Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Milk could help prevent Alzheimer's Disease

This report is preliminary to the completion of a proper double blind trial so the crucial evidence is not yet in. The main finding so far appears to be that B12 is most easily absorbed from milk

Drinking two glasses of milk every day could help protect against memory loss and Alzheimer's disease in old age, according to research. Scientists working at the University of Oxford have discovered that milk is one of the best sources of a key vitamin thought to reduce the neurological damage to the brain that can lead to forms of dementia. Elderly patients with low levels of the vitamin, known as B12, suffer twice as much shrinkage of the brain as those with higher levels of the substance in their bodies, the researchers found.

They now hope that increasing the intake of vitamin B12 among the elderly could help to slow cognitive decline. They are conducting a clinical trial that aims to show that it may be possible to treat memory problems in the elderly with vitamin supplements. They also believe it may be possible to protect people against devastating degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, which affects 150,000 new patients every year in the UK, by improving their dietary intake of the vitamin.

Professor David Smith, from the Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing, said drinking just two glasses of milk a day would be enough to increase levels of vitamin B12 to an adequate level. He said: "There are 550 people who come down with dementia, mainly Alzheimer's, every day in the UK - it is a major epidemic. "These patients have had nerve cells that have died, so it is unlikely we are ever going to be able to find ways of repairing that damage or treating them with drugs. "Instead we have to look at preventing it in the first place. Our study shows that consuming around half a litre of milk or more per day, and it can be skimmed milk, could take someone who has marginal levels of B12 into the safe range. But even drinking just two glasses a day can protect against having low levels."

Vitamin B12 is one of the eight B vitamins and is found mainly in meat, fish and dairy products. The research, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, revealed that while meat contained some of the highest levels of the vitamin, it was poorly absorbed by the body when eaten. Instead Professor Smith, together with colleagues at Oslo University and Bergen University, in Norway, found the highest levels of vitamin B12 absorbed by the body came from milk, despite having lower B12 concentrations than meat. Around 55 per cent of the vitamin in milk entered the blood stream. Fish provided the second highest source of the vitamin, followed by other dairy products.

Professor Smith said: "In meat, B12 can be tightly bound to protein and this bond has to be broken down by acid in the stomach before the body can use it. "Older people have lower levels of acid and so it is much harder for them to get B12 from certain foods. In milk, the binding is readily reversible."

Brain scans of patients who have a vitamin B12 deficiency have revealed that they suffer more brain loss, or atrophy, than those with higher intake of the vitamin.

Professor Smith and his team found in a separate study that even elderly patients eating enough vitamin B12 to be considered to have normal concentrations of vitamin B12 were at risk of increased brain atrophy. He found that those in the lower third of the normal range suffered twice as much brain loss, about one per cent a year, than those who had higher concentrations of the vitamin in their bodies.

It is thought that vitamin B12 is essential for maintaining the sheath that forms around and insulates nerve cells. Without adequate levels of the vitamin, this sheath cannot be kept in a good functional state, leading the cells to malfunction and die. Previous studies by the group have indicated that chocolate and wine may have a similar effect.

Professor Smith said: "There is a beautiful dose effect with foods that contain high levels of vitamin B12, but the causal relationship with cognitive function is far from clear and we need more work on this. "We are currently preparing to unmask a two-year trial of 180 people over the age of 70 with memory problems, who were either given Vitamin B12 or a placebo. "We have been taking volumetric MRI scans to look at whether the vitamin treatment has slowed down the atrophy in the brain. "We need to do more clinical studies on vitamin B12 before we can start offering advice to help protect against dementia and cognitive decline, but until then prudence would suggest adopting a healthy lifestyle and a diet that is high in vitamin B12."

Alzheimer's disease has recently been thrown into the spotlight after author Terry Pratchett, 60, announced in 2007 that he has been diagnosed with a rare form of the disease called posterior cortical atrophy. He has since donated more than $1 million to the Alzheimer's Research Trust and become a high profile campaigner for Alzheimer's research. Around 700,000 people in the UK live with dementia.

Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, welcomed the latest research but said it was vital more research into Alzheimer's disease received funding. She said: "With vitamin B12 deficiency a common problem among elderly people in the UK, and further links between this deficiency and dementia, these findings will be of particular interest close to home and could encourage us to move dairy products higher up on the shopping list."


Curtains and pyjamas to become weapons against superbugs

Hospital curtains, bedding, and even patients' pyjamas could become weapons in the war against hospital superbugs

A study has found that an antimicrobial treatment, which could be incorporated into dozens of surfaces on the ward, can kill MRSA on contact, reducing the risk of infection between patients. Scientists hailed the discovery by researchers from Imperial College London as a "very significant" step in the war on hospital superbugs which kill 10,000 people a year. The study found the product was 1,000 times more potent than its rivals in eliminating MRSA, and could be used on dozens of surfaces, creating environments which eradicate bugs instead of harbouring them. Paint, light switches, medical equipment, staff uniforms and even pens and paper could be treated with Cliniweave, which uses a technique invented by a British company to incorporate an antimicrobial compound into textiles.

The five-year study, published in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents, found that within 60 minutes the treatment eliminated MRSA entirely. In tests on three rival treatments, the bug continued to multiply. The agent in Cliniweave works by destroying the enzymes in existing bacteria and preventing their multiplication.

Professor Mark Enright, professor of microbiology at Imperial College London, which carried out the study, said: "The results are very promising; a fabric that can kill bacteria on contact could be a really significant way to reduce levels of infections in hospitals". The leading infection expert said professionals had long known that different parts of the ward could form "hotspots" for infection, but said treatments for surfaces had shown limited effectiveness until now.

Separate research published by The Lancet found that in hospital wards tackling superbug outbreaks, MRSA could be detected on dozens of surfaces. Of the sites tested, 41 per cent of bed linen was found to be contaminated, along with 40 per cent of patients' clothing, and 27 per cent of furniture, including bed frames.

Nottingham University Hospitals trust have now begun replacing curtains on 100 wards at two sites with fabric treated with the product, which has already been introduced to wards at hospitals run by Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Hospitals trust.

Hugh Pennington, Emeritus Professor of microbiology at Aberdeen University, said the study findings appeared to be "extremely significant". He said: "We know that MRSA is often found on surfaces in hospitals, and anything that we can do to reduce the number of places from where patients can become contaminated should be pursued when so many lives are at stake."

Prof Enright said his team were now seeking funding to carry out further research to establish the effectiveness of the product in hospitals, where it could be used to treat as many surfaces as possible. "We want to carry out a trial using two intensive care units, where we can treat as many fabrics as possible - the staff uniforms, the bedding, the paint on the walls - to see how far we can reduce the risk of infection," he said.

George Costa, managing director of Intelligent Fabric Technologies (IFT), which invented Cliniweave, said the technology meant antimicrobial treatment could be incorporated into dozens of textiles ranging from paint to plastic. IFT part-funded the peer-reviewed research, but played no part in the design of the study, or in carrying out the work or interpreting the findings.

While the risks of infection with bugs such as MRSA can be reduced if those who come into contact with patients have washed their hands, environments harbouring bugs leave staff, relatives and patients at constant risk of picking up new bacteria which can infect wounds and get into the bloodstream, sometimes proving fatal. Latest annual figures show there were more than 1,500 deaths linked to MRSA in NHS hospitals in 2007, although the number of infections has since begun to fall.

Figures published in December showed the number of infections reduced by one third in 2008, after new measures were introduced by hospitals to promote hygiene. Latest annual figures show in total almost 10,000 people died from hospital infections, including MRSA and Clostridium Difficile.


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