Mental health update 2016: The latest research on mental health has uncovered that teenage brains can reveal future mental health conditions. Brain scans performed on adolescents may reveal a higher risk for mental health disorders like depression, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder. Read more…
Here are some of our recent articles on mental health, neurological disorders, and other factors that can affect the brain, including Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, cataracts, and multiple sclerosis.
Early dementia and Alzheimer’s disease indicators include behavioral changes and poor balance – in addition to memory loss. Although forgetfulness is a common sign of Alzheimer’s disease, a new study shows changes in behavior may be the first red flag signaling the onset of mental deterioration. The Alzheimer’s diagnosis is usually based on mild cognitive impairment, but researchers are now focusing on mild behavioral impairment as an early indication of the disease.
Changes in behavior signaling Alzheimer’s disease include social withdrawal, angry outbursts, anxiety, and obsessiveness.
Researcher Dr. Zahinoor Ismail said, “We’re not talking about a blip in someone’s behavior. It’s a sustained change from their former ways of functioning. That out-of-character behavior can be the first sign of something going wrong in the brain.”
Dr. Ismail and colleagues developed a symptom checklist for doctors to use in their assessment of elderly patients for mild behavioral impairment. Although additional research is required to validate the checklist’s usefulness, the scientists hope it could be widely used to help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease in its early stage.
Alzheimer’s disease is largely a brain disorder, but it spans beyond a simple memory decline. The concept of mild behavioral impairment being a precursor to dementia is novel, though it is difficult to measure, Dr. Ismail shared.
Although the checklist still needs to be tested in clinical studies, it may prove to be a useful tool in diagnosing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Continue reading…
Neurologists in Germany have discovered that the diabetes drug pioglitazone can reduce the risk of developing dementia. The researchers based their conclusion on an in-depth analysis, which included data on diseases and medications taken from a German public health insurance company. They evaluated health information of 145,000 people aged 60 and older.
Two diabetes drugs – pioglitazone and metformin – were found to reduce the risk of developing dementia. However, pioglitazone results were, as one neurologist put it, “remarkable.” The study showed that the risk of developing dementia if you were taking pioglitazone for diabetes was about 47 percent lower than in non-diabetics.
Pioglitazone enables the body to become more sensitive to insulin. It acts as an anti-inflammatory as well, inhibiting the deposit of harmful proteins in the brain. Laboratory tests have indicated that it can also protect nerve cells.
The German neurologists say their analysis suggests the drug has strong prevention ability when taken before the symptoms of dementia appear. Continue reading…
Parkinson’s disease (PD) may increase prostate cancer or melanoma risk according to research. The results of the study support a genetic link between prostate cancer, melanoma, and Parkinson’s disease. Coauthor Lisa Cannon-Albright explained, “The clinical implications suggest screening for melanoma and prostate cancer in appropriate PD patients and, perhaps, vice versa.”
The researchers looked at data from the Utah Population Database, consisting of over two million individuals with some records spanning over 15 generations. Dr. Cannon-Albright explained, “This unique data resource has allowed us to ask quite complicated questions about disease associations that may have a genetic component by looking for congregation of the diseases in the cases and their relatives.”
Of the 2,998 subjects whose death certificates listed Parkinson’s disease as the cause of death, 48 also had melanoma. The estimated relative risk was 1.95 percent. The risk of melanoma was also seen in the first-, second-, and third-degree relatives, with estimated risk being 1.23, 1.12, and 1.06 percent, respectively.
The researchers identified 212 cases of prostate cancer among those with Parkinson’s disease. The elevated risk of prostate cancer was also seen in the first-, second-, and third-degree relatives.
Dr. Walter A. Rocca wrote in an accompany editorial, “Clinically, it is important to explain to patients with PD and their family members that the genetic predisposition to PD is restricted to patients with younger onset of symptoms. In addition, within the few families with a genetic predisposition to PD, family members may experience a wide range of clinical manifestations, not simply PD. Knowledge of this clustering of disease within families may also guide preventive interventions (such as particular screening tests) for family members of patients with PD, who may be at particularly high risk.” Continue reading…
Cataracts and Alzheimer’s disease have been found to be linked to a common gene. Both conditions arise with age, but the latest findings now add further evidence to a genetic link, too.
The researchers looked at the brain MRIs of the participants in the Framingham Offspring Eye Study cohort. The researchers found a strong correlation between cortical cataract and Alzheimer’s disease-related brain degeneration. Particularly impacted was the volume of the temporal horn, a part of the brain which is commonly enlarged in Alzheimer’s disease. Cortical cataract was also associated with poorer performance on cognitive tests.
A genome-wide association study was also conducted looking at nearly 190,000 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), or DNA sequence variations. The researchers uncovered three specific intronic SNPs in the gene coding of a protein essential in cell adherence and formation of connective structures.
Senior author Lindsay A. Farrer said, “Though much work remains to be done, a link between cataracts and Alzheimer’s disease supports the idea of a systemic, rather than brain-limited, focus for processes leading to Alzheimer’s disease. This study gives hope that we are moving toward earlier diagnosis and new treatment targets for this debilitating disease.” Continue reading…
The metabolite of a multiple sclerosis drug appears to slow the onset of Parkinson’s disease. The drug dimethylfumarate, or DMF, as well as its metabolite monomethylfumarate, or MMF, both increase activity of Nrf2, a protein that helps protect the body from oxidative stress and inflammation characteristic of both multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, according to neuroscientist Dr. Bobby Thomas.
Thomas said, “But the new study provides the first evidence that the metabolite, which is essentially the active portion of the parent drug, more directly targets Nrf2, potentially reducing known side effects of the parent drug that include flushing, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and the brain infection encephalopathy.”
After receiving the neurotoxin MPTP, mice experienced a dramatic loss of dopamine-producing neurons – in fact, losing half with a few days – and rapidly developed Parkinson’s-like symptoms. Patients, on the other hand, develop the symptoms slowly over the course of many years. By the time they seek medical care, they may have lost 30 to 50 percent of their dopaminergic neurons.
The metabolite MMF appears to activate Nrf2 more directly, and actually increases glutathione and improves mitochondrial function, as brain cell studies showed. While the DMF drug ultimately produces a higher Nrf2 activation, the researchers found the MMF effect was sufficient to stop the dramatic neuron loss in the animal model.
Dr. John Morgan, neurologist, added, “If we can catch them early enough, maybe we can slow the disease. If it can help give five to eight more years of improved quality of life that would be great for our patients.”
Morgan recommends regular exercise as a means of reducing the decline of Nrf2 associated with aging. Continue reading…