Skip to Content
by Alan Mozes

Could a Diet Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?

Scientists say the MIND eating plan significantly reduces risk of the brain disorder
FRIDAY, March 27, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists say they've developed an anti-Alzheimer's diet.
While it couldn't prove cause-and-effect, the new study found that adults who rigorously followed the so-called MIND diet faced a 53 percent lower risk for Alzheimer's, the most common type of dementia. Those sticking to the diet just "moderately well" saw their Alzheimer's risk drop by roughly 35 percent.
"Often, people who eat healthier also participate in other healthy lifestyle behavior, but the MIND diet afforded protection [against Alzheimer's] whether or not other healthy behaviors or health conditions were present," said study author Martha Clare Morris, a nutritional epidemiologist at the Rush University Medical Center and the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center in Chicago.
The eating plan emphasizes healthy grains, vegetables, beans, poultry and fish while also allowing for a limited amount of less healthy red meat, butter and sweets.
The MIND diet combines aspects of the better-known Mediterranean diet with certain features of the so-called DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, both of which call for high consumption of fruits, vegetables, and fish.
But while the MIND diet stresses the importance of plant-based foods, green leafy vegetables and blueberries, it does not push much consumption of fruit, fish, dairy or potatoes.
One expert said he was intrigued by the findings.
"The protective impact they found is significant and substantial enough to make you do a little bit of a double-take," said Dr. Anton Porsteinsson, director of the Alzheimer's care, research and education program at the University of Rochester School of Medicine in New York.
"With a diet like this it seems that it's never too late to start," Porsteinsson said. "And that's a very important message."
Among the non-dietary factors Morris and colleagues accounted for were smoking history, exercise habits, educational background, mentally challenging activities (such as reading or doing crossword puzzles) and a history of obesity, depression, diabetes or heart disease.
The study results -- published in the March issue of Alzheimer's & Dementia -- suggest that the longer one follows the MIND diet, the greater the protection against Alzheimer's disease, Morris said.
Both the Mediterranean and DASH diets have been linked to a lower risk for heart disease, while some research has also identified protection against dementia.
But both diets are more stringent than the MIND diet, Morris said. The Mediterranean diet, for example, requires eating fish daily and three to four servings of both fruits and vegetables each day, she explained.
To explore how the MIND diet potentially affects Alzheimer's risk, investigators analyzed food questionnaires completed by more than 900 men and women between 58 and 98 years old. All were enrolled in the Rush Memory and Aging Project.
The surveys, completed between 2004 and 2013, set out to quantify each respondent's intake of 144 food items the prior year. No dietary intervention was involved.
Participants were then tracked for an average of four to five years, during which time they underwent repetitive neuropsychological testing.
Out of 923 adults, 144 developed Alzheimer's during that time. Those whose food consumption conformed with the MIND diet were much less likely to develop the progressive brain disorder than their peers.
Tight adherence to the DASH or Mediterranean diets also was linked to reduced risk for Alzheimer's, but loosely following either of those diets resulted in little mental benefit, the researchers found.
Morris cautioned that "this is the first study to investigate the effect of the MIND diet on Alzheimer's disease," adding more research is needed to verify the findings.
Still, the study is "well-designed and well-executed," said Porsteinsson.
He said it's noteworthy that the MIND diet seems to retain some protective benefit even if it's not strictly adhered to.
"And it may also be easier for Americans to follow, because it includes foods that are more familiar, comfortable, and available," Porsteinsson concluded.
More information
There's more on preventing Alzheimer's disease at the U.S. National Institute on Aging (http://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/preventing-alzheimers-disease/search-alzheimers-prevention-strategies/ ).
SOURCES: Martha Clare Morris, Sc.D., nutritional epidemiologist, department of internal medicine and Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago; Anton Porsteinsson, M.D., professor, psychiatry, and director, Alzheimer's Disease Care, Research and Education Program, University of Rochester School of Medicine, Rochester, N.Y.; March 2015, Alzheimer's & Dementia
by Alan Mozes

