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By LIDIA WASOWICZ, UPI Senior Science Writer   |   Dec. 10, 2001 at 4:45 AM
HOLIDAYS CAN BE A PAIN IN THE HEAD

The holiday season can be a real pain for unprepared migraine sufferers, doctors say. Cold, snowy weather, travel, party food and drink, late nights and even romance can bring on more than they bargained for. "Everything we love about the holidays can actually trigger a migraine if people aren't prepared," said Michael Gallagher, director of the University Headache Center at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey School of Osteopathic Medicine. "Alcoholic beverages, chocolate, nuts, fatty foods, stress, travel, weather changes, lack of sleep and even sex can give migraine sufferers a big holiday headache. But migraine sufferers who are prepared can enjoy the season if they are aware of and avoid their triggers, bring along their migraine medicine wherever they go and take it at the first sign of migraine pain." A new treatment option is Pharmacia Corp.'s AXERT (almotriptan malate tablets), approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in May for migraine with or without aura in adults. The top 10 migraine triggers during the holidays include: alcoholic beverages, artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, chocolate, caffeine, nuts, onions, fatty foods, dairy foods, lack of sleep and fatigue, Gallagher said.


CAN MEMORY BE TRAINED?

With memory, you use it or lose it, says a University of Texas, Austin, researcher who begins a five-year, $2.4 million study Jan. 7 on how to help the elderly remember. Eighty percent of seniors have day-to-day concerns about their memory, said Dr. Graham McDougall, associate professor of nursing. His study, funded by the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health, will aim to determine whether memory training intervention affects performance. "The study will address a major concern of aging and a public health problem in the United States and throughout the world," McDougall said. The study will involve some 350 volunteers 65 years of age or older who live alone, suffer anxiety or depression and worry about their memory. Participants will attend classes in memory and in health, including sessions on consumer fraud, alternative medicine, drug interactions, exercise and nutrition. "Older adults are capable of improving their memory, but whether a program like this can assist them to improve or maintain their instrumental activities of daily living is not known," McDougall said. "Education and cognitively demanding environments are considered important means of remaining mentally fit," said McDougall, who has studied memory loss for 10 years. Memory improvement strategies will be taught in a series of eight class sessions, and learning will be reinforced through booster sessions strategically placed to enhance what participants have learned.


LIFE KEEPS GETTING LONGER

Scientists have theorized that longer life spans among some animal species, including humans, might be attributed to the size of their brains, protective body features or even a superior ability to flee from predators. In a new study, University of California, Davis, researchers propose that, among humans and other social species, a long life span is a desirable trait developed through the evolutionary process. Their model of longevity suggests that long life spans among social species offer benefits conducive to even longer life spans in successive generations, in a kind of "self-reinforcing" process. "This entirely reframes the way we consider the future of human life expectancy," said James Carey, who specializes in biology and aging. "This model of longevity extension in humans, combined with evidence that human life span is not fixed but is continuing to increase in developed countries, suggests that there is every reason to believe that human life span will continue to increase in the foreseeable future."


GENE'S ROLE IN INTESTINE

Researchers have found the gene called Math1 plays an unexpected role in the intestine. Huda Zoghbi, professor of pediatrics, neuroscience and molecular and human genetics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said the scientists thought it would be related to nervous system cells but instead found it helps determine the fate of stem cells, or early progenitor cells, in the epithelium, the intestinal lining. Early in development, an organism consists of a small set of identical cells. Those cells become the different tissues of the body, depending on the chemical signals to which they respond, in a process called differentiation. In this case, the intestinal cells in which the gene is active become one of three types of secreting cells found in the intestinal epithelium. "It was a puzzle," said researcher Qi Yang, co-author of the study published in the journal Science. In previous studies, Math1 was linked to the nervous system. "It was a surprise for us to find it expressed in intestinal cells," Zoghbi said. "It tells us that this gene is important in a variety of cell types. In the future, understanding how the intestine develops could play an important role in developing new therapies for chronic diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease," said Dr. Susan Henning, professor of gastroenterology.


(EDITORS: For more information about PAIN, call 908-901-8516; about MEMORY, call 512-471-6504; about LIFE, 530-752-1930; about GENE, call 713-798-4712.)

© 2001 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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