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An Epstein Barr virus infection is so common that about 95% of us have had it at some point in life, usually childhood. Sometimes it leads to mononucleosis. New research strengthens the case that the Epstein Barr virus (EBV) also plays a part in the development of multiple sclerosis (MS).

The study found that getting an EBV infection (mononucleosis) in early adulthood acts as a trigger for later development of multiple sclerosis - about 10 years later. MS usually develops between the ages of 20 to 40 in adulthood. The results are so compelling because the Harvard Univ. researchers looked at data from 10 million young adults on active duty in the US military. They found that risk of MS increased 32-fold after infection with EBV, but not other viruses.

Multiple sclerosis is a neurological disease in which the immune system attacks the brain and spinal cord, stripping away protective insulation (myelin) around the nerve cells. The Epstein Barr virus is a herpes virus that attacks a type of immune cell called B cells. After the initial EBV infection the virus remains dormant in a person's cells for the rest of the person's life. A number of studies have found EBV-infected B cells in the brains and demyelinated lesions of MS patients.

The hope now is to develop an EBV vaccine or stop the virus with antiviral drugs targeting EBV, and that this could ultimately prevent or cure MS. Keep in mind that EBV is considered a multifactorial disease by many, with several factors increasing the risk - such as having certain genes, not getting enough vitamin D, and also an Epstein Barr virus infection

From Science Daily: Epstein-Barr virus may be leading cause of multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS), a progressive disease that affects 2.8 million people worldwide and for which there is no definitive cure, is likely caused by infection with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), according to a study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers.  ...continue reading "Epstein Barr Virus May Be A Trigger For Developing Multiple Sclerosis"

Yikes! Just two weeks later, a post has outdated information. Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is now found in 28 states - not 27 as I posted December 30, 2021. The additional  state where a wild white-tail deer has been found to have CWD is Alabama. Yes, the disease is spreading!

Chronic wasting disease is an always-fatal prion disease similar to "mad-cow disease" (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) in cattle. This disease is only found in cervids - deer, elk, reindeer, and moose. Medical opinion is that there is a species barrier, a "thin molecular barrier" preventing crossing over of the prion disease to cattle and humans.

Why the concern?  The concern is that this disease will jump to humans, especially in people who eat contaminated meat. No human cases have been detected, but health officials warn people to avoid eating meat from CWD infected animals.

Therefore hunters are advised to bring  hunter harvested heads of deer, elk, and moose for testing. In Alabama it's at drop-off freezer or sampling stations.

In chronic wasting disease there is a long incubation period, followed by the brain becoming progressively like a sponge - riddled with holes, along with deterioration in brain function, behavioral changes, and eventually death. A horrible slow death. There are no treatments or vaccines.

One scary thing about CWD is that once it gets into the soil, it stays there for years, and high heat, disinfectants, and radiation don't kill it. Yikes! Dr.Zabel at the Colorado State Univ. Prion Research Center suggested a few years ago that controlled burns (fires) of infected fields or areas could eliminate the prions left behind by infected animals (from animal mucus/saliva, urine, and feces, and decaying carcasses) on plants and soil.

An article with advice for how hunters can protect themselves, and a map of where CWD is found in the US.: 5 Ways Hunters Can Prevent Spreading Chronic Wasting Disease

Chronic Wasting Disease Resource Center monitoring the situation and publishing information and research on its site is CIDRAP (Center for Infectious Disease and Policy). From the Jan. 14, 2022 news scan, CIDRAP:  With positive test in a deer, Alabama becomes 28th state to detect CWD

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been detected for the first time in Alabama, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) confirmed last week.  ...continue reading "Chronic Wasting Disease Now in 28 States"

Chronic wasting disease has spread even further among wild game this past year in the US, and for the first time has been detected in Idaho (in 2 mule deer bucks). This is an always-fatal prion disease similar to "mad-cow disease" (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) in cattle. The concern is that this disease will jump to humans, especially in people who eat contaminated meat.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) should be of concern to all hunters or people who eat wild-caught game (deer, elk, moose, reindeer). No human cases have been detected, but health officials warn people to avoid eating meat from CWD infected animals.

In chronic wasting disease there is a long incubation period, followed by the brain become progressively like a sponge - riddled with holes, along with deterioration in brain function, behavioral changes, and eventually death. A horrible slow death. There are no treatments or vaccines.

It is clear that chronic wasting disease is slowly spreading and infecting wild game across the United States, since it was first detected in wild deer in 1981. It has been found in 27 states and 4 Canadian provinces. This year CWD was found in new regions, far from where it had been detected earlier. It is unknown how this spread is occurring.

For example, it was found in hunter-harvested deer in Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge (Arkansas), which is 70 miles from where it was earlier detected in Mississippi, and 200 miles from another spot in Arkansas.

Some states have detected quite a few cases of CWD in wild deer over the years (e.g. Minnesota). It has also detected in Finland, Norway, South Korea, and Sweden.

