News Briefs: Wild Blueberries Boost Cognitive Ability; Factors Influencing Seniors’ Fracture Risk; Exercise Protects Aging Brain

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Wild Blueberries Boost Cognitive Ability Among Schoolchildren

Scientists have found that consuming wild blueberries may have a significant effect on the cognitive ability of primary schoolchildren. In this first-of-its-kind study, they gave 21 children, aged 7 to 10, a drink containing either a high dose of wild blueberry (about 1.75 cups), a low dose (3/4 of a cup), or a placebo. On the same day each week for three weeks, the children were given a series of cognitive tests examining memory and attention before consumption of the drink and then, at one hour, one hour and 15 minutes, three hours, and six hours after consumption. The results suggest that wild blueberries strengthen the performance of primary schoolchildren in class compared to a placebo.

The delayed recognition test saw the children trying to identify 15 words from a list of 50 words approximately 20-25 minutes after hearing them for the last time. Memory of the words was improved at all periods, but was greatest at six hours. Concentration levels in the wild blueberry-rich groups also increased. (Wild blueberries are rich in flavonoids, compounds that are associated with a range of health benefits, including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. The primary class of flavonoids present in wild blueberries is anthocyanins.)

Research is ongoing to determine the exact mechanisms by which flavonoids may benefit the brain. It may improve blood flow in the brain, protect neurons against oxidative damage, or increase the efficiency with which neurons transmit signals.

This study was released online October 5, 2015, ahead of publication in the European Journal of Nutrition. The report can be read at for a fee.

Nutrient Deficiencies and Lifestyle Factors Influence Seniors’ Fracture Risk

A scientific review has found that the nutritional needs for skeletal health change as humans age, and making changes can influence bone health and the ability to live an independent, mobile, fracture-free life into the more senior years. Findings from international studies and trials were summarized. The report underlines how lifestyle trends that lead to poor diet and nutrient deficiencies are a growing cause of concern in people of all ages. Milk and dairy product consumption has declined in the last few decades, but other sources of calcium intake have not been increased to offset this lower calcium intake.

Vitamin D insufficiency is widespread among youth, which has led to recommendations for vitamin D supplements to be given to infants and young children. In adults and seniors, studies have shown that calcium intakes are often below those recommended by national guidelines, and alarmingly low levels of vitamin D have been found in populations worldwide.

Lifestyle factors such as excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, and a very high or low body mass index (BMI) elevate fracture risk for a substantial number of people. The review shows how deficits in protein intake as well as malnutrition, which is sadly common in older people, negatively affect their bone and muscle health.

It also highlights how adequate nutritional intake in those at high risk of fracture, together with appropriate exercise, plays an important complementary role to pharmacotherapy.

This scientific review was just published in the journal Osteoporosis International. The full-text version of this review can be accessed at without charge.

Aerobic Exercise from Middle Age Onward Can Protect the Aging Brain

Researchers have found that structural deterioration of the brain associated with old age can be eased by long-term aerobic exercise that is started in mid-life. (The risk of dementia increases with age. The development of dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease has been linked with physical inactivity.) The study team reported that age-related cognitive deficits result partly from changes in neuronal function but also correlate with deficiencies in the blood supply to the brain, and with low-level inflammation.

The researchers found that structural changes that make the blood-brain barrier leaky (which caused inflammation of brain tissues in old mice) could be reduced by allowing the animals to run regularly. They provided mice with a running wheel from the age of 12 months, which is equivalent to middle age in humans, and assessed their brains at 18 months, which is equivalent to about 60 years in humans (the age at which the risk of Alzheimer’s increases). Both young and old mice ran about two miles each night, and tests showed that age-related indicators of dysfunction of the blood-brain barrier were improved. The report suggests that aerobic exercise from middle to older age preserves cerebrovascular health, prevents behavioural deficits, and reduces age-related inflammation in the cortex and hippocampus in the brains of aged mice.

This study was published in the October 29, 2015 issue of the journal PLOS Biology. The full report is available at without charge.

Many Falls that Cause Visits to the ER are Really Caused by Infection

A new study suggests that a large percentage of the people who arrive at a hospital emergency room following a fall are there due to an underlying infection rather than poor balance or clumsiness.

