Q: Is it true that vitamin D supplements can help eliminate the pain of fibromyalgia?
A: It is true that recent research suggests that taking supplements of vitamin D may be effective in lowering pain levels in individuals with fibromyalgia, a poorly understood condition that causes symptoms such as joint and muscle pain and fatigue. However, the benefits of supplementary doses of vitamin D were observed only in people who were deficient in the vitamin, according to a paper on the research published in the February 2014 issue of the journal Pain. The study authors suggest that vitamin D levels in people with fibromyalgia be monitored by their medical care providers, and that supplementation be considered if a deficiency develops.
Q: I have read conflicting reports about the benefits of cognitive training. Does cognitive training help preserve brainpower?
A: Although there is considerable debate on this issue, a recent study suggests that training in some cognitive skills may have positive effects that last as long as a decade. The study, published in the Jan. 13, 2014 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, found slower declines in reasoning ability and speed of information processing in older individuals who had received training in one of those skills in 10 sessions lasting 60 to 70 minutes each over a period of five to six weeks, compared to individuals who had not received training. The trial involved 2,832 older adults who were assigned to one of three groups for training in either speed of processing, reasoning, or memory, and a fourth group who received no cognitive training. The participants took cognitive tests at the outset of the study, again following training, and one, two, three, five and 10 years after completing training.
Cognitive performance improved following training, but afterwards declined in all groups of participants through the course of the study. However, the researchers found that among participants who received training, the rate of decline was significantly slower than among untrained participants. After five years, all participants who received cognitive training performed better in their training areas than the untrained participants. After 10 years, the beneficial effects of memory training were no longer apparent, but effects among participants who had been trained in reasoning and processing speed persisted. Since the findings suggest that brain training can help protect cognitive performance, it makes sense to engage in challenging activities such as computer training programs and video games,
Q: My brother has painful headaches that are growing steadily worse. They tend to become more severe when he lies down, and sometimes they are accompanied by blurred vision. Should he be worried?
A: Yes. I suggest that your brother see his medical care provider as soon as possible. His symptoms may be benign, but it is best to get a prompt medical evaluation for any headache that includes head pain that is sudden and severe, head pain that gets worse over time, or headache that is accompanied by other symptoms, such as fever, neck stiffness, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, skin rash, loss of balance, confusion or difficulty speaking. This type of headache may be secondary to underlying conditions that could be disabling or life-threatening, ranging from inflamed scalp arteries that can be complicated by stroke or blindness (arteritic headaches) to brain tumors, head injury, high blood pressure (hypertensive headaches), infectious meningitis, or a ruptured brain aneurysm, among other disorders. Medical neuroimaging and other tests can help identify the cause of your brother’s headaches, and chances are good that treatment can eliminate his pain.
—Dr. Maurizio Fava, MD