July 1, 2011
NIH Podcast Episode #0137
Balintfy: Welcome to episode 137 of NIH Research Radio with news about the ongoing medical research at the National Institutes of Health – the nation's medical research agency. I'm your host Joe Balintfy. Coming up in this episode: those worried about weigh gain associated with giving up cigarettes may have a new option; how giving up TV watching may help you live longer; a pair of parasites escaping to the sea to kill marine mammals; and how a family reunion this summer can help your health history. But first, this news update. Here’s Craig Fritz.
Fritz: New videos to help people make lifestyle changes and cope with the demands of diabetes are now available through the national diabetes education program. The series of three- to five-minute videos address topics such as setting goals to improve your health, managing type 2 diabetes, preventing type 2 diabetes, maintaining a healthy weight, practical tips and action steps: a guide to physical activity. The videos are being released to coincide with the redesign of national diabetes education program’s online library of behavior change resources, Diabetes Healthsense. Diabetes Healthsense provides users with a searchable database of research, tools, and programs to address the wide array of psychosocial and lifestyle-change challenges associated with managing diabetes. To view the videos and the new website, visit www.yourdiabetesinfo.org.
Young women in the Washington, D.C., area who have polycystic ovarian syndrome are encouraged to take part in a study at the National Institutes of Health on the possible role of the adrenal glands in the disorder. Polycystic ovarian syndrome is the most common cause of female infertility. Women with the disorder have higher than normal levels of hormones known as androgens. Androgens typically control the development of male tissues and organs. The disorder can cause cysts in the ovaries, greatly reduced or missing menstrual periods, and infertility. Women with the condition also are at risk for diabetes and heart disease. In some women with polycystic ovarian syndrome, high androgen levels have been associated with disorders of the adrenal glands. Researchers note that this study will allow them to chart adrenal gland function in women with the disorder and see how it compares with that of other women. They hope that the results will lead to new approaches for diagnosing or treating the disorder. To be eligible for the study, women with polycystic ovarian syndrome must be between 16 and 24 years of age. Women interested in participating may contact the NIH patient recruitment and public liaison office at 1-(800)-411-1222
NIH has issued a statement regarding new mandatory safety standards for infant cribs. The new standards will help to ensure a safe sleep environment for infants in the United States. The standards were released by the consumer product safety commission and require manufacturers and retailers to meet new safer crib standards, which include stopping the manufacture and sale of dangerous, traditional, drop side cribs. According to the commission, the new standards will ensure that mattress supports are made stronger, that crib hardware is more durable, and that crib safety testing is more rigorous. Gaps may form between the crib mattress and the drop side rails, due to errors in assembly or installation or to wear or malfunction from use. Infants can become trapped in the gap and suffocate as a result. According to the commission, detaching drop side rails were associated with at least 32 infant deaths since 2000.
For this NIH news update – I’m Craig Fritz
Balintfy: News updates are compiled from information at www.nih.gov/news. Coming up the perils of a sedentary life for people; dangerous dual parasites for marine mammals; and how to know your health history; plus smoking cessation without weight gain; that’s next on NIH Research Radio.
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Potential new target for smoking cessation without weight gain
Balintfy: A new study published in Science magazine identifies a brain pathway that could be a target of new treatments for smoking and weight control. Wally Akinso has this report.
Akinso: Through the use of tobacco, nicotine is one of the most heavily used addictive drugs and the leading preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the U.S. But despite the well-documented health costs of smoking, many smokers find it very difficult to quit. Dr. Nora Volkow, a Director at the National Institutes of Health adds that some may relapse.
Volkow: One of the reasons why women relapse into smoking behavior is because once they stop smoking they gain weight.
Akinso: Four out of every five people who stop smoking gain weight. Prior research shows that the average weight gain after smoking is less than 10 pounds, but the fear of weight gain can discourage many people who would like to quit. In a recent NIH study researchers used mouse models to explore the mechanisms through which nicotine acts in the brain to reduce food intake. Dr. Volkow explains that a nicotine-like drug specifically activated nicotine receptors in a brain center that controls feeding.