Urinary, bloodstream, and respiratory infections were the most common culprits. These infection-related falls usually affect older people, but can happen to anyone, the researchers warn. Although many of these patients had vague early signs of an infection, such as weakness or lethargy, it was the fall that brought them in. Infections can lower blood pressure and lead to dizziness and lightheadedness, increasing the risk for a tumble.

Illness can also increase confusion in older people with dementia, the study authors said. Between 20% and 45% of falls are caused by infection, but most relatives, health care workers, and caregivers fail to correctly associate falls with possible illness or infection.

Initially, infection was not suspected in 40% of patients, possibly because many of the patients had no common signs of infection such as fever, abnormal white blood cell count, or rapid heart rate. The falls were most common among older people, but 20% of the patients were younger than 65. The researchers suggested that health care providers, family members, and caregivers should consider and report to ER how a patient felt just before the accident and not just assume they tripped.

This study was just released in San Diego at Infectious Diseases Week 2015, the annual meeting of specialists in infectious illness, and it has not yet been peer-reviewed for publication.

Common Heartburn Drugs May Cause Kidney Disease

Two new studies have revealed that certain medications commonly used to treat heartburn, acid reflux, and stomach ulcers may have damaging effects on the kidneys. This type of drug, known as proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs, is among the ten most prescribed medications in North America. This type of drug should not be confused with antacid medications which dilute stomach acids, or with drugs known as H2-blockers. (Chronic kidney disease is on the rise with more than 20 million Americans affected. Diabetes and hypertension are common risk factors, but certain drugs can also play a role. Evidence is mounting generally that PPIs may be contributing to this dramatic increase.)

One study that followed 10,482 adults found that PPI users were 20 to 50% more likely to develop chronic kidney disease than non-PPI users. This discovery was replicated in a second 17-year study of over 240,000 persons. In both studies, people who used a different class of medications, known as H2-blockers, to block excess stomach acid did not have a higher risk of developing kidney disease. It should be noted that people with excess stomach acid who used PPIs were less likely to have vascular disease, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), but they also showed a 10% increased risk of chronic kidney disease and a 76% increased risk of dying prematurely.

The team estimated that up to two-thirds of all people on PPIs do not have a verified indication for the drug.

Both of these studies were presented at the ASN Kidney Week 2015 conference in San Diego on November 3. Like all studies, these findings should not be considered final until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Healthy Diet May Reduce Age-Related Cognitive Decline

Evidence now suggests that eating healthier may reduce cognitive decline and negative impacts on memory and thinking abilities in older adults. The study analyzed the diets of 2,223 adults aged 60 or older, and compared this information with their cognitive function over a six-year period. All individuals were dementia-free at the start of the study and underwent cognitive testing at the start, and again after three years and six years.

Cognitive abilities were measured using the Mini-Mental State Examination, which is frequently used in research settings and by health care professionals to screen for dementia. In the study population, those who mostly consumed an unhealthy diet had approximately twice as much cognitive decline as those who consumed a mix of healthy and unhealthy diets together over time. People with the highest adherence to what researchers termed a prudent diet (vegetables, fruits, cooking and dressing oil, cereals and legumes, whole grains, rice and pasta, fish, low-fat dairy, poultry, and water) and the least adherence to the Western diet experienced the smallest decline in cognitive function over 12 months.

This study is now in the corrected proof stage and findings should be viewed as tentative until peer-review is finished, at which point it will be published in Alzheimer’s and Dementia. But you can read the full proof now at without charge.

Antibiotics in Childhood May Promote Obesity

Newly published research suggests that children who regularly receive antibiotics gain weight significantly faster than their peers who do not. Repeated antibiotic use in childhood was found to be linked to a higher BMI (body-mass index) by the age of 15, according to this latest study. (One in three children in the U.S. is now overweight or obese. According to the American Heart Association, prevalence of obesity in children has more than tripled from 1971-2011, boosting the risk of a wide range of health problems that were not seen until adulthood in older generations, including high blood pressure, Type II diabetes, elevated cholesterol levels, and depression. Farm animals are often given antibiotics to fatten them up in a shorter time.)

Scientists assessed electronic health records of 163,820 children, aged 3-18 years, to determine body mass index (BMI) and antibiotic use in the previous year. Results showed that at age 15, the children who had taken antibiotics seven times or more during childhood weighed approximately three pounds more than those who did not receive any antibiotics. Nearly 21% of the children had received seven or more antibiotic prescriptions during childhood. The weight gain observed was likely underestimated, the study suggested, as the lifetime antibiotic histories, including antibiotic use outside the health system, would not have been recorded.