E-Cigarettes May Pose a Risk in Pregnancy and to Children

Nicotine can harm developing brains, experts say
FRIDAY, March 27, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Nicotine exposure from e-cigarettes may damage the developing brains of infants in the womb, as well as the brains of children and adolescents, suggests a new review of nicotine's effects.
Animal experiments have shown that exposure to nicotine can harm developing lungs and brains, according to the review's senior author Dr. Tim McAfee, director of U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Office on Smoking and Health. The harm in the animal brains occurs in areas involved in thinking and language development, and short- and long-term memory, he said.
McAfee said that manufacturers contend that e-cigarettes are safe because they release harmless water vapor. However, that vapor contains nicotine, which can be inhaled by kids who are near people using these devices. Children can also be exposed to nicotine from surfaces where it has accumulated from the vapor. If children touch those surfaces and then place their hands into their mouths, they can potentially be exposed to nicotine.
However, it should be noted that most of the studies in the review don't look specifically at e-cigarette use. Instead, most looked at the effects of nicotine exposure on animals and humans from other sources, such as cigarettes or chewing tobacco. So, it remains unclear exactly how much nicotine exposure developing babies, children and teens are getting from e-cigarettes, as well as what the potential harms are from that exposure.
The amount of nicotine an e-cigarette delivers depends on the type of e-cigarette, McAfee said. The nicotine dose can range from as little as the equivalent of half a cigarette to as much as a whole cigarette, he said.
McAfee acknowledged that e-cigarettes may help people trying to give up cigarettes.
"Although e-cigarettes have some benefit among adult smokers if they are used as a complete substitute for all tobacco products, e-cigarettes should not be used by youth and adult non-tobacco users because of the harmful effects of nicotine and the risk of progression to other forms of tobacco use," he said.
The devices also shouldn't be used by pregnant women or teens, according to McAfee. In pregnant women, the developing fetus is exposed to nicotine from e-cigarettes because the mother's blood is shared with the fetus. And, teens using e-cigarettes can become addicted to nicotine, which can damage their developing brain, McAfee said.
"We have to start taking steps, particularly to protect children and teens and pregnant women from the negative health effects of nicotine on the developing brain," he said.
Gregory Conley, president of the industry group, the American Vaping Association, agreed that pregnant women should avoid nicotine in any form, "While the use of smoke-free nicotine products is generally far less hazardous than smoking, pregnant women should refrain from using all nicotine products, including FDA-approved products like the nicotine patch and gum."
McAfee noted that pregnant women aren't the only group the researchers are concerned about. He said that over the past couple of years there has been an epidemic of TV advertising glamorizing the use of e-cigarettes. "There is an explosion of e-cigarette use among our youth that we are greatly concerned about," he said.
E-cigarettes should be regulated in the same way real cigarettes are, including restricting sales by age and adding warning labels to the packaging, he recommended. In addition, e-cigarettes should be made part of smoke-free laws to protect people from secondhand exposure, he said.
McAfee added that there should be restrictions on advertising these products to teens and price increases to discourage teens from buying them.
"The FDA is attempting to regulate these products, but has not yet done so," McAfee said.
The report was published in the March issue of American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Conley took issue with the potential motives of the review's authors.
"Regrettably, it appears that this review was primarily written to give the authors a platform to make policy recommendations that would be useful in federal and state lobbying efforts by activists who oppose e-cigarettes as a way to reduce harm from tobacco by adult smokers," Conley said.
But others felt the review provided crucial information. Vince Willmore, a spokesman for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said, "This article provides an important and timely reminder that nicotine exposure can cause lasting harm to the health of young people whose brains and lungs are still developing."
The report underscores the need for the FDA to finish its rule to regulate all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, and to prevent the marketing and sale of all tobacco products to kids, he said.
"The report also provides further evidence to support increasing the age of sale for tobacco products to 21. We should be doing everything we can to prevent youth use of any tobacco product and prevent and reduce tobacco use during pregnancy," Willmore said.
More information
For more information on nicotine, visit the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (http://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/tobacco-nicotine ).
SOURCES: Tim McAfee, M.D., director, Office on Smoking and Health, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Vince Willmore, spokesman, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids; Gregory Conley, president, American Vaping Association; March 2015 American Journal of Preventive Medicine
by Alan Mozes

