Lab Report: Health, Science and Medicine

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Jeff Mermelstein / Gallery Stock

Engaging the brain with games like mah-jongg can delay the onset of dementia but lead to faster-progressing disease once it emerges.

DEMENTIA

Brain Training Trade-Off

"Use it or lose it" is what doctors have been telling people who want to protect their brains from dementia in their golden years. The more active you keep your neural circuits throughout life, the less likely it is that your brain will succumb to dementia or Alzheimer's disease. Or at least that's what doctors thought.

In a new study of 1,157 mentally healthy volunteers over age 65, researchers found that while those who remained intellectually stimulated by reading, playing card games, listening to the radio or visiting museums were less likely to show symptoms of cognitive decline over a 12-year follow-up, they also showed significantly faster mental deterioration once they were diagnosed with dementia, compared with people who didn't engage in mentally stimulating activity.

That's because such activity may allow the brain to compensate for any initial biological changes related to dementia and mask the progression of the disease, say the scientists. The findings imply that while brain exercises can hold off the symptoms of the neurological disorder for a while, they do not address its root cause. To do that, researchers will need a better understanding of the molecular factors that drive nerve cells to lose their function.

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH

The Benefits of Breast-Feeding--For Mom

Most new mothers know that breast-feeding is good for their babies, but the latest research shows it has lasting health benefits for Mom as well.

Scientists report that among a group of 2,233 women ages 40 to 78, those who breast-fed their newborns were half as likely to develop Type 2 diabetes 30 years later as were mothers who used formula. Breast-feeding, say the study's authors, may lower diabetes risk by helping new mothers shed their pregnancy pounds, most of which build up in the abdomen--and some types of belly fat are known to contribute to chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Animal studies also show that lactation can boost the body's response to insulin, helping break down glucose in the blood more efficiently. "We have to consider lactation as part of the pregnancy experience," says the study's lead author, Dr. Eleanor Schwarz of the University of Pittsburgh.

Both the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that women exclusively breast-feed their infants for at least six months, but only 14% of mothers in the U.S. do so. The new findings underscore the importance of the practice, says Schwarz, and should help expectant women appreciate its wide-ranging health benefits.

FROM THE LABS

Eat Veggies, Fight Cancer?

A nine-year study shows that smokers who ate a wide variety of fruits and vegetables lowered their risk of developing lung cancer compared with those eating a smaller range of these foods. The quantity did not seem to matter, leading scientists to speculate that variety, not volume, may increase your exposure to diverse and potentially powerful anticancer compounds, which still haven't been identified.

Making Headway On Headaches

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