In killing harmful bacteria, antibiotics also kill good bacteria, affecting the way food is broken down, and increasing caloric intake. The study concludes that, while the weight gain attributable to antibiotics may seem modest by the end of childhood, the effects are cumulative and may continue and compound well into adulthood.

This study was published in the October 2015 issue of the International Journal of Obesity. It can now be accessed at for a fee.

Did You Know…?

Meat consumption generally is associated with a 300% increased risk of dementia.

Maple Syrup Extract Protects Liver from High-Fat Diet Effects

Research on mice has shown that components in maple syrup extract affect gene expression in the liver to suppress the liver inflammation commonly caused by a high fat diet. (Maple syrup is a concentrated sap from the maple tree, Acer saccarum. Scientists are becoming interested in maple syrup as a source of beneficial compounds such as antioxidants. Previous research reported the possibility that maple syrup may enhance liver function in rats by suppressing the production of ammonia. Both fat and cholesterol have been shown to cause liver inflammation and fatty liver disease in rodent studies.)

Using a technique called nutrigenomics to study changes in expression of genes in the liver, scientists divided mice into three groups. One group was fed a normal-fat diet, the second a high-fat diet, and the third a high-fat diet with maple syrup extract, for a total of eight weeks. Gene expression was negatively changed in the high-fat-diet-only group, but some gene expressions were mitigated back to normal levels in the high-fat-diet-with-extract group. These enriched genes related to lipid metabolism and inflammatory responses. The researchers concluded that ingestion of maple syrup extract has the potential to offset liver inflammation induced by a high-fat diet.

This study was published in the November 2015 issue of the journal Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry. The report can be read at for a fee.

Did You Know…?

Contrary to natural assumption, an observational study reported in Critical Care Medicine found that patients with low LDL (bad) cholesterol and low triglyceride levels had a 99% greater risk of dying during the 30 days following a heart attack than those with high levels. Visit for more information.

TV Viewing Linked to Eight Leading Causes of Death

A new study has reported an association between increasing hours of television viewing per day and increasing risk of death from most of the major causes of death in the U.S. (On average, 80% of American adults watch 3.5 hours of television daily, and multiple observational studies have demonstrated a link between TV viewing and poorer health. Previous studies had reported a relationship between TV viewing and elevated risk of death from cancer and cardiovascular disease.)

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute looked at more than 221,000 individuals aged 50-71 years who were free of chronic disease at study entry. They confirmed the association for higher mortality risk from cancer and heart disease. In addition, they identified new associations with higher risk of death from most of the leading causes of death, including diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, Parkinson’s disease, and liver disease. The study found that, compared to those who watched less than one hour per day, individuals who watched TV for three to four hours per day were 15% more likely to die over the study period, and those who watched seven or more hours were 47% more likely to die during the study.

They accounted for other factors such as calorie or alcohol intake, smoking, and health status of the population, but the association of TV with death remained. This study will be published in the December 2015 edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Meanwhile, it can be read in full at for a fee.

From the News Briefs Archives

(The following studies were published within the past five years in Vitality, and are considered worth repeating.)

B Vitamin Cocktail Delays Alzheimer’s

Researchers have shown that an inexpensive regimen of specific B vitamins delay the start of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. A specific combination of vitamins B6, B12, and B9 (more commonly known as folic acid), slowed atrophy of gray matter in brain areas most affected by Alzheimer’s disease. (Older people’s brains shrink approximately 0.5% a year from the age of 60 onwards, and faster in people with vitamin B12 deficiency, mild cognitive impairment, or Alzheimer’s disease. Delaying the onset of dementia is a goal not yet achieved by prescription drugs.

If studies confirm this finding of success with a vitamin regimen, it may help to stem the surge in cases, which the W.H.O. predicted would more than triple, from 36 million worldwide in 2010 to 115 million in 2050.)

Researchers tracked 156 people, aged 70 and older, who had mild memory loss and high levels of a protein previously linked to dementia. The study found that the amount of gray matter declined by 5.2% in those taking a placebo, compared with 0.6% in those who took the vitamin cocktail, over a two-year follow-up period. The supplements together cost about 30 cents a day in pharmacies and health-food stores, and included 0.5 milligrams of vitamin B12, along with 20 milligrams of vitamin B6 and 0.8 milligrams of folic acid. If you delay the onset of Alzheimer’s by five years, you can halve the number of people dying from it.