Free School Breakfasts Appear to Boost Kids' Grades

Math, reading and science scores better in schools that subsidized morning meals
FRIDAY, March 27, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Free school breakfasts may help low-income students do better in the classroom, a new study suggests.
Students at elementary schools that offered free breakfast had 25 percent better math grades, and similarly higher reading and science grades, than students at schools without free breakfast.
However, although the researchers found a link between schools that provide free morning meals and higher school performance, the study wasn't designed to prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
The breakfasts were provided through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's School Breakfast Program.
The findings provide more evidence of the link between good nutrition and good grades, according to study author David Frisvold, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.
"These results suggest that the persistent exposure to the relatively more nutritious breakfast offered through the subsidized breakfast program throughout elementary school can yield important gains in achievement," he said in a university news release.
The school breakfast program for low-income students was launched by the federal government in 1966.
The study was published online recently in the journal Public Economics.
More information
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has more about student nutrition programs (http://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/child-nutrition-programs ).
SOURCE: University of Iowa, news release, March 17, 2015
by Alan Mozes

Health Highlights: March 27, 2015

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
White House Announces New Plan to Fight 'Superbugs'
The White House wants to reduce the use of antibiotics in people and livestock as part of new plan to reduce rates of drug-resistant "superbug" infections.
Doctors who accept Medicare and Medicaid will have to report their antibiotic prescription patterns, and will be provided with real-time data about antibiotic resistance in their area in an effort to reduce over-prescription of the drugs, Bloomberg News reported.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will also develop new rules to limit the use of medically important antibiotics in livestock.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will boost screening of people arriving in the United States from countries with high rates of drug-resistant tuberculosis, Bloomberg reported.
The federal government will also fund new antibiotic research, require hospitals to improve infection control, and create a regional public health network to test and store strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The new effort to fight superbugs would cost $1.2 billion, which is nearly twice the amount currently spent on the effort, Bloomberg reported.
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria cause about 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths a year in the United States, according to the CDC.
The new plan to fight superbugs comes in the wake of outbreaks earlier this year at two Los Angeles hospitals that were linked to medical devices called duodenoscopes, which are used to diagnose and treat problems in the liver, pancreas and gallbladder.
The superbug outbreak at the University of California, Los Angeles Health System included seven serious infections and two deaths. The outbreak at Cedars Sinai Hospital included four infections.
On March 12, the FDA issued final recommendations for the cleaning and sterilization of duodenoscopes and other reusable medical devices used in invasive procedures.
Medicare Overhaul Bill Passed by House
A Medicare overhaul bill that would create a new formula for payments to doctors was passed by the House on Thursday in a 392-to-17 vote.
Under the bill, Medicare payments to doctors would be based on performance, rewarding them for high-quality care rather than the volume of services, The New York Times reported.
The bill would also extend the Children's Health Insurance Program for two years, rather than the four years sought by Democrats. More money would be provided for community health centers, with a restriction for abortion services.
To cover some of the costs of the bill, some higher-income Medicare beneficiaries would have to pay higher premiums for coverage of prescription drugs and doctors' services, The Times reported.
