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Knowledge Update

For your heart, depression may be as risky as obesity and cholesterol

​London, Jan 14 (IANS) The risk of death by cardiovascular diseases due to depression may be just as great as that posed by high cholesterol levels and obesity, a study has found. Worldwide 350 million people are affected by depression, according to the World Health Organisation. "Our study shows that the risk of a fatal cardiovascular disease due to depression is almost as great as that due to elevated cholesterol levels or obesity," said Karl-Heinz Ladwig, professor at Technical University of Munich (TUM) in Germany. Depression accounted for nearly 15 per cent of the cardiovascular deaths. "That is comparable to the other risk factors, such as hypercholesterolemia, obesity and smoking," Ladwig said, noting that these factors cause 8.4 to 21.4 per cent of the cardiovascular deaths. In the study, the team included 3,428 male patients between the ages of 45 and 74 years and observed their development over a period of 10 years. The researchers analysed the relationship between depression and other risk factors like tobacco smoke, high cholesterol levels, obesity or hypertension and how big a role does each factor play? The results show that only high blood pressure and smoking are associated with a greater risk. The study was recently published in the journal Atherosclerosis.

Your smart watch can flag your sickness

​New York, Jan 13 (IANS) Your smart watch may not only measure your steps and physiological parameters but also detect when you are falling sick, a new study has revealed. Researchers from the Stanford University found that smart watches and other personal biosensor devices can help detect when people have colds and even signal the onset of complex conditions like Lyme disease and diabetes. "We want to tell when people are healthy and also catch illnesses at their earliest stages," said Michael Snyder, Professor at the Stanford University, US. The study collected a myriad of measurements from participants for up to two years to detect deviations from their normal baseline for measurements such as heart rate and skin temperature. "Because the devices continuously follow these measures, they potentially provide rapid means to detect the onset of diseases that change your physiology," the study noted. It was found that many of these deviations coincided with times when people became ill. For example, heart rate and skin temperature tends to rise when people become ill, said Snyder. To detect these deviations, the researchers wrote a software programme for data from a smart watch called 'Change of Heart'. The devices detected common colds and also detected the presence of Lyme disease in the researcher involved in the study. "This research paves the way for the smart phone to serve as a health dashboard, monitoring health and sensing early signs of illness, likely even before the person wearing it does," the study published in PLOS Biology added.

Weight lifting exercises may cut risks of heart disease, diabetes

​Toronto, Jan 12 (IANS) Your new year resolution of hitting the gym to indulge in some weight lifting exercises may not only help you tone those muscles, but also lower the risk of cardiovascular disease as well as Type 2 diabetes, researchers say. The findings showed that resistance-based interval training exercise - a simple leg exercises, involving weights -- improved blood vessel function of individuals with and without diabetes. "Individuals with Type 2 diabetes are up to four times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than those without," said Jonathan Little, Assistant Professor at University of British Columbia (UBC) - Okanagan Campus in Canada. "After completion of just one bout of exercise, we saw an improvement in blood vessel function, an indicator of heart health and heart attack risk," Little added. In the study, the team compared the effect of two types of interval training -- resistance (leg press, extensions and lifts) and cardiovascular (stationary bicycle) exercises -- on blood vessel function on 35 participants assigned into three groups -- people with Type 2 diabetes, non-exercisers, and regular exercisers without diabetes. "All exercisers showed greater blood vessel function improvement after the resistance-based interval training. However, this was most prominent in the Type 2 diabetes group," noted Monique Francois, graduate student at UBC. The exercise regimen could also prove to be a cost-effective tool to help people manage their disease, the researchers said. The study was published in American Journal of Physiology: Heart and Circulatory Physiology