It is too early to put everyone on B vitamins, the researchers advised, citing the need first for more evidence on what is actually going on in the brain. One of the researchers holds three patents for certain B vitamin formulations for Alzheimer’s. This new study was funded in part by vitamin maker Meda AB. Vitamin B12 is found in liver, fish and milk, and in the folic acid in fruit and vegetables. Deficiency of folate and B vitamins is already linked to dementia. A 2008 U.S. study found that people who had moderate or severe Alzheimer’s didn’t benefit from these supplements.

This study was released May 20, 2013, ahead of publication in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Find it at

CoQ10 Helps Heart Failure Patients Survive

Researchers have reported on a breakthrough study which found that taking coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10, supplements improves overall survival in patients with moderate to severe heart failure. The two subject groups took either 100 milligrams of CoQ10 three times daily or placebo. Results at two years showed that the primary endpoint of major adverse cardiovascular event was reached by 14% in the CoQ10 group versus 25% of patients in the placebo group. Furthermore, at two years, in comparison to placebo, CoQ10-treated patients had a significantly lower cardiovascular mortality, fewer hospitalizations, and greater improvements in functionality. (This represents the first study with adequate evidence to show that CoQ10, a vitamin-like substance that is also known as ubiquinone, has an effect on survival in heart failure patients. Earlier research has been ignored by medical authorities due to weak study evidence and findings. Also, synthesis is known to be inhibited by statins, drugs commonly prescribed to heart failure patients, which are known to reduce serum levels of CoQ10 by up to 40%. These results are guideline-changing, making a strong case for CoQ10 to be considered as part of the maintenance therapy for all patients with chronic heart failure. Some experts have suggested that the ubiquinol form is better absorbed than the ubiquinone form, but ubiquinol was not used in the study.)

This study was presented May 28, 2013 in Lisbon at the Heart Failure Congress 2013.

Johns Hopkins Scientist Criticizes CDC Promotion of Flu Vaccine

A Johns Hopkins scientist has issued a blistering report on influenza vaccines, and the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published it on May 16, 2013. Peter Doshi, PhD charges that, although vaccines are being pushed on the public in unprecedented numbers, they are less effective and cause more side effects than alleged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). His report also suggests that the studies that underlie the CDC policy of encouraging people to get a yearly flu shot are often low-quality studies that do not substantiate the official claims. Promoting influenza vaccines is one of the most visible and aggressive public health policies in North America. Only 20 years ago, 32 million doses of influenza vaccine were available in the U.S. on an annual basis. Today, the total has skyrocketed to 135 million doses.

The main assertion of the CDC that fuels the push for flu vaccines each year is that influenza comes with a risk of serious complications which can cause death, especially in senior citizens and those suffering from chronic illnesses. But when read carefully, the CDC acknowledges that studies finding any perceived reduction in death rates may be due to the “healthy-user effect”, which is the tendency for healthier people to be vaccinated more than people who are less healthy. The only randomized trial of influenza vaccines done with older people found no decrease in deaths. Randomized, controlled trials of healthy adults found that vaccinating between 33 and 100 people resulted in one less case of influenza. In addition, according to the BMJ report, no evidence exists to show that this reduction in influenza risk for a specific population extrapolates into any reduced risk of serious complications from influenza, such as hospitalizations or deaths, among seniors.

Perhaps the most surprising part of the report for some readers is the included explanation that the “flu” and influenza are not necessarily the same disease. It may seem like semantics, but even the ideal influenza vaccine, matched perfectly to circulating strains of wild influenza and capable of stopping all influenza viruses, can only deal with a small part of the “flu” problem because most flu appears to have nothing to do with influenza. Every year, hundreds of thousands of respiratory flu specimens are tested and, of those, an average 16% are found to be influenza-positive. But the so-called flu vaccine is strictly for influenza forms of the flu, and not the majority of flu diseases. The report explains, “All influenza is flu, but only one in six flus are influenza. It is no wonder so many people feel that flu shots don’t work: for most flus, they can’t.”

This analysis is accessible online, at the site of the British Medical Journal, in its full-text version at without charge.

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