretty slight in midlifers, although it did accelerate as people got older so that by the time the study subjects had reached their seventies, some of them had some pretty significant memory problems.

The other important thing to note about memory, though, before you panic, is that as the researchers for this study reminded everyone in their commentaries, there is increasing evidence that paying attention to the factors that raise the risk of heart disease and stroke – controlling cholesterol levels, for example, lowering blood pressure, doing regular exercise, not smoking, and so on – also help reduce the risk of cognitive function decline as we age, including even, if my memory serves me correctly, helping reduce the rate of memory decline.



January 4th, 2012

Dr Art Hister – Young women and their risk of breast cancer

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Very interesting results from a recent update of the ongoing and very long-term Nurses’ Health Study, which has in fact been going on for so long that it’s entered another stage in which the researchers are now evaluating the daughters and grand-daughters of the original study participants, so the study is now called Nurses’ Health Study II.

We’ve learned from several previous studies that the more alcohol a woman consumes over her lifetime, the higher her risk of breast cancer, but in this latest update the researchers were interested in the risk of benign breast disease (BBD) in the young women in the current study, and especially in the role that alcohol intake might play in developing BBD.

And what they concluded is that if a young woman (between age 18 and 27) has a mother or even an aunt who has had breast cancer, that young woman is more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with benign breast disease compared to a young woman without any family history of breast cancer.

As well, any young woman whose mother has been diagnosed with BBD is twice as likely to develop benign breast disease herself compared to a young woman with no BBD in the family.

But they also found that alcohol seems to play a significant role in determining a woman’s risk for BBD.

Thus, any young woman whose mother, grand-mother, or aunt had breast cancer was significantly more likely to develop BBD if she – the young woman – drank alcohol regularly, and the more alcohol that young woman consumed, the higher her risk for BBD.

On the all-present other hand, however, young women without any history of breast cancer in the family were at no raised risk of developing BBD linked to alcohol intake.

Bottom line: alcohol seems to play a significant role in many women’s risk for breast disease, both benign breast disease and breast cancer, so every woman should take that into consideration when she decides to drink – especially about how much she takes in.



December 8th, 2011

Dr Art Hister – Your jaw is like the rest of you

Everyone over the age of 4 (perhaps even sooner in some of us) knows that all our tissues, every part of us, either dries out or falls or shrinks with age.

And I mean every part, without exception, which is why I was not at all surprised to learn that new research from Sweden has determined that even your jaw shrinks with age, and it shrinks in all plains, so that both the length and the width of your jaw goes progressively downwards after the age of 40 .

Yes, it only shrinks by a few millimetres, say these researchers, but that’s also enough shrinkage, they add, to lead to problems with your teeth because there’s just less room in your mouth for all those teeth you started out with to co-habit peacefully, which is yet another reason for many aging people to experience increasing problems with their bite.

And yes, according to these researchers, even people who’ve had their wisdom teeth extracted can experience teeth “crowding” as the jaw shrinks.

No wonder that Golda Meir said, “Growing old is not for sissies.”



November 30th, 2011

Dr Art Hister – Huge spike in knee replacement surgery

If you pardon this poor attempt at a pun, depending on where you stand, it’s either good news or bad news that according to a huge American survey, there’s been a very steep rise in the number of knee replacement procedures over the last several years.

Thus, based on data released by the Agency of Healthcare Research and Quality, between 2007 and 2010, the number of knee replacements done in the US rose by 157 % in women, and 144 % in men.

The good news is that so many more people who need a knee replaced are getting that procedure done, including lots of elderly, who used to be excluded from getting this kind of operation.

But now that the elderly are living so much longer, it’s become much more routine for a senior in decent health to get a knee – or a hip – replaced – because there’s a very good chance they’ll live a long time with that new joint.

The bad news is that knee replacement operations have risen most dramatically among baby boomers, and the most likely reason for that is excess weight since obesity is a major risk factor for wearing out a large weight-bearing joint like a knee or a hip.

And the even worse news is that this trend is only going to get worse as all those overweight and obese kids out there trudge their way into middle age.



November 23rd, 2011

Dr Art Hister – Yet Another Reason to Exercise

A terrific talk on aging I heard a while ago pointed out something that I had never considered but which seems to be quite true, and it’s a very depressing thought.

This aging expert pointed out that although you often see pictures of a 70-year-old doing something quite amazing like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, for example, but you never see an 85-year-old doing something similar.

That’s because, he said, of age-related frailty, meaning that we lose our muscle strength as we grow older.
Thus, it’s commonly said that we lose roughly 1 % of our muscle mass every year beyond the age of 40, and eventually – sometime between 75 and 85 for nearly all of us – we reach a tipping point of lost muscle mass when we can’t do so many – or even any – of the things we used to do so easily years before.

So the great news is that maybe that doesn’t have to happen.

In a study with terrifically hopeful possibilities, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh examined 40 competitive athletes – runners, cyclists, swimmers – between the ages of 40 and 81, and the researchers found that – quite to their surprise – that not only did those athletes have as much muscle tissue as people decades younger than them, they also remained nearly as strong as many people a couple of decades younger than them.

Now, clearly these were elite athletes and very few of us are able to train as much as these people do.

But this isn’t an all-or-none situation so seems to me that even some regular exercise can delay or postpone that heretofore seemingly inevitable frailty that the elderly suffer and which condemns so many seniors to having to give up their independence.

And honestly, doesn’t some exercise done a few times a week seem like a small price to pay for raising your chances to live a longer independent life down the line?



November 8th, 2011

Dr Art Hister – Watchful Waiting and Prostate Cancer

Yet another study (published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology) has concluded that for many cases of prostate cancer, “watchful waiting”, that is, doing nothing at all and just letting nature take its course, is as good a tactic as getting any of the most advanced therapies we have to offer.

In this study of 769 patients with a median age of 66 who had been diagnosed with the kind of prostate cancer that should not be overly aggressive (and remember, that’s the vast majority of prostate cancers), 1/3 of the men opted – as one would expect – for some kind of therapy, either radiation or surgery.

But 2/3 of these men opted for watchful waiting instead.

At the end of 10 years, the researchers concluded that doing nothing “caused no apparent harm,” meaning that the men who chose “watchful waiting” were just as likely to be alive and just as likely to not having had their malignancy spread as were the men who had opted for intervention.

Yet the key difference is that the no-treatment guys were way better off on average since they had clearly not suffered any side effects or complications from doing nothing as opposed to the men who had chosen radiation or surgery, both of which come with risks attached.

The bottom line: prostate cancer is very common but only kills or harms a small portion of the men who end up with that malignancy, especially if the men are over age 65, and although all of us are always eager to “treat” a cancer, sometimes that treatment should be “nothing”.



October 27th, 2011

Dr Art Hister – An Easy way to lower your risk of diabetes

Here’s an easy and very welcome way to lower your risk of diabetes: just sleep more.

More accurately, make sure to get just the right amount of good quality sleep.

At least that’s what a study published in the journal Diabetes Care found was the case for obese teenagers, and what’s true for those kids is very likely also true for other people as well, including even healthy adults.

In this study, researchers looked at 62 obese teenagers (average age 14) and they found that both “insufficient” and “excessive” sleep were linked to abnormal blood glucose levels (and too little sleep was also linked to abnormal insulin levels).

Why?

Probably because proper sleep helps regulate hormonal function, and one of the most important hormones, of course, is insulin.

That’s also why some experts believe that our obesity epidemic is partly a function of the lack of adequate sleep we are all suffering from these days.

Bottom line: good quality sleep is very important for good health (not just for weight control) so don’t cheat on your sleep.



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