The bill, which has President Barack Obama's support, now goes to a vote in the Senate. That vote could be delayed until after a two-week recess scheduled to start Friday.
Unless Congress takes action, doctors face a 21 percent cut in Medicare fees on April 1. However, Medicare officials could extend the deadline and delay the cuts for about two weeks, The Times reported.
Non-Beating Heart Transplant Recipient in U.K. Doing Well
The U.K. patient who underwent the first heart transplant in Europe using a non-beating heart is doing well.
London resident Huseyin Ulucan, 60, had a heart attack in 2008. He received his new heart at Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire, BBC News reported.
Donor hearts typically come from people who are brain dead, but whose hearts are still beating. Ulucan's new heart came from a donor whose heart and lungs had stopped functioning.
The heart was re-started in the donor five minutes after death and kept supplied with blood and nutrients. "We had the heart beating for about 50 minutes, and by monitoring its function were able to tell that it was in very good condition," lead transplant surgeon Stephen Large told BBC News.
The heart was then removed from the donor's body and kept nourished and beating for another three hours by a special machine, before being transplanted into Ulucan.
"Before the surgery, I could barely walk and I got out of breath very easily. I really had no quality of life," Ulucan told BBC News. "Now I'm feeling stronger every day, and I walked into the hospital this morning without any problem."
The use of non-beating hearts could increase the number of hearts available for transplant by at leat 25 percent, according to Papworth Hospital.
The world's first transplant using a non-beating heart was performed last year in Australia.
Homeopathic Drugs to be Reviewed at Meeting: FDA
The safety and effectiveness of homeopathic medicines will be the subject of a two-day meeting next month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.
Like dietary supplements, homeopathic medicines do not have to prove they are safe or effective before they're sold in the United States. Unlike supplements, homeopathic medicines claim to treat specific medical conditions, the Associated Press reported.
In a notice posted online Thursday, the FDA said experts attending the meeting on April 20 and 21 will be asked if there is data to "better assess the risks and benefits" of homeopathic medicines. The agency also wants to assess the appropriateness of selling some homeopathic drugs without a prescription.
The FDA noted that many of the medical conditions listed on homeopathic medicines "have never been considered for over-the-counter use under a formal regulatory process," the AP reported.
Controversial Abortion Requirement Passed by Arizona Lawmakers
A bill that requires abortion providers to tell women they can reverse the effects of a drug-induced abortion was passed Wednesday by Arizona lawmakers. There is no science to support the requirement, critics say.
It's the first time such a reversal requirement has been passed in the United States, but Arkansas is considering similar legislation, the Associated Press reported.
The bill also blocks women from buying any health care plan through the federal insurance marketplace that included abortion coverage.
The bill now goes to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, who hasn't expressed an opinion about the legislation, the AP reported.
Needle Exchange Program Approved to Fight Indiana HIV Outbreak
A short-term needle exchange program has been introduced to combat an HIV outbreak in southeastern Indiana, where a health emergency was declared Thursday by Gov. Mike Pence.
He said the needle exchange will last for 30 days before being re-evaluated, the Indianapolis Star reported.
The "sole purpose" of the needle exchange is to halt the spread of HIV and needle exchanges will not become an "anti-drug" policy, Pence said. He added he would veto any broad-based needle exchange program sent to him by the legislature.
There have been 79 HIV cases linked to injection drug use in Scott County. Normally, there are about five such cases a year in the county, according to Pence.
The needle exchange program will be supervised by the state department of health, the Star reported.
by Alan Mozes

