Hopeful health news

Thursday, February 22, 2007

About this time of year, when the dewey-eyed hope of our new year's resolutions start fading into cynicism, we need a new dose of hope. As your eagle-eyed health columnist, I can provide this. There is plenty of optimistic news coming our way for improving your health. Here are a few that have caught my eye.

A toast to Alzheimer's

In what is being hailed as a "breakthrough study," the good folks at Mount Sinai School of Medicine are putting the finishing touches on the stellar reputation of red wine as a health drink. Add Alzheimer's prevention to the long list of health benefits.

Red wine is rich in polyphenols, the anti-oxidant compounds that have already been shown in prior studies to break up the plaque build up in the brain that is widely seen as the culprit in Alzheimer's. In a study presented at the most recent meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, wine imbibing mice went on a binge for seven months and ended up with a reduced concentration of the beta-amyloid plaque in the brain as compared to the more sober mice. By the way, cabernet sauvignon was singled out as being particularly beneficial. At least it wasn't merlot.

Niacin fights against aging

Research coming out of the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia has found that a component of niacin (also known as vitamin B3), shows great promise for slowing down the aging process. The B3 component can activate an enzyme called sirtuin, which has been shown to extend the lives of different kinds of organisms.

In a prepared statement, Ronen Mamorstein, senior author of the study, said: "Our findings suggest a new avenue for designing sirtuin-activating drugs. The jury is still out as to whether a drug of this kind might result in longer life in humans, but I'm equally excited by the possibility that such interventions might help counteract age-related health problems like obesity and type 2 diabetes."

For menopausal women

In the upcoming issue of Menopause, a scientific advisory panel convened by the American Menopause Society will issue an important new position statement on hormone therapy. It eases the position on whether women should take hormones to lessen menopausal symptoms.

According to Menopause Society director Dr. Wulf Utian, in a statement made to Heartwire, "For women with severe menopausal symptoms, within a few years of their last period, hormone therapy shouldn't be as scary as it has been made out to be."

In the same interview, he pointed out that older women, who are still experiencing troubling menopausal symptoms, need to consider whether to resume hormone therapy more carefully, as they are "at a higher absolute risk for cancer and heart disease."

Diet pill approved

For all of us whose metabolisms have slowed to snail's pace and are intent on weighing what we did in college, this may be at least convenient news. Alli, the first FDA approved over-the-counter diet medicine is coming to town. It is a lower-dose version of Xenical, which works by blocking the absorption of fat and its attendant calories. Alli is safe and can help dieters lose up to 16 pounds. You have to be willing to put up with flatulence and greasy stools. But what price for health and beauty, right?

Dr. Michael O.L. Seabaugh, a Cape Girardeau native, is a clinical psychologist who lives in Santa Barbara, Calif. Contact him at mseabaugh@semissourian.com For more on the topics covered in Healthspan, visit his Web site: www.HealthspanWeb.com.

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