Daily stress may put you at heart disease, stroke risk: Lancet

​New York, Jan 12 (IANS) Sounding an alarm bell for those who take unnecessary stress at workplace or at home, researchers have now linked chronic psychosocial stress with an heightened risk of developing heart disease and stroke. According to the team from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, heightened activity in the amygdala -- a region of the brain involved in stress -- can lead to cardiovascular disease in humans apart from established causes like smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes. Previous research has also shown that the amygdala is more active in people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression but before this study, no research had identified the region of the brain that links stress to the risk of heart attack and stroke. "Our results provide a unique insight into how stress may lead to cardiovascular disease. This raises the possibility that reducing stress could produce benefits that extend beyond an improved sense of psychological wellbeing," said lead author Dr Ahmed Tawakol from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Eventually, chronic stress could be treated as an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which is routinely screened for and effectively managed like other major risk factors, Dr Tawakol added in a paper published in the prestigious journal The Lancet. In the study, 293 patients were given a combined PET/CT scan to record their brain, bone marrow and spleen activity and inflammation of their arteries. The patients were then tracked for an average of 3.7 years to see if they developed cardiovascular disease. In this time, 22 patients had cardiovascular events including heart attack, angina, heart failure, stroke and peripheral arterial disease. Those with higher amygdala activity had a greater risk of subsequent cardiovascular disease and developed problems sooner than those with lower activity. The researchers also found that the heightened activity in the amygdala was linked to increased bone marrow activity and inflammation in the arteries, suggesting this may cause the increased cardiovascular risk. Although more research is needed to confirm that stress causes this chain of events as the study was relatively small, these findings could eventually lead to new ways to target and treat stress-related cardiovascular risk, the researchers noted. "These clinical data establish a connection between stress and cardiovascular disease, thus identifying chronic stress as a true risk factor for acute cardiovascular syndromes," wrote Dr Ilze Bot, Leiden Academic Centre for Drug Research, Leiden University, The Netherlands, in a linked comment.

What triggers people to eat more

​New York, Jan 12 (IANS) Regular intake of a "western diet" -- consisting of foods that are high on sugar and fat levels -- is behind an alarming rise of conditions such as overeating and obesity, researchers warned. However, according to the study, the increased "peripheral endocannabinoid signalling" in the western food is the key factor that triggers an anxiety in the people to eat more. The endocannabinoid system -- located throughout the mammalian body, including the brain and all peripheral organs -- helps in many aspects inside our body with major functions related to intake of food, balancing the energy and reward. Endocannabinoids are the signalling molecules present inside this system. The findings showed blocking the actions of these endocannabinoids can lead to normalisation of food intake and meal patterns, thus help in the treatment or cure of overeating and obesity. "Our research shows that targeting cannabinoid receptors in the periphery with pharmacological inhibitors that do not reach the brain holds promise as a safe therapeutic approach for the treatment of overeating and diet-induced obesity," said lead author Nicholas V. DiPatrizio, Assistant Professor at the University of California, Riverside. "This therapeutic approach to targeting the periphery has substantial advantages over traditional drugs that interact with the brain and cause psychiatric side-effects," DiPatrizio added. Using a mouse model, the team fed a group of mice on a western diet for 60 days and another who was kept on a low fat or sugar diet. The results revealed that the mice group on the western diet displayed 'hyperphagia' with increased weight. These also had the tendency to intake larger amount of food with the habit of consuming more calories at a higher pace. "These hyperphagic responses to western diet were met with greatly elevated levels of endocannabinoids in the small intestine and circulation," DiPatrizio said, adding that further research is necessary to identify whether similar mechanisms drive obesity in humans. The study appears in the journal Physiology and Behavior.

Play an instrument and become more alert in life

Toronto, Jan 11 (IANS) Playing a musical instrument does not only produce melodies but can make the elderly more reactive and alert in daily life, says a new study. According to the researchers from Université de Montréal, musicians have a faster reaction time to sensory stimuli than non-musicians have. "The more we know about the impact of music on really basic sensory processes, the more we can apply musical training to individuals who might have slower reaction times," said lead researcher Simon Landry. Playing an instrument also has implications for preventing some effects of ageing. "As people get older, for example, we know their reaction times get slower. So if we know that playing a musical instrument increases reaction times, then maybe playing an instrument will be helpful for them," Landry explained. In the study that involved 16 musicians and 19 non-musicians, the researchers found significantly faster reaction times with musicians for auditory, tactile and audio-tactile stimulations. "The idea is to better understand how playing a musical instrument affects the senses in a way that is not related to music," Landry added in a paper published in the journal Brain and Cognition.

Couch potatoes at dementia risk same as those with genes

Toronto, Jan 11 (IANS) If you are a sedentary type and prefer sleeping over hitting the ground, better start exercising or face the risk of developing dementia like those who are genetically predisposed to it, warns a new study. According to researchers from McMaster University, carriers of a variant of the 'apolipoprotein E' (APOE) genotype are more likely to develop dementia and inactivity dramatically increases the risk for non-carriers. APOE is the principal cholesterol carrier in the brain. This protein is involved in Alzheimer's disease and cardiovascular disease. "The important message here is that being inactive may completely negate the protective effects of a healthy set of genes," said Jennifer Heisz, Assistant Professor at McMaster. Approximately 47.5 million people worldwide are living with dementia and the numbers are expected to surge to 115.4 million by the year 2050. Researchers suggested that physical exercise can reduce the risk of developing dementia among those individuals who are not at genetic risk. "Exercise can mitigate the risk of dementia for people without the variant of the 'apolipoprotein genotype'. However, more research is needed to determine the implications from a public health perspective," added Barbara Fenesi, postdoctoral fellow. The study involving over 1,600 Canadians and published in the journal Alzheimer's Disease, also noted that a physically-active lifestyle helps the brain operate more effectively.