Volkow: This finding, indicating that this same drug decreased food intake is therefore very appealing because one of the reasons why its very difficult for women that are smokers to stop smoking is for the fear of gaining weight.
Akinso: The average person who quits smoking gains between 4 and 10 pounds. It turns out that the average smoker weighs 4-10 pounds less than the average non-smoker–even if they have the same levels of exercise and food intake. Dr. Volkow says these findings may lead to a potential treatment or therapy.
Volkow: So the feasibility of having a therapeutic intervention that would help with the urges to smoke at the same time decrease the consumption of food could be very appealing in terms of success for smoking cessation therapies.
Akinso: The effect of the drug was very specific. Dr. Volkow points out that the drug in this current study is available in Europe where it’s used for treatment of smoking cessation.
Volkow: The research showed that stimulation of nicotine receptors actually resulted in decrease for intake and loss of weight in animals that have been treated with this particular drug, which is called cytosine.
Akinso: She adds that although more research is warranted, such a highly-selective compound might be more effective than drugs that act on more than one type of nicotine receptor. For information on this study, visit www.drugabuse.gov. This is Wally Akinso at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.
Time spent sitting, watching TV, associated with mortality
Balintfy: So we know that quitting smoking is a good thing. We’re also learning that cutting back on TV watching or otherwise changing our sedentary ways will help us live longer as well.
Matthews: We found that the more time our participants spent watching television, the greater their increase of risk of early death was.
Balintfy: That’s Dr. Charles Matthews; he’s an investigator here at NIH.
Matthews: Somewhere above three to four hours per day of watching television, the risk appeared to increase at least in our data.
Balintfy: And the data are pretty sound.
Matthews: Yeah. So these results came from our long-term follow-up study of nearly 240,000 individuals aged 50 to 71, they were enrolled in the NIH AARP Diet and Health Study. So we measured their television viewing, that baseline in the study and then followed them for eight and a half years or so to gather the mortality or the death information.
Balintfy: Dr. Matthews says we’ve known for a long time that exercise or moderate to vigorous physical activity at recommended levels – that’s two and a half hours a week of moderate intensity activity – are associated with the reduced risk of death; and that's exactly what he saw in the study. But what was surprising?
Matthews: Well, you know, one of the striking things we found in our study that both time spent sedentary behaviors watching television and exercise were important determinants of early mortality. In fact, the individuals who exercised at quite high levels but also watched a lot of television remained at increased risk of early death even though they exercised quite a bit. So that was really the striking thing from our study.
Balintfy: So a take-home message here is if you have a couch and a treadmill and they're both in front of the TV. If you’re on the treadmill, you’re better off than if you’re on the couch.
Balintfy: No matter whether the TV is on or off?
Research in television viewing and health is often focused on the media message that's coming out of the television and I think our results really suggest the chairs we're in while we're watching television maybe an important contributor to ill health associated with TV watching. I think it probably has broader implications about sitting in other parts of our lives as well, but we didn't measure that directly in our study.
Balintfy: It’s worth noting that Dr. Matthews has a treadmill in his office and his desk is at standing height.
Matthews: At this point in modern life, most Americans are sedentary or sit for the majority of their time each day, it can be as much as eight to ten hours a day or more. So it seems to me that sitting that much can have deleterious health consequences even if you exercise a few hours each week.
Balintfy: He advises reducing time spent sitting if possible – even getting up and doing those household chores.
Matthews: We think that that much sitting takes away from other kinds of activities people do in their daily life and that loss of activity maybe an important component to the mortality risk reduction that we saw in our study. So, in addition to exercising at recommended levels, reducing sitting time when possible appears to be an important component to a healthy lifestyle or certainly extending longevity.
Balintfy: Dr. Matthews presented this information at a recent conference of the American College of Sports Medicine. He adds this of the association between TV watching and mortality:
Matthews: Another important point is, you know, we'd looked at a number of other factors that could have explained the relationship and particularly dietary factors that are often thought to be important for health risk also and it may be modified by television viewing, and these didn't seem to be important in our analysis. So even with -- we saw -- the increased risk associated with higher levels of television viewing were observed in those that had a good quality diet as well as a poor quality diet so we don’t think dietary factors played an important bit in our results.
