Tag Archives: harvard health letter

Could changes in thinking skills be reversible dementia? – Harvard

Regular readers know that I have had a number of Alzheimer’s and dementia occurrences in my immediate family. So, I am especially sensitive to anything related to dementia. The following is from Heidi Godman, Exetutive Editor, Harvard Health Letter.

We use the term “dementia” to describe a number of conditions that cause permanent thinking skills changes, such as memory loss and confusion. The most common kind of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which is characterized by clumping proteins that get tangled in and around brain cells, eventually causing them to die. The second most common type of dementia is vascular dementia, caused by decreased blood flow to the brain from atherosclerosis—the accumulation of fatty deposits on artery walls.

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Once dementia strikes, the damage is permanent, and we don’t have many treatment options. So, before a diagnosis is made, it’s crucial to rule out whether the causes for dementia are actually reversible conditions. Continue reading

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Beware of blue light at night – Harvard

Sleep, like walking, is one of the critical elements of good health very commonly not appreciated by the man on the street. I have a Page – How important is a good night’s sleep with a ton of information on it.

Here is some valuable info from the Harvard Health Letter on getting a good night’s sleep.

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Until the advent of artificial lighting, the sun was the major source of lighting, and people spent their evenings in (relative) darkness. Now, in much of the world, evenings are illuminated, and we take our easy access to all those lumens pretty much for granted.

But we may be paying a price for basking in all that light. At night, light throws the body’s biological clock—the circadian rhythm—out of whack. Sleep suffers. Worse, research shows that it may contribute to the causation of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. (My emphasis)

But not all colors of light have the same effect. Blue wavelengths—which are beneficial during daylight hours because they boost attention, reaction times, and mood—seem to be the most disruptive at night. And the proliferation of electronics with screens, as well as energy-efficient lighting, is increasing our exposure to blue wavelengths, especially after sundown.

Daily rhythms influenced by light

Everyone has slightly different circadian rhythms, but the average length is 24 and one-quarter hours. The circadian rhythm of people who stay up late is slightly longer, while the rhythms of earlier birds fall short of 24 hours. Dr. Charles Czeisler of Harvard Medical School showed, in 1981, that daylight keeps a person’s internal clock aligned with the environment.

The health risks of nighttime light

Study after study has linked working the night shift and exposure to light at night to several types of cancer (breast, prostate), diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. It’s not exactly clear why nighttime light exposure seems to be so bad for us. But we do know that exposure to light suppresses the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that influences circadian rhythms, and there’s some experimental evidence (it’s very preliminary) that lower melatonin levels might explain the association with cancer.

A Harvard study shed a little bit of light on the possible connection to diabetes and possibly obesity. The researchers put 10 people on a schedule that gradually shifted the timing of their circadian rhythms. Their blood sugar levels increased, throwing them into a prediabetic state, and levels of leptin, a hormone that leaves people feeling full after a meal, went down.

Even dim light can interfere with a person’s circadian rhythm and melatonin secretion. A mere eight lux—a level of brightness exceeded by most table lamps and about twice that of a night light—has an effect, notes Stephen Lockley, a Harvard sleep researcher. Light at night is part of the reason so many people don’t get enough sleep, says Lockley, and researchers have linked short sleep to increased risk for depression, as well as diabetes and cardiovascular problems.

The power of the blues

While light of any kind can suppress the secretion of melatonin, blue light at night does so more powerfully. Harvard researchers and their colleagues conducted an experiment comparing the effects of 6.5 hours of exposure to blue light to exposure to green light of comparable brightness. The blue light suppressed melatonin for about twice as long as the green light and shifted circadian rhythms by twice as much (3 hours vs. 1.5 hours).

In another study of blue light, researchers at the University of Toronto compared the melatonin levels of people exposed to bright indoor light who were wearing blue-light–blocking goggles to people exposed to regular dim light without wearing goggles. The fact that the levels of the hormone were about the same in the two groups strengthens the hypothesis that blue light is a potent suppressor of melatonin. It also suggests that shift workers and night owls could perhaps protect themselves if they wore eyewear that blocks blue light. Inexpensive sunglasses with orange-tinted lenses block blue light, but they also block other colors, so they’re not suitable for use indoors at night. Glasses that block out only blue light can cost up to $80.

Less-blue light

If blue light does have adverse health effects, then environmental concerns, and the quest for energy-efficient lighting, could be at odds with personal health. Those curlicue compact fluorescent lightbulbs and LED lights are much more energy-efficient than the old-fashioned incandescent lightbulbs we grew up with. But they also tend to produce more blue light.

The physics of fluorescent lights can’t be changed, but coatings inside the bulbs can be so they produce a warmer, less blue light. LED lights are more efficient than fluorescent lights, but they also produce a fair amount of light in the blue spectrum. Richard Hansler, a light researcher at John Carroll University in Cleveland, notes that ordinary incandescent lights also produce some blue light, although less than most fluorescent lightbulbs.