Painful Knee Arthritis May Be Linked to Premature Death

Connection is likely due to limited mobility, researcher says
FRIDAY, March 27, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Painful knee arthritis is associated with an increased risk of premature death in women, a new study suggests.
Women with osteoarthritis-related knee pain -- the type associated with normal wear and tear -- were nearly twice as likely to die early from any cause, and more than three times as likely to die from heart problems as those without knee pain from arthritis, the British researchers found.
"These findings suggest that any self-reported knee pain in osteoarthritis, as opposed to hand pain, seems to be a crucial factor leading to early cardiovascular mortality and is likely to be linked with decreased mobility," said lead author Dr. Stefan Kluzek of the Arthritis Research UK Centre of Excellence for Sport, Exercise and Osteoarthritis at the University of Oxford.
There was no increased risk of early death among women with osteoarthritis pain in the hands. Nor did women with X-ray evidence of knee arthritis but no pain have an increased risk of premature death, the study found.
Researchers analyzed data from middle-aged British women who were tracked for an average of 22 years.
The study is scheduled for presentation Friday at the World Congress on Osteoporosis, Osteoarthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases in Milan, Italy. Data and conclusions presented at meetings are usually considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
"More research is needed to understand how people adapt to knee pain, and how this leads to cardiovascular impairment," Kluzek said in a news release from the International Osteoporosis Foundation.
More information
The U.S. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases has more about osteoarthritis (http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Osteoarthritis/osteoarthritis_ff.asp ).
SOURCE: International Osteoporosis Foundation, news release, March 27, 2015
by Alan Mozes

CDC Launches New Round of Graphic Anti-Smoking Ads

Former smokers harmed by tobacco tell their stories
THURSDAY, March 26, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. health officials on Thursday released a new round of graphic anti-smoking ads featuring former smokers living with the ravages of tobacco.
The new ads highlight the benefits of quitting for the families of smokers and the importance of giving up cigarettes completely, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Bottom line, these ads will save lives and they will also save money," CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden said during a news conference Thursday.
Tobacco is "public health enemy number one," Frieden said. "More than 1,000 Americans per day are killed by tobacco -- nearly 500,000 every year."
Yet 42 million Americans still smoke, according to the CDC.
Most Americans who smoke want to quit, he said, and "ads like these help them quit. We know that these ads have saved tens of thousands of lives and prevented hundreds of millions of dollars in health care costs."
Frieden stressed that the increasing use of e-cigarettes is a problematic way to quit smoking.
"If an e-cigarette helps an individual to quit smoking for good, that's a good thing," he said. "But many children are using e-cigarettes and getting hooked on nicotine, and that's an addiction that can stay with you for life. Many adults who think they are going to get off cigarettes by using e-cigarettes are actually continuing to smoke, and that does more harm than good."
Nationally, about three in four adult e-cigarette users also smoke cigarettes, according to the CDC.
Among those former smokers featured in the ads is Julia, 58, who smoked for more than 20 years and developed colon cancer at 49. "I tried to quit many times," she said during the news conference. "With the help of my family and my faith, I was able to quit smoking successfully. Unfortunately, I did not walk away from smoking without consequences. The battle I fought with cancer isn't something I would wish on anybody."
Other participants included:
Marlene, 67, who started smoking in high school and began losing her vision at 56. She quit smoking, but now needs monthly injection into her eyes to slow the progression of macular degeneration. Mark, 47, an Air Force veteran who smoked cigarettes and used smokeless tobacco. He quit in 2009 after developing rectal cancer at age 42. Tiffany, 35, whose mother died from lung cancer when Tiffany was 16. She quit smoking when her own daughter turned 16 so she could be around for important events in her daughter's life. Kristy, 35, who tried e-cigarettes to quit but ended up using both products. She then suffered a collapsed lung and developed early COPD before quitting completely.
In a statement, Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said, "The new campaign recognizes that winning the fight against tobacco requires a sustained commitment. The tobacco companies spend $8.8 billion a year -- $1 million every hour -- to market their deadly and addictive products, and they never let up in trying to entice kids and keep the customers they already have. Efforts to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit must be equally sustained and aggressive."
Smoking also takes a toll on the economy, according to the CDC. Each year, it costs more than $300 billion a year -- nearly $170 billion in direct medical costs and more than $156 billion in lost productivity.
Beginning March 30, the ads will run for 20 weeks on television, radio, billboards, online, and in theaters, magazines and newspapers.
According to Frieden, the ads that ran in 2014 had an immediate effect. When they were on the air, about 80 percent more people called the national quit line, he noted.
More information
Visit Smokefree.gov (http://smokefree.gov/ ) for tips on quitting.
SOURCES: March 26, 2015, news conference with: Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., director, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; March 26, 2015, statement, Matthew Myers, president, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
by Alan Mozes

