Study: Obesity in elderly boosts risk of dementia 300%

Health Scan: Teaching how to live right; integrative medicine in OB/GYN; why DNA breaks down in cancer cells.

DNA_311 (photo credit: (
(photo credit: (
Now there is another reason to control your weight: The journal Neurology has published Swedish research that has found that long-term obesity in older people raises the risk of developing dementia by 300 percent. Prof. Andrei Keidar, who is responsible for bariatric (stomach shortening) surgery at the Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus in Petah Tikva, says the new findings are very important, and show that being overweight even in the elderly should be treated.
Eight thousand five hundred pairs of identical twins over 65 participated in the study; 350 were diagnosed as having vascular dementia (from blood vessel constriction), while 114 were suspected of having regular dementia. The researchers concluded that there is a significant connection between dementia and obesity.
Keidar explained that it has been known that metabolic diseases of the overweight, such as type 2 diabetes, involve excess sugar – the primary “fuel” of brain tissue. It may be that the disruption of normal metabolism contributes to the increase in the prevalence of dementia beyond the damage caused to the blood vessels, he suggested. Thus he concludes that preventing obesity and treating it at a younger age could reduce the amount of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Alzheimer’s affects some 100,000 Israelis – more than 6% of people aged 65, and up to half of those over 85.
Health Ministry statistics show that 44.6% of Israeli adult men and 31.7% of women are overweight.
In the US and Europe, some 50% of older people are overweight or obese.
Keidar suggested that the amount of time for which people were heavy could affect their risk of dementia.
Exercise, diets, medical treatment and – as a last resort – bariatric surgery can help people avoid a series of diseases that can harm the quality and length of their lives, said Keidar. Some 5,000 bariatric operations were conducted (it is included in the basket of health services for those qualified) last year, compared to only 1,500 in 2006. After extensive study, two international medical societies recently stated that the efficacy of bariatric surgery in improving the health of the obese has been proven.
Finally, the Education Ministry has decide to make “A Healthful Lifestyle” the theme of the next school year. It will include information about proper nutrition and weight, physical activity and sports, disease prevention and not smoking, personal hygiene, strengthening body image and promoting clean and esthetic surroundings.
Central to school activities in September will be exercise and eating right. Pupils from first grade will be taught what is good to eat – including plenty of vegetables and fruits – in a society of plenty; preferring plain water to sweet drinks; avoiding fatty foods; the dangers of unprotected sun exposure; dental hygiene; and improving respect for oneself.
Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar said education on health can change habits. “I also believe that children have the power to improve society by influencing their parents and the whole family,” he said. Sa’ar set up steering committee headed by Irit Livneh, the ministry’s health supervisor, that would prepare a plan for implementing the decision in all the schools after consulting with public-health efforts.
An obstetrics/gynecology center for integrative medicine has opened at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center that will combine conventional medicine with proven complementary medicine techniques. The unusual center was initiated by the hospital’s general integrative medicine center headed by Dr. Menachem Oberbaum and the ob/gyn division, and will be run by a senior gynecologist. Staffers in the new center will treat interested women in delivery rooms, the in-vitro fertilization unit and the ob/gyn departments.

The common denominator of all kinds of cancer cells is damage to the genes’ normal DNA. Although it is already known that cell damage is caused by stress to their DNA replication when cancerous cells invade, the molecular basis for this remained unclear.
But now, reportedly for the first time, Hebrew University of Jerusalem scientists have shown that in early cancer development, cells suffer from insufficient building blocks to support normal DNA replication. It is possible to halt this by externally supplying the “building blocks,” resulting in reduced DNA damage and the cells’ significantly lower potential to develop cancerous features. Thus, it is hoped that eventually this will provide protection against cancer development.
Prof. Batsheva Kerem of the Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences and her Ph.D. student Assaf Bester showed that abnormal activation of cellular proliferation that drives many different cancer types leads to insufficient levels of the DNA building blocks (nucleotides) needed to support normal DNA replication.
Then, using laboratory cultures in which cancerous cells were introduced, the researchers were able to show that through external supply of those DNA building blocks it is possible to reactivate normal DNA synthesis, thus negating the damage caused by the cancerous cells and the cancerous potential. This work, documented in the journal Cell, raises the possibility of developing new approaches for protection against precancerous development, even possibly creating a kind of treatment to decrease DNA breakage.