Healthier aging with nutrition; e-cigarette update; laser treatments for Alzheimer's

Medical Minutes

Lasers may help lead to new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease

Scientists are now firing up their lasers to try to better combat Alzheimer’s disease and other illnesses involving the memory. A new method uses near infrared light to shed light on memory loss conditions. Researchers at Hiroshima University have developed a new laser activated technique for bridging missing links in memory flow.

The Japanese researchers report that laser technology may help open up the mysterious world of neurotransmission. Memory involves the successful flow of neurotransmitters from neuron to neuron. When memory breaks down, there is a gap in this flow. Scientists know that stimulation of neurotransmitters, such as glutamate, is required for functioning memory. However, how these chemical messengers are produced remains a mystery.

What is known is that calcium has a critical role to play. Its concentration increases prior to glutamates release, but again the mechanisms are poorly understood. This is due to calcium’s elusiveness in neuron cells where it exists as a dissolved salt, making it difficult to control or detect.

In the lab near-infrared lasers were projected at neuron cells containing these light sensitive carriers to see if calcium was released. When the electrical charge at each laser-beam penetration point was recorded, an interesting pattern emerged. It appeared that exposure to the electromagnetic wave broke down the light sensitive calcium-carrier molecules as planned.

Scientists now are focusing on these precise points of neurotransmitter production to develop treatments for memory loss. It is hoped that lasers can show how certain areas of the brain respond to medications.

Diet makes a big difference toward successful aging

Improving dietary resilience and better integration of nutrition in the health care system may help promote healthy aging, according to a report published in Advances in Nutrition. A new paper initiated under the auspices of the Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science Working Group on Nutrition for Aging Population is suggesting that by 2050, the number of persons aged 80 years old and over will reach 392 million, about three times the 2013 population.

The authors contend that this means there will an increasingly large portion of the population vulnerable to nutritional frailty, a state commonly seen in older adults, characterized by sudden significant weight-loss and loss of muscle mass and strength. Nutritional frailty is an essential loss of physiologic reserves, making a person susceptible to disability. Increasing numbers of older adults are obese. However, many are also susceptible to nutritional frailty.

The review concluded that exploring dietary resilience, defined as a conceptual model to describe material, physical, psychological and social factors that influence food purchase, preparation and consumption, is needed to better understand older adults’ access to meal quality and mealtime experience. A recent model to frame food intake includes the addition of more randomized clinical trials that include older adults with disease and medication.

This will help to identify their specific nutrient needs, biomarkers to understand the impact of advancing age on protein requirements, skeletal muscle turnover and a re-evaluation of how BMI guidelines are used.

“A nutritional assessment model that takes into consideration the effect of aging on muscle mass, weight loss and nutrient absorption is crucial to overall wellness in our elderly population,” said Gilles Bergeron, Ph.D., executive director, The Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science at the New York Academy of Sciences, New York, New York.

“However, nutrition recommendations are usually based on that of a typical healthy adult, and fail to consider the effect of aging on muscle mass, weight loss and nutrient absorption and utilization.”

E-cigarettes may be safer than smoking

E-cigarettes may be less toxic and safer to use compared to conventional cigarettes, according to research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Investigators in England are reporting that adults who swapped smoking regular cigarettes for e-cigarettes or nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) for at least six months, had much lower levels of toxic and cancer causing substances in their body than those adults who continued to use conventional cigarettes.

For the first time, researchers analyzed the saliva and urine of long-term e-cigarette and NRT users, as well as smokers. They compared body level exposure to key chemicals. Ex-smokers who switched to e-cigarettes or NRT had significantly lower levels of toxic chemicals and carcinogens in their body compared to people who continued to smoke tobacco cigarettes. However, those who used e-cigarettes or NRT while continuing to smoke did not show the same marked differences, highlighting that a complete switch is needed to reduce exposure to toxins.

The study also showed that the amount of nicotine e-cigarettes provide is not noticeably different to conventional cigarettes. The authors of the study report that this can help people to stop smoking altogether by dealing with their cravings in a safer way.

There has been a huge growth in the use of e-cigarettes, which deliver nicotine via inhaled aerosol. Currently, it is theorized that e-cigarettes are unlikely to be as harmful as conventional cigarettes. However, there are still many unanswered questions.

A recent study suggested that electronic cigarette users are more at risk of lung damage if they use flavorings such as menthol and butterscotch. Scientists say that ‘vaping’ flavors contain toxins, including harmful substances that are not inhaled by users of standard tobacco cigarettes. There is concern that a huge variety of non-standard vaping liquids is exposing people to unknown risks.

John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast 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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