Alzheimer’s early diagnostics by eye tests and smell detecting aptitude check

According to the results of four research trials presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) in Copenhagen, a decreased ability to identify odors might indicate the development of Alzheimer’s disease, while examinations of the eye could indicate the build-up of beta-amyloid, a protein associated with Alzheimer’s.

In two of the studies, the decreased ability to identify odors was significantly associated with loss of brain cell function and progression to Alzheimer’s disease. In two other studies, the level of beta-amyloid detected in the eye (a) was significantly correlated with the burden of beta-amyloid in the brain and (b) allowed researchers to accurately identify the people with Alzheimer’s in the studies.

Beta-amyloid protein is the primary material found in the sticky brain “plaques” characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. It is known to build up in the brain many years before typical Alzheimer’s symptoms of memory loss and other cognitive problems.

Clinically, at this time it is only possible to detect Alzheimer’s late in its development, when significant brain damage has already occurred. Biological markers of Alzheimer’s disease may be able to detect it at an earlier stage. For example, using brain PET imaging in conjunction with a specialized chemical that binds to beta-amyloid protein, the buildup of the protein as plaques in the brain can be revealed years before symptoms appear. These scans can be expensive and are not available everywhere. Amyloid can also be detected in cerebrospinal fluid through a lumbar puncture where a needle is inserted between two bones (vertebrae) in your lower back to remove a sample of the fluid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord.

There is growing evidence that the decreased ability to correctly identify odors is a predictor of cognitive impairment and an early clinical feature of Alzheimer’s. As the disease begins to kill brain cells, this often includes cells that are important to the sense of smell.

Matthew E. Growdon, B.A., M.D./M.P.H. candidate at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, and colleagues investigated the associations between sense of smell, memory performance, biomarkers of loss of brain cell function, and amyloid deposition in 215 clinically normal elderly individuals enrolled in the Harvard Aging Brain Study at the Massachusetts General Hospital. Growdon reported at AAIC that in a subgroup of study participants with elevated levels of amyloid in their brain, greater brain cell death, as indicated by a thinner entorhinal cortex, was significantly associated with worse olfactory function — after adjusting for variables including age, gender, and an estimate of cognitive reserve.

Davangere Devanand, M.B.B.S., M.D., Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center reported that in 757 subjects followed, lower odor identification scores on UPSIT were significantly associated with the transition to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

“There is a critical need for a fast, dependable, low-cost and readily available test for the early diagnosis and management of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Pierre N. Tariot, M.D., Director of the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix. “These results show promise as a technique for early detection and monitoring of the disease.”

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Higher blood levels of vitamin D are associated with a reduced risk of cancer

A report published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition by Dr. Ting-Yuan David Cheng and colleagues from the Public Health Sciences Division demonstrates that increased vitamin D intake is associated with a lower lung cancer risk in never-smoking persons. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death and a considerable public health burden. While smoking cessation is considered an effective strategy for cancer prevention, additional approaches are sought to help prevent the over 300,000 worldwide lung cancer deaths a year that are not attributable to tobacco use. Near half of lung cancer cases are not attributable to smoking.

“This study provides new evidence that vitamin D obtained from diet and vitamin supplements is associated with a lower risk of lung cancer,” states Dr. Cheng, noting that it is important “because it gives us clues that insufficient vitamin D intake may be a new risk factor of lung cancer and we may be able to use vitamin D to prevent lung cancer in population.”
A recent study from researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center also suggests vitamin D may be able to stop or prevent cancer. Some of previous studies linked low levels of vitamin D to a higher incidence of cancer and worse survival. Researchers are looking at using vitamin D to help prevent lung cancer from returning and spreading after surgery. Also, according to numerous studies, higher intake or blood levels of vitamin D are associated with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer.
Current recommendations call for 600-800 IU of vitamin D daily, depending on age.


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Demand for a known anti-diabetic drug may grow

A new report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention says more than 29 million American adults have diabetes, and a quarter of them don’t even know it. That’s up from 26 million in 2010. Another 86 million — a third of the adult population — have blood sugar levels high enough to mark them as pre-diabetic.

While about 5 % of people with diabetes are diagnosed with type 1, an autoimmune disease usually diagnosed in childhood, the vast majority have type 2 diabetes, usually caused by non-healthy eating habits and a lack of exercise. High glucose levels damage small blood vessels, so, if left without proper treatment diabetes can cause serious damage to heart, kidneys, eyes, and other organs, as well as to lower limbs (sometimes resulting in amputations).

Diabetes type 2 is effectively treated by some drugs, particularly metformin, a cost-effective drug belonging to the group of biguanides — drugs capable of lowering glucose levels. Metformin has been in use for a few decades and is considered a safe drug. It produces an effect protecting against potentially life threatening complications of diabetes.
More recently, metformin has also been gaining increasing attention from researchers because of its geroprotective effect, i.e. an ability to prolong lifespan.

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Anti-diabetic drug slows aging and lengthens lifespan

A study by Belgian researcher Wouter De Haes and his colleagues from the University of Leuven provides new evidence that metformin, the world’s most widely used anti-diabetic drug, slows aging and increases lifespan.

The drug slows down the aging process by mimicking the effects of dieting. It increases cell robustness, extends their healthy lifespan and longevity in the long term.

Metformin has been used in the treatment of type II diabetes for the past 40 years. This drug counteracts many of the underlying factors that result in the manifestation of the disease. It also produces helpful side benefits that can protect against the lethal complications of type II diabetes.

Metformin is currently one of the most widely prescribed drugs and new findings should help to inform how it is used in patients. Other studies in humans have shown that metformin suppresses some cancers and heart disease.Metformin could even be an effective drug for counteracting the general effects of aging, say the researchers.

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Vitamin D deficiency increases risk of premature death

A new study by the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at UC San Diego found that people who had less than 10 nanograms/milliliter of vitamin D in their blood were twice as likely to die over a nine-year period as people who had at least 30 ng/ml of vitamin D.

The finding comes from a review of 32 previous studies that included analyses of vitamin D blood levels and mortality rates in more than 500,000 people from 14 countries. The average age of participants when their blood was drawn and tested for vitamin D levels was 55. The results suggest that the target level of vitamin D that people should aim for should be raised, told Cedric Garland, professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at UC San Diego.
The main reason for vitamin D deficiency is usually insufficient exposure to sunlight, so it’s recommended that people spend at least 10 minutes a day exposed to sunlight. Taking supplements can also help people make sure they get enough of the vitamin, he said.
Dr. Eric Newman, a resident at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, who was not involved in the study recommended that people get tested for vitamin D. “Vitamin D is important in so many aspects,” including cancer prevention and overall well-being, he added. However, “it is difficult to get the amount [of vitamin D] you need entirely through diet.”

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