Newsbriefs: Poor Sleep’s Effect on Immune System; Late-Onset AD; Parents’ Effect on Children’s Health

Poor Sleep Compromises Immune System, Quadruples Risk of Getting Sick

New findings add to the growing body of evidence that poor sleep is linked to increased susceptibility to catching a cold. The aim of the study, led by a UC San Francisco sleep researcher, was to determine whether sleep, measured behaviorally using a wrist device called an actigraph, predicted cold incidence following experimental viral exposure. Prior research relied on sleep diaries kept by study participants, which are subject to recall bias, according to the researchers. An actigraph automatically monitors and logs sleep. Study recruits included 164 volunteers who underwent two months of health screenings to establish baselines for factors such as stress, temperament, alcohol and cigarette use. The researchers also measured participants’ normal sleep habits. Volunteers were then sequestered, administered the cold virus via nasal drops, and monitored for a week. Daily mucus samples were collected to see if the virus had taken hold. Subjects who had slept less than six hours a night the week before receiving the nasal drops were four times more likely to catch a cold, compared to those who got more than seven hours of sleep. This association was independent of season of the year, body mass index, psychological variables, and health practices. Sleep fragmentation (episodes of waking that disrupt sleep) was also unrelated to cold susceptibility. The study was published in the October 2015 edition of the journal Sleep.

Big Data Uncovers Earliest Signs of Late-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease

Researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital have used a powerful computational tool to better understand the progression of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease (LOAD), and to identify its first physiological signs. LOAD is the most common cause of human dementia. There is no single cause, and the current understanding is that it results from multiple coexisting factors. But which comes first? And which factors are most responsible for disease development? According to the researchers, understanding the sequence of events is important in developing treatments. In attempt to figure this out, researchers analyzed more than 7,700 brain images from 1,171 diseased and healthy subjects. Patient data for the study came from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), a partnership of more than 30 institutions across Canada and the United States. Compiling and analyzing the data took thousands of computer hours to complete, and could not have been possible without current sophisticated software and terabytes of hard drive space. Data included in the analysis came from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET), blood and cerebrospinal fluid as well as the subjects’ level of cognition. Contrary to the understanding that an increase in amyloid protein is the first sign of the disease, this study suggests that a decrease in blood flow in the brain may be an earlier physiological sign of Alzheimer’s disease. The study also found that changes in cognition may begin earlier in the progression than previously believed. Although still subjected to the sensitivity of the algorithms and biomarkers used, results might contribute to the development of preventive therapies, researchers hypothesize. The study was published in June 21, 2016 edition of the journal Nature Communications.

Parents’ Longevity Associated With Better Heart Health for Their Children

Filling out those cumbersome family history forms may hold more value than you think, according to new research funded by the UK’s Medical Research Council.The longer your parents lived, the more likely you are to stay healthy in your 60s and 70s. The researchers used data on the health of 186,000 middle-aged offspring, aged 55 to 73 years, followed for up to eight years.They found that those with longer-lived parents had lower incidence of multiple circulatory conditions, including heart disease, heart failure, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and atrial fibrillation. For example, the risk of death from heart disease was 20 percent lower for each decade that at least one parent lived beyond the age of 70 years. Although factors such as smoking, high alcohol consumption, low physical activity and obesity were important, the lifespan of parents was still predictive of disease onset after accounting for these risks. The study was published in the May 2016 edition of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

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