Balintfy: Thank you Dr. Charles Matthews. For more information on the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, visit the website http://dietandhealth.cancer.gov/.
Dual parasitic infections deadly to marine mammals
Balintfy: Now a story on mortality in marine mammals: A study of tissue samples from 161 marine mammals that died between 2004 and 2009 in the Pacific Northwest has shown an association between severe illness and co-infection with two kinds of parasites. Dr. Michael Grigg, an investigator at NIH says, what’s surprising is that the two parasites are normally found in land animals.
Grigg: One of them is toxoplasma which is a parasite that's common to cats and the other is sarcocystis which is common to opossums. And we've often heard about these two parasites.
Balintfy: For example, pregnant women are often warned not to change kitty litter because of toxoplasma.
Grigg: And the opossum parasite sarcocystis is one that the horse industry worries about because it can cause equine encephalitis.
Balintfy: Encephalitis is swelling in the brain. But the big question raised by this study:
Grigg: How are these land animal parasites getting into and infecting these marine mammals?
Balintfy: Dr. Grigg theorizes that the parasites are getting into soil; and then, where there’s enough seasonal rainfall, like the Pacific Northwest, they’re getting washed into waterways where they get picked up in live bait fish or shellfish which are in turn eaten by marine mammals.
Grigg: Essentially all marine mammals were showing up. So it wasn't just that these parasites were infecting, say, a harbor porpoise or a harbor seal. It was infecting, we found whales, Dall's porpoises. We had Guadalupe fur seals, California sea lions, on harbor porpoises and harbor seals.
Balintfy: He notes that these parasites are tough, essentially like eggs.
Grigg: And inside these eggs are the infectious forms of the parasite and they're highly stable in the environment. So they can actually persist for up to five years and remain infective. All they need are moist conditions. And you can actually input them into chlorine bleach 100% and it doesn’t kill them.
Balintfy: Meaning there is a risk for human infection as well. But Dr. Grigg says that people can easily avoid the parasites by filtering or boiling untreated water and notes that filtration eliminates them from the water supply. But the study focused on some of the more than 5,000 dead marine mammals reported on the coastal beaches of the Pacific Northwest.
Grigg: What was intriguing was that we found that some of them were infected with sarcocystis and others were infected with toxoplasma. And it wasn’t until we saw the dual infection. So when they're infected with both parasites that we saw disease. These parasites are active in the brain and in the spinal fluids. And in those animals that were dually infected with both parasites, the inflammation and the swelling in the brain, I mean these were the primary reasons for death.
Balintfy: The study results also hint that animals with lowered immunity, such as pregnant or nursing females or very young animals, were more likely to have worse symptoms when co-infected with both parasites. Dr. Grigg stresses the importance of identifying the way that these parasites travel from wild and domestic land animals to marine mammals.
Grigg: So co-infection is clearly bad and therefore how these two parasites are getting into the marine waters is what we have to actually try to stop in order to protect the marine mammals. So maybe it's not a good idea to train your cat to defecate in the toilet or to flush kitty litter down the drain. Those sorts of things could happen. But I think the problem is more not with your kitty cat in the house. It's probably going to be what the wild cats, the bobcats, the mountain lions, cougars, and such. They're the ones that you can't really contain.
Balintfy: Opossums also, which gradually have been expanding their range northward from California and can shed an infectious form of the parasites in their feces. Dr. Grigg suggests vaccination efforts and the importance of having marine marshes to help filter out the parasites before they get to open waterways. For more information on this study and research on these parasites, visit www.niaid.nih.gov.
And information on family reunions, health history and kidney disease, that’s next.
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Using family reunions to talk about your family health history
Balintfy: Welcome back to NIH Research Radio. Knowing about your family’s health history goes a long way toward preventing or delaying the development of serious diseases, like diabetes. A family reunion this summer can be an easy opportunity to talk about family health. We’re talking with Dr. Griffin Rodgers, an instate director here at NIH. Dr. Rodgers, why is it important to learn your family health history?
