Vaccine, coffee and video games for better health

All older adults are encouraged to get flu vaccine

For the first time there will be a vaccine which protects against four strains of the flu virus. Until now, flu vaccines only have protected against three forms of the virus. Scientists each year choose what they believe will be the three most common forms of the flu to spread during the winter months and they incorporate them into the annual vaccine. This year’s new vaccine containing four varieties has those three flu forms and an additional version of the virus.

“The real need for the vaccine with four flu viruses comes if that additional virus begins to circulate,” said influenza expert Clark Kebodeaux, who is with the St. Louis College of Pharmacy, St. Louis, Missouri. “At this early point, it’s not certain what types of flu will cause the most illnesses.”

Vaccines will be available through two forms of injections and a nasal spray. Kebodeaux said older adults as well as those individuals with chronic conditions, such as diabetes and asthma, need to receive an injection as soon as the vaccines arrive. The high-dose version of the vaccine for older adults protects against three versions of the flu virus.

“I encourage everyone to get any version of the flu vaccine,” said Kebodeaux. “There will be plenty for everyone.”

Coffee consumption may help protect against prostate cancer

Coffee consumption appears to be associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer recurrence and progression, according to a new study by researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. They conducted the study to determine whether the bioactive compounds in coffee and tea may prevent prostate cancer recurrence and delay progression of the disease.

They found that men who drank four or more cups of coffee per day experienced a 59 percent reduced risk of prostate cancer recurrence and/or progression as compared to those who drank only one or fewer cups per week. The researchers did not find an associated reduction of prostate cancer recurrence and/or progression with regard to tea consumption.

The study included 1,001 prostate cancer survivors who were between the ages 35 and 74 years old at the time of diagnosis between 2002 and 2005. The results are consistent with findings from Harvard’s Health Professionals Follow-up Study, which found that men who drank six or more cups of coffee per day had a 60 percent decreased risk of metastatic/lethal prostate cancer as compared to coffee abstainers.

The researchers emphasize that coffee or specific coffee components cannot be recommended for prevention of prostate cancer before the preventive effect has been demonstrated in a randomized clinical trial.

Video gaming good for the brain?

Scientists at the University of California San Francisco are reporting that they have found a way to reverse some of the negative effects of aging on the brain using a video game designed to improve cognitive control. The researchers report that the study provides a measure of scientific support to the burgeoning field of brain fitness.

Until now, evidence was severely lacking that brain training can induce lasting and meaningful changes.

The researchers developed a game in which participants race a car around a winding track while a variety of road signs pop up. Drivers are instructed to keep an eye out for a specific type of sign, while ignoring all the rest, and to press a button whenever that particular sign appears. The need to switch rapidly from driving to responding to the signs generates interference in the brain that undermines performance. The researchers found that this interference increases dramatically across the adult lifespan.

The researchers found that after receiving just 12 hours of training on the game (spread over a month) the 60- to 85-year-old study participants improved their performance until it surpassed that of 20-somethings who played the game for the first time. The training also improved the participants’ performance in two other important cognitive areas: working memory and sustained attention. The participants maintained their skills at the video game six months after the training had ended.

The finding is a powerful example of how plastic the older brain is, according to Dr. Adam Gazzaley, who is the director of the Neuroscience Imaging Center at the University of California. Gazzaley said his game NeuroRacer does more than any ordinary game to condition the brain. Normally when you get better at something it gets easier. However, with this game when you get better it gets harder.

John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio broadcaster of The Medical Minute. He can be reached at

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John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute.

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