A Chronic Wasting Disease Resource Center monitoring the situation and publishing information and research on its site is CIDRAP (Center for Infectious Disease and Policy). Make sure to look at the Tweets (Twitter).

One scary thing about CWD is that once it gets into the soil, it stays there for years, and high heat, disinfectants, and radiation don't kill it. Yikes! Dr.Zabel at the Colorado State Univ. Prion Research Center suggested a few years ago that controlled burns (fires) of infected fields or areas could eliminate the prions left behind by infected animals (from animal mucus/saliva, urine, and feces, and decaying carcasses) on plants and soil.

An article with advice for how hunters can protect themselves, and a map of where CWD is found in the US.: 5 Ways Hunters Can Prevent Spreading Chronic Wasting Disease

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has several chronic wasting disease pages, including prevention and transmission.

Here is some of what CIDRAP says on their site about CWD: ...continue reading "Chronic Wasting Disease Now In 27 States"

As we get older, we may notice that we're forgetting things, or we're having trouble remembering names, or... And we wonder if we're starting to "lose our mind" and developing dementia.

A recent study has good news - even in persons labeled as having Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), 2 1/2 years later about half had improved and no longer fit the criteria of mild cognitive impairment. Back to normal! (Other studies have similar results.)

The big question is why do so many improve, and why do others get worse?

This study conducted by Columbia University researchers was part of a long-term study looking at aging in older adults living in New York City (thus the study was "community based"). All 2903 participants (white, black, and Hispanic) did not have Mild Cognitive Impairment or dementia at the start of the study (the baseline), were followed for 6 years, and evaluated (including physical and neurological tests) every 18 to 24 months.

After an average 2.4 years follow-up after MCI diagnosis: 12.9% of individuals progressed to dementia, 9.6% declined in functioning (but did not meet the criteria for dementia), 29.6% continued to meet MCI criteria, and 47.9% no longer met MCI criteria. This last group was now "cognitively normal". (!!)

The  researchers found that the presence of the APOE4 gene (which increases the risk of Alzheimer's disease) and having more medical problems ("medical burden") increased the risk of MCI. On the other hand, more years of education, more leisure activities (e.g., reading, socializing, taking walks), and higher income decreased the risk of developing MCI. But MCI across several domains, being a carrier of the APOE4 gene, depressive symptoms, and antidepressant use increased the risk of progression to dementia

Bottom line: Older adults should try to be active, get exercise (walking counts!), have a healthy lifestyle, socialize, and be busy - it's good for mental health. Studies also find participation in arts, crafts, and using computers all lower the risk of older adults developing MCI.

From Medical Xpress: 'Mild cognitive impairment' in older age often disappears, study finds

A diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) might worry an older adult, who could see it as a stepping stone to dementia. But a new study suggests one does not necessarily lead to the other.  ...continue reading "Mild Cognitive Impairment In Older Adults Can Improve"

Some good news - a recent study found that daily coffee and tea drinking is associated with lower rates of stroke and dementia. Just an association, not a definite cause and effect, but still... nice to hear some (more) good news for us coffee and tea drinkers.

Researchers analyzed data from a large group in the United Kingdom's Biobank (a large medical data base). The 365,682 participants (aged 50 to 74 years old) were followed for about 11 years. They found that drinking coffee and tea separately or in combination were associated with a lower risk of stroke and dementia. Coffee alone or in combination with tea was also associated with lower risk of post-stroke dementia.

Most interesting finding: Drinking 2 to 3 cups of coffee with 2 to 3 cups of tea daily was associated with a 32% lower risk of stroke and a 28% lower risk of dementia (when compared to those who do not drink coffee and tea).

How much was best in this study? Moderate amounts of coffee and tea consumption are best. Two to 3 cups of coffee per day or 3 to 5 cups of tea per day, or a combination of 4 to 6 cups of coffee and tea per day, were linked with the lowest rates of stroke and dementia.

From Science Daily: Coffee and tea drinking may be associated with reduced rates of stroke and dementia

Drinking coffee or tea may be associated with a lower risk of stroke and dementia, according to a study of healthy individuals aged 50-74 publishing Nov. 16 in the open-access journal PLOS Medicine. Drinking coffee was also associated with a lower risk of post-stroke dementia.  ...continue reading "Coffee and Tea Drinking Associated With Lower Rates of Stroke and Dementia"

All of us want to age well, with as little physical and mental decline as possible. Multivitamins may help. A recent study found that in older adults (over 65 years) taking an ordinary multivitamin daily for at least 3 years is associated with a 60% slowing of cognitive decline. That's huge!

Unfortunately, in this study ingesting cocoa flavanols did not have any beneficial effect. The multivitamins appeared to be most beneficial for persons with heart disease.

What made this study noteworthy were the large number of participants, that there were different groups, and that there was also a control group who got a placebo (in other words - a fake pill). It was an observational study, therefore can't definitely say cause and effect, but still... those are nice results.