Just a 45-minute brisk walk a week can improve arthritis

​New York, Jan 10 (IANS) Older people suffering from arthritis can remain fit by engaging in 45 minutes of moderate physical activity such as brisk walking a week, says a study. According to US federal guidelines, achieving 150 minutes of moderate activity per week helps in preventing premature death and serious illness. However, only one in 10 older adults with arthritis meet these guidelines. The team from Northwestern University conducted a study on both men and women to determine that 45 minutes per week is the magic number for seniors. The researchers measured the physical activity of 1,600 adults who had pain, aching or stiffness in their hips, knees or feet. "We found the most effective type of activity to maintain or improve your function two years later was moderate activity, and it did not need to be done in sessions lasting 10 minutes or more, as recommended by federal guidelines," Dunlop concluded. Approximately, one third of participants improved or had high function after two years. But those participants who achieved the minimum of 45 minutes of moderate activity per week were 80 percent more likely to improve over two years compared with those doing less. "For older people suffering from arthritis who are minimally active, a 45-minute minimum might feel more realistic. Even a little activity is better than none," said Dorothy Dunlop, professor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. Achieving this less rigorous goal will promote the ability to function and may be a feasible starting point for older adults dealing with discomfort in their joints," Dunlop added in a paper which appeared in the journal Arthritis Care and Research.

Change eating schedule to lose your weight

​New York, Jan 8 (IANS) Simply changing your eating schedule like taking the last meal of the day by the mid-afternoon can help burn fat and lose weight, suggests new research. The study that tested early time-restricted feeding (eTRF) on humans found that this meal-timing strategy reduced swings in hunger and altered fat and carbohydrate burning patterns, which may help with losing weight. With eTRF, people eat their last meal by the mid-afternoon and do not eat again until breakfast the next morning. "Eating only during a much smaller window of time than people are typically used to may help with weight loss," said one of the researchers Courtney Peterson, Associate Professor at University of Alabama at Birmingham in the US. The human body has an internal clock, and many aspects of metabolism are at their optimal functioning in the morning. Therefore, eating in alignment with the body's circadian clock by eating earlier in the day may positively influence health. Previous animal studies showed that early time-restricted feeding helped rodents burn more fat. During the current study, Peterson and her colleagues followed a small group of men and women with excess weight over four days of eating between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., and four days of eating between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Researchers then tested the impact of the meal timing strategy on calories burned, fat burned and appetite. Participants tried both eating schedules, ate the same number of calories both times and completed all testing under supervision. Researchers found that, although eTRF did not affect how many total calories participants burned, it reduced daily hunger swings and increased fat burning during several hours at night. It also improved metabolic flexibility, which is the body's ability to switch between burning carbohydrates and burning fats. Whether early time-restricted feeding helps with long-term weight loss or improves other aspects of health is still unknown. Because the study involved only a small number of participants, a larger, more comprehensive study will need to take place to confirm the finding, Peterson said. The results were presented recently at the annual meeting of The Obesity Society held in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Cell phones distract less frequent internet users more

​Tokyo, Jan 8 (IANS) If you are an infrequent internet user, then mere presence of a smartphone can adversely affect your cognitive performance, a study has found. "The mere presence of a mobile phone was a distraction among infrequent internet users," said Jun-ichiro Kawahara, Associate Professor at Hokkaido University, Japan. The researchers also found that people who are often glued to a screen are not easily distracted by the presence of a cell phone. In presence of a mobile phone, people are automatically drawn to it and then the individual differences decide how they attempt to ignore it. Researchers measured the effect of mobile phones on the ability to pay attention of 40 undergraduate students divided into two groups. The researchers placed a mobile phone next to a computer monitor, asked the participants of one group to search for a target character amongst other characters that appeared on the monitor screen. For the another group, a memo pad of the same size as the phone was placed by the monitor, and the same experiment was conducted. The participants were asked about how frequently they use and how attached they are to the internet. The researchers found that people who infrequently used the internet took longer to find the target character than the control group. On the other hand, it was found that heavy users were not distracted by the phone and rather more efficient to notice the target when it appeared on the side of the monitor where the mobile phone was placed. The study -- published in the journal Japanese Psychological Research -- also suggests that the influence of a mobile phone on users' cognitive performance differed depending on the degree of their internet usage.