Health Updates 29 May 2012

  • Amazon tribe gives clues to heart-healthy lifestyles: “Investigating indigenous Amazonian or African peoples who still follow a hunter-gatherer or forager-horticulturist lifestyle is giving new insights into how diet and lifestyle affect the heart as humans age.  Two new studies found that these types of hunter-gatherer or foraging peoples have lower increases in blood pressure related to their age and are less likely to have hardening of the arteries than people with more modern lifestyles.  Lifestyle factors such as high levels of physical activity and large amounts of fruits and vegetables — and low calories — in their diets may help protect these groups against those health problems, the researchers said.  The studies appeared online May 21 in the journal Hypertension.  One study looked at nearly 2,300 adults in 82 Tsimane villages in Bolivia’s Amazon basin.  Tsimane people live in lowlands and are forager-horticulturists who live on plantains, rice, corn, manioc, fish and hunted game.  The researchers found that about 3 percent of Tsimane adults have high blood pressure, compared with 33.5 percent of US adults….’The Tsimane living conditions are similar to those of our ancestors, with greater exposure to pathogens, active lifestyle, high fertility and traditional diet.   Studying chronic diseases in the populations can be very insightful,’ study author Michael Gruven, an anthropology professor…said in a journal news release.”  Focusing attention on those cultures with very different lifestyles from our own may help us better understand that maintaining heart health is possible even as we age. (HealthDay)
  • Folic acid tied to lower rate of two childhood cancers: “Folic acid enrichment of grain products has significantly reduced the rates of neural tube defects in infants.  Now a new study suggests a further possible benefit: a reduction in rates of two types of childhood cancer.  Researchers used the National Cancer Institute‘s surveillance system, which recorded more than 8,000 cancers in utero and in children under age 5 from 1986 to 2008.  The scientists compared incidence of these cancers in the years before and after 1998, when the federal government mandated that cereal and other grain products be fortified with folic acid.  The study, published online May 21 in Pediatrics, found no difference in the incidence  of all childhood cancers combined.  But for two types, the difference was significant.  The incidence of primitive neuroect0dermal tumors, a nervous system lesion, declined by 44 percent, while the incidence of Wilms tumor, a kidney cancer, declined by 20 percent. The scientists acknowledge that no causal relationship can be inferred from the finding.  Still, the lead author, Amy M. Linabery, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Minnesota, said, ‘We feel that this is a positive message – folic acid fortification is not increasing rates of cancer’.  Follow-up studies are anticipated. (NY Times)
  • Social ties move kids to exercise: “Kids tend to imitate their friends, even when it comes to exercise, according to findings of a social network study that may have implications for fighting childhood obesity.  The biggest influence on how much moderate-to-vigorous activity 5- to 12-year olds got in an after-school program was how much activity their immediate friends got…Kids consistently altered their activity level by 10% or more to match their friends….And that was common, because kids didn’t appear to make friends or break them based on similar level of activity.  That being the case, ‘we could develop novel intervention strategies that leverage the social influences of social networks to make a real impact on childhood obesity,’ the researchers suggested.  They proposed a system of rolling enrollment in after-school programs, starting with a group of very active children and slowly adding in others to keep assimilation biased toward more activity…..Those of different initial activity levels weren’t any less likely to choose each other as friends, nor was obesity a significant factor in making or breaking friendships.”  Friendships were  significantly more likely based on similar age, attending the same school, being the same gender or being the same race.  How active their circle of friends (usually four to six in number) appeared to be the biggest factor in changes in their own activity. (Crystal Phend, MedPage Today)
  • More mental health care urged for kids who self-harm: “Doctors have long known that some kids suffering severe emotional turmoil find relief in physical pain – cutting or burning or sticking themselves with pins to achieve a form of release.  But researchers now are questioning whether enough is being done to  reach out to these young people and help them before they do themselves irreparable damage.  One study this year found that six in every 10 adolescents who went to an emergency room for treatment after harming themselves were released without receiving a mental health assessment or any follow-up mental  health care…’Most young people who self-harm suffer from some underlying psychological disorder,’ said Jeffrey Bridge, a researcher with the Center for Innovation in Pediatric Practice at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and the study’s lead author.  ‘It’s critical to conduct a mental health assessment in addition to the evaluation of their physical health if we’re to get to the root of their problems’.  Between 8 and 10 percent of all adolescents are believed to engage in some form of self-injurious behavior, Bridge said.  These children cut themselves with sharp edges, burn themselves with matches, stick needles into their skin or under their nails, or perform other acts of self-mutilation….Kids more often hurt themselves like this to deal with emotional problems such as stress or depression.”  There are other reasons, too.  Research indicates that the very best treatment for kids who self-harm is to help them deal with their underlying emotional problems. (

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