Newsbites: Mental Decline; Kindness; Ginkgo Biloba; Abnormal Heart Rhythm

News and views on healthy living.

NEW EVIDENCE TIES HEART DISEASE TO MENTAL DECLINE

Older people with heart disease—especially women—face a greater risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), an early form of cognitive decline characterized by problems with cognition and memory that are greater than normal for a person’s age but do not interfere with daily activities. MCI often progresses to dementia. A study that followed 1,450 people aged 70 to 89 for four years found a strong association between heart disease and declines in decision-making, planning, and organization in both men and women, but the link was especially strong in women. Those symptoms are considered to be indications of a form of MCI characterized by diffuse vascular disease, which increases risk for non-Alzheimer’s forms of dementia. The findings, which were published online Jan. 28, 2013 in JAMA Neurology, underscore the importance of early detection and treatment of heart disease to avoid possible cognitive decline.

MAKE YOUR DAY—BE KIND TO SOMEONE

Acting with kindness toward someone else may benefit you as much as the person you help, new research suggests. Performing positive acts such as expressing gratitude or lending a hand with a chore are associated with greater feelings of happiness, especially if these acts are varied and not too frequent, according to research presented Jan. 19, 2013 at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in New Orleans. Researchers asked volunteers to perform acts of kindness over a 10-week period and report on their levels of happiness. The results suggest that a variety of positive actions leads to the greatest joy, while the same kind act repeated over and over is linked to a gradual loss of the ability to boost happiness over time. Frequency is also a factor: Performing kind acts once a week is linked with high levels of happiness, but doing good more than once a week appears to deliver no additional happiness benefit, according to the study.

STUDY: GINKGO BILOBA EXTRACT DOESN’T REDUCE AD RISK

Taking the herbal extract ginkgo biloba to ward off Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is most likely pointless, a new study suggests. Researchers recruited 2,854 older adults with memory complaints and followed them for five years, according to a study published in the Jan. 15, 2013 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine. The participants were divided into two groups: One group took 120 mg of ginkgo biloba extract twice a day and the other received placebo. After a median follow-up of five years, the researchers found no significant difference between the two groups in the number of individuals who developed symptoms of AD, nor in the number of participants who suffered adverse events, such as stroke, hemorrhage, cardiac disorders or death.

MGH STUDY LINKS CERTAIN ANTIDEPRESSANTS WITH ABNORMAL HEART RHYTHM

People who take the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants citalopram (Celexa) or escitalopram (Lexapro) face an increased risk of developing an irregular heartbeat, according to a study published online Jan. 29, 2013 in the journal BMJ. The study found that citalopram and escitalopram may extend the length of electrical activity in the heart called the QT interval, but that other antidepressants did not have this effect. The QT interval is longer when the heart beats slowly and shorter when the heart beats faster. When the timing of heartbeats lengthens, the risk for abnormal heart rhythms increases. In a review of 38,300 medical records, the researchers found that nearly 20 percent of people who took one of the two antidepressant drugs had longer QT intervals. The change in heartbeat is not thought to present a threat to healthy individuals, but people with heart problems might want to consult their doctors to see if switching to another medication is warranted, especially if they are taking higher doses of the drugs. “They should absolutely not just stop taking their medicine,” cautions the lead researcher, Roy Perlis, MD, director of MGH’s Center for Experimental Drugs and Diagnostics. “It’s important to know that there are other drugs which appear to be safe in terms of effects on heart rhythm.”

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