In-Patient Rehab Not Always Needed After New Knee

People do just as well with in-home physical therapy, study finds
THURSDAY, March 26, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Patients who choose at-home physical therapy instead of in-patient rehabilitation after knee replacement surgery do just as well when it comes to complications, long-term pain management and movement recovery, new research indicates.
"Based on these findings, we are encouraging more patients to consider going home so they can receive their aftercare in a home environment instead of at an in-patient rehab facility," said study lead author Dr. Douglas Padgett, chief of the Adult Reconstruction and Joint Replacement Service at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.
"Many patients may also feel more comfortable in a familiar home setting during their recovery," he added.
Padgett explained that the study was sparked by a growing tendency to send knee surgery patients directly home from the hospital, rather than to a rehab center.
"With our study, we wanted to make sure this would not affect patient outcomes. If hospitals are telling patients they can have all of their rehab at home, it was important to make sure they would do just as well at home," he said.
To date, only a handful of small studies have explored the issue, Padgett said. He added that the trend has been driven, in part, by a growing reluctance from private insurance companies and Medicare to cover the cost of in-patient rehab expenses.
The findings, presented this week at the American College of Orthopaedic Surgeons annual meeting in Las Vegas, should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Padgett said that standard recovery time for knee replacement surgery can run anywhere from two to four months. Typically, patients assigned for in-patient rehab care stay about two weeks, receiving physical therapy roughly six days per week, sometimes followed by in-home or outpatient care after they return home.
By comparison, those sent directly home are generally visited by a home-care physical therapist three days per week for up to six weeks.
The current comparative analysis involved more than 2,400 patients who'd had knee replacement surgery between 2007 and 2011. Their average age was 66. Almost 90 percent had undergone knee replacement as a result of debilitating osteoarthritis.
The investigators looked back at how patients who chose one or the other option fared, with careful attention paid to ensuring that the two groups were similar in terms of age, overall health status and postsurgery mobility status.
All patients completed multiple surveys: a pain and function survey prior to surgery; a complication survey six months following surgery; and another pain and function survey two years out.
No difference was seen between the two groups at the six month postsurgery mark in terms of infection risk, knee stiffness or other complications. Nor was any difference seen two years out in terms of progress made, pain experienced or ability to move.
The study findings "indicate that patients who go straight home do as well as those who go to an in-patient rehab facility," Padgett said.
The team also found that patients who were sent to a "skilled nursing facility" fared just as well two years out as those who had been sent to a standard in-patient rehab center.
Dr. Bheeshma Ravi, an orthopaedic surgery resident at the University of Toronto in Ontario, Canada, said the findings seemed to line up with indications from earlier investigations.
"Researchers who previously looked at home physio versus rehab following either total hip or total knee replacement surgery in the Canadian context also did not find a difference in outcome," he noted. He added that that study, conducted in 2008, was in fact a randomized and controlled trial, ensuring that all patients were comparable except for their postsurgical method of recovery.
"But in the real world, overall, the persons we tend to send for in-patient rehab are usually the ones who really need it. That would tend to be an older person, for example, or someone who is very frail, or lives alone without added social support," Ravi explained.
"So it's obviously much cheaper to be cared for at home," he said, noting that the 2008 study pegged in-patient rehab at $15,000 per person, compared with $11,000 for at-home care. "But ideally, further research would try to identify the key patient characteristics that suggest specifically who will actually benefit most from rehab and who would do just as well going home."
More information
There's more on knee replacements at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/kneereplacement.html ).
SOURCES: Douglas E. Padgett, M.D., chief, Adult Reconstruction and Joint Replacement Service, Hospital for Special Surgery, New York City; Bheeshma Ravi, M.D., Ph.D., resident, division of orthopaedic surgery, department of surgery, University of Toronto, Canada; American College of Orthopaedic Surgeons meeting, Las Vegas, March 24-28, 2015
by Alan Mozes