What you can do

  • Use dim red lights for night lights. Red light has the least power to shift circadian rhythm and suppress melatonin.
  • Avoid looking at bright screens beginning two to three hours before bed.
  • If you work a night shift or use a lot of electronic devices at night, consider wearing blue-blocking glasses or installing an app that filters the blue/green wavelength at night.
  • Expose yourself to lots of bright light during the day, which will boost your ability to sleep at night, as well as your mood and alertness during daylight.When I work on my computer late at night, I always wear a pair of blue blocker sunglasses. You can buy them on Amazon for under $20. I have no problems getting to sleep.

    Tony

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You may not be as young as you feel, but almost … Harvard

I post on a lot of subjects having to do with living longer. Most of them are indirect, like eat less; move more; live longer. But, an issue of the Harvard Health Letter focuses on something directly related to living longer. Namely, how you feel about yourself at your age.

Heidi Goldman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter writes, “I just celebrated a birthday, and not the kind women like to crow about. Let’s just say I’m mid-century modern. But I feel as young and as vibrant as ever. I have energy, a zest for life, and a real sense of purpose. And it turns out that this youthful feeling may pay off big-time. A research letter in JAMA Internal Medicine found that older people who felt three or more years younger than their actual (chronological) age had a lower death rate compared with those who felt their age or those who felt more than one year older than their actual age.

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You’re as young as you feel
“Two researchers at University College London looked at the responses of about 6,500 men and women who answered the question, “How old do you feel you are?” The respondents were age 52 and older, with an average age of 65. Their answers:
•    about 70% felt three or more years younger than their actual age
•    25% felt close to their actual age
•    5% felt more than one year older than their actual age
What came next was the really interesting part: Eight years after study participants answered the age question, researchers determined which ones were still alive:
•    75% of those who felt older than their age
•    82% of those who felt their actual age
•    86% of those who felt younger than their actual age.

More than just a state of mind?
“Did a youthful feeling keep people alive? There was no association between self-perceived age and cancer death. But researchers did find that the relationship between self-perceived age and cardiovascular death was strong. They speculate that feeling younger may lead to better health habits. “Feeling younger or older itself seems to have an effect on our health,” says Dr. Ronald D. Siegel, assistant professor of psychology, part time, at Harvard Medical School. (my emphasis)

“He says there are several ways that feeling younger psychologically might lead to better health. One is exercise. Good health is associated with 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week. “When people see themselves as old, they’re more likely to abandon physical challenges which feel difficult, such as, ‘I don’t think I should ski any more, I’m an old man.’ When people feel younger psychologically, even if physical exercise is challenging, they’re more likely to pursue it, believing no pain no gain,” Dr. Siegel explains.

“Another way that feeling younger leads to better health may be attitude about diet. “If we feel old, we’re likely to treat food with an ‘I won’t live much longer, I might as well enjoy this’ attitude which could lead us to eat unhealthfully. If we feel young, we may have more of a future-orientation that will lead us to eat with future health in mind.” Avoiding added sugars, trans fats and saturated fats, and increasing dietary fiber, good fats, whole grains, and omega 3 fatty acids is important for good health. Continue reading

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Health Tips for Men Over 50 – Harvard

Harvard’s HEALTHbeat publication says it is wise for men in midlife to approach their situation like making good investments. One needs to acknowledge the factors he can control and those he can’t.
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Age and Family History are two factors over which you have no control. As you age there is a certain deterioration that occurs. Shared genes explain some of your risks, but lifestyles, the food you eat and your physical activity play a major role.

“The factors you can control make a big difference in directing your health. Here are some of the most important things to consider as you look at the health investments you want to make going forward.

“• Whether you smoke. About one in four American men smokes cigarettes, pipes, or some other form of tobacco. If you are one of them, kicking the habit is the single most important thing you can do to improve your health.”

I feel strongly about the dangers of smoking. Check out my page How bad is smoking? For details.

“• What you eat. Choosing and following a healthy diet is an excellent way to reduce your chances of getting a number of life-threatening illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, and some of the most common cancers.
• How much you move. Get active, live longer. Not only that, but live better. Study after study has linked greater amounts of physical activity to improved mood, better blood sugar control, reduced risk of heart disease, and other benefits.”

You can get the full story from Harvard at Men’s Health Fifty and Forward.

As we get older our ‘margin of error’ decreases. Publications like this one can literally be lifesavers. It is worth checking out.

Tony

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Flu Season Starting Early This Year – Get a Flu Shot

Flu activity continues to increase across the United States. The nation is experiencing an early flu season, the earliest since 2003, with high levels of activity concentrated in the south central and southeastern regions at this time. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) urge you to get a flu vaccine now if you have not done so already this season. Vaccination is especially important for people who are at high risk from flu complications.

Back in October, I wrote about my trip to the doctor for a flu shot and tried to convince you to do likewise.

Now, Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter reports that the U.S. new cases of flu have gone from a few hundred a week to more than a thousand.

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The CDC reports that five children have died from it.

Catching the flu is not fun. Ms. Godman reports that flu is “a highly contagious and potentially deadly respiratory disease. Some years the outbreak is relatively mild, other years it is severe. Deaths range from 3,000 a year to nearly 50,000, and about 200,000 people end up in the hospital each year. Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, fatigue, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea.

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