Health benefits of tea, risk calculators

Medical Minutes

Drinking tea may help combat Alzheimer’s disease

A new study is suggesting that drinking tea may help reduce the risk of cognitive impairment in older adults and for those who are genetically at risk of Alzheimer’s.

Researchers at the National University of Singapore conducted a longitudinal study involving 957 Chinese seniors aged 55 years or older. They found that regular consumption of tea lowers the risk of cognitive decline by 50 percent. In addition, those individuals who are APOE e4 gene carriers and genetically at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease may experience a reduction in cognitive impairment risk by as much as 86 percent.

The research team also discovered that the neuroprotective role of tea consumption on cognitive function is not limited to a particular type of tea. Black, green or oolong teas are fine. In this study, tea consumption information was collected from the participants from 2003 to 2005. These older adults were then assessed every two years on their cognitive function until 2010.

“The data from our study suggest that a simple and inexpensive lifestyle measure such as daily tea drinking can reduce a person’s risk of developing neurocognitive disorders in late life,” said study investigator Feng Lei from the Department of Psychological Medicine at National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.

Lei said the long-term benefit of tea consumption appears to be due to the bioactive compounds in tea leaves, such as catechins, theaflavins, thearubigins and L-theanine. He said these compounds have anti-inflammatory properties and contain other bioactive properties that may protect the brain from vascular damage and neurodegeneration.

Online risk calculator may help better access heart disease and diabetes risk

An online metabolic calculator developed by a University of Virginia School of Medicine doctor and his research partner at the University of Florida appears to help predict the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes more accurately than traditional methods. A new large study has found this new risk calculator may be a better tool for guiding individuals.

Physicians traditionally have predicted risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke by looking for five factors: obesity, high blood pressure, high fasting triglycerides, low HDL (good) cholesterol and high fasting blood sugar. Patients with abnormalities in at least three of these are diagnosed as having metabolic syndrome and told that they are at elevated risk for future health problems.

The problem with that approach is that it is a one-size-fits-all. The traditional approach also fails to consider variables such as race, ethnicity and gender. This is a significant problem because African-American men are unlikely to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, but still have a high risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

The new approach weighs the traditional risk factors and also takes into account race, gender and ethnicity to produce an easy-to-understand metabolic severity score. A small study previously found that the online calculator’s predictions lined up well with actual cases of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Now, a new study that included more than 13,000 has found that this updated tool was a better risk predictor than the individual risk factors alone.

“The hope is that a scoring system like this could be incorporated in the electronic medical record to calculate someone’s risk and that information could be provided both to the physician, who then realizes there is an elevated risk, and to the patient, who hopefully can start taking some preventive steps,” said study author Dr. Mark DeBoer of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia.

Simple blood test may help better guide depression treatments

It now may be possible to determine which medication may be more likely to help a person overcome depression, according to researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

“Currently, our selection of depression medications is not any more superior than flipping a coin, and yet that is what we do. Now, we have a biological explanation to guide treatment of depression,” said study investigator Dr. Madhukar Trivedi, who is with the Southwestern Medical Center’s Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care in Dallas, Texas.

Dr. Trivedi and his colleagues conducted a study in which they demonstrated that measuring a patient’s C-reactive protein (CRP) levels through a simple finger-prick blood test can help doctors prescribe a medication that is more likely to work. Utilizing this test in clinical visits could lead to a significant boost in the success rate of depressed patients who commonly struggle to find effective treatments, according to the researchers.

Up to a third of depressed patients don’t improve during their first medication, and about 40 percent of people who start taking antidepressants stop taking them within three months.

“Giving up hope is really a central symptom of the disease. However, if treatment selection is tied to a blood test and improves outcomes, patients are more likely to continue the treatment and achieve the benefit,” said Dr. Trivedi.

The new research measured remission rates of more than 100 depressed patients prescribed either escitalopram alone or escitalopram plus bupropion. Researchers found a strong correlation between CRP levels and which drug regimen improved their symptoms. Dr. Trivedi identified CRP as a potential marker for depression treatments because it has been an effective measure of inflammation for other disorders such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

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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