Abused Kids Not Destined to Be Abusive Parents, Study Finds

But neglect, sexual abuse was more likely in kids of parents who were abused as children
THURSDAY, March 26, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Conventional wisdom says that abused children often grow up to be abusive parents, but a 30-year study of American families suggests it's more complicated than that.
In one striking finding, researchers uncovered little evidence that physical abuse is passed from one generation to the next.
"That was extremely surprising," said lead researcher Cathy Spatz Widom, a professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in New York City. "The theory has been that children of parents who were abused are at increased risk of physical abuse."
That theory has been supported by past research. But, Widom explained, those studies have been hampered by limitations, such as working "backward" -- starting with parents accused of abuse, and asking them if they'd been mistreated as kids.
"The problem there is, you miss the parents who were abused but did not go on to have these issues," Widom explained.
Her study, published in the March 27 issue of Science, followed two generations of families, including over 1,100 parents and their kids. More than half of the parents had been abused or neglected as children, back in the 1960s and 1970s; the rest had no history of abuse, but were from similar backgrounds.
To see whether the children of abused parents were at risk, Widom's team used three sources: Records from child protective services (CPS); interviews with parents; and interviews with their children once they were young adults.
Overall, the researchers found, children of abused parents were at no greater risk of physical abuse. And that was true whether the information came from parents' or children's reports, or CPS records.
Based on CPS reports, for example, almost 7 percent of kids born to abused parents suffered physical abuse, versus just over 5 percent of the comparison group -- a difference that was not statistically significant.
In contrast, children of abused parents were at higher risk of sexual abuse or neglect, the finding showed.
There's no clear explanation for the difference between physical abuse and other forms of mistreatment, according to Widom.
"It's really puzzling to us," she said. "We need more research to dig into the reasons."
Dr. Kristine Campbell, a pediatrician who studies child abuse, commended the work.
"This is a very impressive research effort," said Campbell, an associate professor at the University of Utah, in Salt Lake City.
"There has long been acceptance that abuse is passed down through generations, almost like eye color or skin tone," Campbell said.
In her personal experience, she added, "I've seen this presented as a reason to suspect a parent of abusing a child. I've also seen parents terrified that they are predestined to abuse their child because of their own histories of maltreatment."
But these findings show that's not the case, Campbell said.
Widom agreed. "Parents shouldn't feel they're doomed to continuing the cycle of abuse," she said.
Her team did, however, find that authorities may have a "bias" toward detecting abuse when parents have a history of child mistreatment.
The researchers looked at the rate of official CPS reports among all parents and kids who reported abuse or neglect: When it came to families where parents had been abused, about 30 percent of abuse cases involved an official CPS report; among other families, CPS picked up only 15 percent of abuse cases.
How would that happen? Widom speculated that parents with a history of child abuse may use more social services in general.
"Each time you're in contact with social services," Widom said, "there's an opportunity to be observed by the people working for those agencies, and they're mandated to report suspected child abuse."
But that does not mean abuse is "over-detected" in those families, Campbell stressed. Instead, she said, the findings imply that the system often misses child mistreatment -- especially in families where parents have no history of abuse.
Despite that sobering take-away, Campbell also saw "good news" in the findings.
"The substantial majority of parents who have experienced child abuse will never abuse their own children," Campbell said.
And for those struggling to get past their childhood mistreatment, many communities have programs that help young moms and dads build their parenting skills, she added.
According to Widom, future studies should dig for the reasons why some abused kids become abusive parents, while many others do not.
Campbell agreed. "If we want to work on child abuse prevention, we need to better understand the perpetrators of abuse," she said. "My experience is that very few parents who abuse their children can simply be dismissed as 'monsters.'"
More information
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more on child abuse prevention (https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/preventing/ ).
SOURCES: Cathy Spatz Widom, Ph.D., professor, psychology, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, New York City; Kristine Campbell, M.D., M.Sc., associate professor, pediatrics, child protection and family health, University of Utah, Salt Lake City; March 27, 2015, Science
by Alan Mozes