Rodgers: Knowing the health history of your siblings, parents, and other blood relatives is important because it gives you and your health care team information about your risk for developing a number of serious diseases, including type 2 diabetes and kidney disease.
In fact, most people with type 2 diabetes have a family member—such as a mother, father, brother, or sister—with the disease. If left untreated, diabetes can lead to serious health problems including heart disease, blindness, loss of limb, kidney failure, and early death.
Kidney disease also runs in families and having diabetes or high blood pressure increases your risk of developing kidney disease. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases encourage all families to gather their family health history to help prevent or delay type 2 diabetes and/or kidney disease in future generations.
Balintfy: What can I do to prevent or delay getting diabetes?
Rodgers: The key step to preventing or delaying the onset of type 2 diabetes is to lose a small amount of weight by making healthy food choices and being physically active 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Research shows that losing a small amount of weight – 5 to 7 percent of your current weight or 10 to14 pounds for a 200-pound person – can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by more than half.
Preventing diabetes will also help protect your kidneys.
For additional information please visit the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases Web site at www.niddk.nih.gov.
Balintfy: How can I use a family reunion to learn about my family health history?
Rodgers: Family reunions are fun and give relatives plenty of time to talk about old times, honor ancestors, sample favorite family recipes, and enjoy being together. And while the family is together, it's also a great time to talk about family health.
Also, it’s a good time to focus on kidney health. The free Family Reunion Health Guide, will help you talk to your family about the connection between diabetes, high blood pressure, and kidney disease at your family reunion.
You don’t have to know a lot about health to share this important information with your family. The free Family Reunion Health Guide contains everything you need, including fact sheets about kidney disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Balintfy: What are some tips for family reunion activities that you would share?
Rodgers: Choose activities your entire family will enjoy.
Dance it away is one example. A dance contest is a fun way to show the younger people in your family the dances you used to do when you were their age – and they can show you some of their moves as well! Or turn up the music and do the Electric Slide, the Cha Cha Slide, or other favorite group dances.
Get up, get out, get moving is another example. If your family reunion is held in a park, go for a bike ride, a brisk walk on a nature trail, or any other activity that helps get your heart rate up.
Focus on fun! Activities such as scavenger hunts, potato sack races, swimming, basketball, volleyball and double-dutch games are easy ways to have fun and be physically active. Make it a family affair.
Balintfy: Dr. Rodgers, what are some suggestions for healthy family reunion foods?
Rodgers: Add colorful seasonal fruits and vegetables to meals, such as bright red tomatoes, dark green leafy vegetables and fresh yellow or red melons.
Why fry when you can bake, broil, or grill? Instead of fried chicken, fire up the grill and remove the skin and fat from chicken breasts, drumsticks, thighs and lightly coat them with barbeque sauce. Instead of fried catfish, try baked or grilled fish seasoned with herbs, spices, or lemon juice.
And also re-think your drink. Whenever possible drink water – the healthy, no-calorie beverage. Instead of a regular 20-ounce soda or sweetened fruit drink, choose sugar-free drinks is a good example of another alternative.
Balintfy: How can I learn more?
Rodgers: The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases have information to help families learn more. Please visit our Web site at www.niddk.nih.gov to find materials from the National Diabetes Education Program, the National Kidney Disease Education Program and the Weight-control Information Network. Sharing this information can go a long way toward helping ensure that your family enjoys family reunions for generations to come.
Balintfy: Thank you very much Dr. Rodgers. Again that website is www.niddk.nih.gov. And that’s it for this episode of NIH Research Radio. Please join us again on Friday, July 15 when our next edition will be available. In that episode:
“People who are at risk of the disease when they are followed before they get the disease and are diagnosed earlier often have better outcomes.”
If you have any questions or comments about this program, or have story suggestions for a future episode, please let me know. Best to reach me by email—my address is firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm your host, Joe Balintfy. Thanks for listening.
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