News February 2005 Issue

In the News: 02/05

Back Pain Can Lead To Brain Shrinkage

Chronic back pain can shrink the brain by as much as 11 percent, equivalent to the loss of brain density in 10 to 20 years of normal aging. That is the conclusion of a recent study by Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. The study, which appeared in the Journal of Neuroscience, used MRI brain-scan data to contrast images from 26 subjects with chronic back pain (lasting for more than a year) with those from normal subjects. Loss in brain density was related to pain duration, according to researchers, who suggested that 1.3 cubic centimeters of  matter in the lateral prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that processes information and memory) are lost for every year of chronic back pain. Previously, experts had believed that the brain reverts to its normal state after chronic pain ceases. But Northwestern researchers found in an earlier study that back pain sustained for six months or longer brought about chemical changes in the area of the brain used in decision-making. It was this finding that convinced researchers to embark on the brain atrophy study.

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Acupuncture Plus Drugs Best Rx for Knee OA

Acupuncture in conjunction with traditional drug treatment is more effective than drug therapy alone. In a study presented to the American College of Rheumatology, 570 patients with a mean age of 65 years and suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee parti-cipated in a 26-week trial in which they received 23 acupuncture treatments. All were advised to continue their regular analgesic or anti-inflammatory treatments. At the end of the trial, the acupuncture patients experienced a greater decrease in pain and improvement in function than in a similar group that had continued their drug therapy but had not been administered acupuncture. Although acupuncture was cited in 1997 by the National Institutes of Health as an acceptable treatment for many pain conditions, previous trails involving its use in osteoarthritis have been small and many physicians have doubted its effectiveness. This latest study, buttressed by similar findings in a study undertaken recently on 88 OA patients in Spain, has been hailed as a major step in combating a disease for which pain-reducing options—other than exercise, weight loss, analgesics, and anti-inflammatories—are limited.

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Surgeon General Warns Of Waning Bone Health

A first-ever report on bone health by the U.S. Surgeon General warns that if preventative measures are not taken, by the year 2020 one in every two Americans over the age of 50 will be at risk for fractures and low bone mass. The report claims that 10 million people over age 50 currently have osteoporosis, while another 34 million are at risk for developing brittle bones. Says U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Richard Carmona, “If it’s diagnosed in time, osteoporosis can be treated with new drugs that help prevent bone loss and rebuild bone before life-threatening fractures occur.” The report recommends getting enough calcium and vitamin D, maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active at least 30 minutes a day, and removing obstacles that pose a tripping hazard in the home.

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Hold The Burger, Pass The Grapefruit

What’s good for cancer and heart disease—low red meat intake— is apparently also good for arthritis. A team of British researchers has found that eating an overabundance of red meat every day increases the risk of rheumatoid arthritis. The study, conducted at the University of Manchester in the U.K., examined data on 25,630 people between the ages of 45 and 75 over a period of nine years. Researchers found that people who ate the most red meat (more than 2.03 oz. per day) were nearly twice as likely to develop the disease than those who ate smaller portions (less than than .9 oz. per day). The study’s authors suggested that the high collagen content of red meat may lead to the production of anticollagen antibodies and may be linked to meat additives or infectious agents. This most recent finding, which appeared in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism, built on an earlier study which found that people who rarely eat fruit and have low levels of vitamin C were up to three times more likely to develop RA. Still hankering for that steak? Order a smaller serving.