Brains of Those With Anorexia React Differently to Hunger Signals

Study also finds changes in areas that regulate self-control
THURSDAY, March 26, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- People with anorexia nervosa have an abnormal brain response to hunger signals, a new study finds.
"When most people are hungry, they are motivated to eat," study first author Christina Wierenga, an associate professor of psychiatry at the the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, said in a university news release.
"Yet individuals with anorexia can be hungry and still restrict their food intake. We wanted to identify brain mechanisms that may contribute to their ability to ignore rewards, like food," she explained.
The finding offers new insight into eating disorders and could lead to new treatments that target specific brain pathways, according to the researchers.
The findings were published recently in the journal Biological Psychiatry.
For the study, the researchers analyzed brain function in 23 women who had recovered from anorexia and 17 healthy women who never had the eating disorder.
The women recovered from anorexia "showed decreased response to reward, even when hungry. This is opposite of healthy women without an eating disorder, who showed greater sensitivity to rewards when hungry," Wierenga said.
"Our study suggests that brain circuitry differences in anorexics make them less sensitive to reward and the motivational drive of hunger. Put another way, hunger does not motivate them to eat," study senior author Dr. Walter Kaye, director of the Eating Disorders Treatment and Research Program at the university, said in the news release.
Kaye also noted that the researchers saw differences in areas of the brain that are important for self-control in those who had recovered from anorexia. That means people with anorexia may have greater self-control than people who don't have the eating disorder, according to Kaye.
Up to 24 million Americans have anorexia or other eating disorders, which can lead to many health problems and can be life-threatening.
More information
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about eating disorders (http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/index.shtml ).
SOURCE: University of California, San Diego, news release, March 23, 2015
by Alan Mozes

COPD Takes Big Toll on Employment, Mobility in U.S.

CDC report finds a quarter of people with the illness are unable to work
THURSDAY, March 26, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- The respiratory illness known as COPD takes a toll on mobility and employment, with a new report finding that nearly one-quarter of Americans with the condition are unable to work.
People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder -- a combination of chronic bronchitis and emphysema often tied to smoking -- face a disabling illness with no cure, according to the report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Looking at U.S. health data for 2013, a team led by CDC investigator Anne Wheaton found that just over 24 percent of adults with COPD say they cannot work, compared to about 5 percent of adults in the general population.
About half of those with COPD said they also had some form of "activity limitation" linked to their condition, and more than 38 percent said they found it difficult to walk or climb stairs.
Because smoking is a major risk factor for COPD, the CDC advises people with the condition to quit if they do smoke. But the new report found that more than one-third of those with COPD continued to smoke.
"Smoking cessation has been shown to slow the progression of COPD," the report said, and smoking raised the odds of activity limitations in patients. "This result reinforces the importance of smoking cessation by COPD patients," the experts said.
Engaging in a "pulmonary rehabilitation" program is another way COPD patients can fight the illness, the CDC team said. "Although physical activity might be challenging for persons with COPD, exercise training is an essential part" of helping the body maximize its respiratory potential, Wheaton and her colleagues said.
COPD remains a heavy burden to millions of patients and the health care system, the researchers said. The illness is the third leading cause of death in the United States, with health care costs estimated at $32 billion in 2010 alone. Another $4 billion was lost due to COPD-linked worker absenteeism, the authors noted.
"Because there is currently no cure for COPD, public health efforts should focus on prevention, such as anti-smoking efforts, and treatment to slow the progression of the disease, manage [accompanying illnesses], and lessen symptoms," Wheaton's group said.
The study was published March 26 in the CDC journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
More information
Find out more about COPD at the American Lung Association (http://www.lung.org/lung-disease/copd/ ).
SOURCE: March 26, 2015, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report

My Health Patient Portal