From Medscape: Multivitamins, but Not Cocoa, Tied to Slowed Brain Aging

Taking a daily multivitamin for 3 years is associated with a 60% slowing of cognitive aging, with the effects especially pronounced in patients with cardiovascular (CVD) disease, new research suggests. ...continue reading "A Daily Multivitamin Linked to Slower Brain Aging In Older Adults"

The incredibly high use of pesticides in this country, especially when routinely applied to crops, lawns, and residence interiors, is worrisome. Over 1 billion pounds used in the US annually! Not only are there all sorts of environmental effects, including contamination of water, air, soil, but pesticides also have health effects on humans and wildlife. It seems that with each new study, more concerns are raised.

A recent large study found a link with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, and exposure to pesticides. The Dartmouth College researchers found the link with about two dozen neurotoxic pesticides, including 2,4-D, chlorpyrifos, glyphosate, permethrin, MCPB, carbaryl, and paraquat.

Note that 2,4-D is a herbicide (weed-killer) that is used in crops, and also in feed and weed products for lawns. Glyphosate is the most commonly used herbicide in the world, and used extensively on crops in the US.

The study has limitations, but it should definitely get people investigating this possibility more. For a while now, pesticide exposure has been hypothesized to be a risk factor for ALS. This is a progressive and fatal disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing loss of muscle control.

Excerpts from Environmental Health News: Higher estimated pesticide exposures linked to ALS risk

Every year, approximately 5,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease.  ...continue reading "Pesticides and Lou Gehrig’s Disease"

Something to ponder: Are tiny plastic particles (microplastics) that enter the human body traveling to the brain and causing harm? An article by the science writer Erica Cirino examines that question by looking at existing research and comes to the disturbing conclusion of: Yes, they are.

Yes, that plastic particles are inhaled or ingested (in food, water, and air), that many are excreted, but some travel to organs in the body, are absorbed in the bloodstream, and some eventually cross into the brain. Research in fish shows that this ultimately results in abnormal (dysfunctional) behavior. [Note: she is the author of the book Thicker Than Water, which addresses the plastics pollution problem.]

One problem is that plastic particles contain all the chemicals in the original plastic, which includes endocrine (hormone) disruptors.  Another is that the plastic particles accumulate once they are in the organs. Yes, studies find plastic particles in humans (e.g., the placenta, the lungs, and other tissues) and also that many microparticles are excreted in feces. But much is still unknown.

A study by Canadian researchers estimated that the consumption of microplastics by Americans ranges from 39,000 to 52,000 particles (depending on age and sex) each year. When they added in inhalation of microplastic particles, the numbers increased to 74,000 to 121,000. And those who only drink bottled water may be getting an additional 90,000 microplastics (versus about 4000 microplastics from tap water). Yikes!

Since more and more plastics are entering the environment each year, then this does not bode well for humans. We need to deal with plastic pollution!

Excerpts from an article by Erica Cirino in The Scientist: Opinion: Plastic Pollution May Endanger Brains

In 1950, 2 million metric tons of plastic were produced globally; in 2015, petro-chemical companies churned out 381 million metric tons. Most plastic waste—more than 6.3 billion metric tons of it has been generated by humans over the last 80 years—is never recycled. And to scientists’ best knowledge, petroleum-based plastic will never biodegrade. Instead, it breaks up into ever-smaller particles that always remain plastic.  ...continue reading "Microplastics Are Entering Our Bodies"

Some mental abilities actually improve with age! This is great news, because the general view is that our brain volume shrinks and mental abilities decline with age (especially after age 70).

A large Georgetown Univ. Medical Center study of 702 participants (58 to 98 years old) found that two important brain functions actually improve with age, probably due to lifelong experience using them. They were attention and executive functions - which allow us to attend to new information and to focus on what's important in a situation. They underlie  memory, decision making, self-control, navigation, language, and reading.

Is this why there is a saying that wisdom comes with age?

From Science Daily: Key mental abilities can actually improve during aging

It's long been believed that advancing age leads to broad declines in our mental abilities. Now new research from Georgetown University Medical Center offers surprisingly good news by countering this view.  ...continue reading "Some Thought Processes Improve With Age"

Recently there have been studies with conflicting results about the health benefits or harms from coffee consumption. Overall, it seems like moderate intake is OK and beneficial for adults, but too much may cause harm. And avoid caffeinated coffee if pregnant. Yesterday I posted about several recent studies finding health benefits from daily coffee consumption.

Coffee has anti-inflammatory effects, and contains more than a thousand chemical compounds. Over the years many studies found health benefits with regular and decaffeinated coffee, especially when a filter is used in the brewing process (e.g. drip coffee). But when the coffee is made by methods that don't filter the coffee (e.g. French press) the results may show harm, especially if large quantities are consumed daily.

The following are two recent studies finding that coffee consumption is associated with health benefits, and two studies finding potential harm from coffee consumption of over 6 cups a day. Note that whether the coffee is filtered or not may make a difference in results (the last 2 studies).

From (Jan. 11, 2021) Science Daily: Higher coffee intake may be linked to lower prostate cancer risk ...continue reading "Coffee Can Have Health Benefits, But Perhaps Harmful In Large Amounts"