No evidence Alzheimer's prevention works
BETHESDA, Md., April 28 (UPI) -- U.S. medical investigators said Wednesday there is no firm evidence any preventive measures for cognitive decline or Alzheimer's disease are effective.
An independent panel convened by the National Institutes of Health said many preventive measures including mental stimulation, exercise and a variety of dietary supplements have been studied over the years. But the experts said the value of such strategies for delaying the onset or reducing the severity of decline or disease has never been demonstrated by rigorous studies.
"Alzheimer's disease is a feared and heart-breaking disease," said Dr. Martha Daviglus, the panel's chairwoman and a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University. "We wish we could tell people that taking a pill or doing a puzzle every day would prevent this terrible disease, but current evidence doesn't support this."
The panel's members said they found no evidence of even moderate scientific support associating any dietary supplement, prescription or non-prescription drug, diet, exercise or social engagement with reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease. The panel said evidence surrounding risk reduction for cognitive decline is similarly limited, although low-grade evidence shows weak associations between many lifestyle choices and reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease and cognitive decline.
"These associations are examples of the classic chicken or the egg quandary," Daviglus said. "Are people able to stay mentally sharp over time because they are physically active and socially engaged or are they simply more likely to stay physically active and socially engaged because they are mentally sharp?" Daviglus said.
The panel included experts in preventive medicine, geriatrics, internal medicine, neurology, neurological surgery, psychiatry, mental health, nutrition, pharmacology, genetic medicine, nursing, health economics, health services research and family care-giving.
The report is available at http://www.ahrq.gov/downloads/pub/evidence/pdf/alzheimers/alzcog.pdf.
Phosphate in soda may accelerate aging
BOSTON, April 28 (UPI) -- High levels of phosphates -- found in sodas and processed food -- may accelerate signs of aging, U.S. researchers suggest.
The study, published in the journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, also finds high phosphate levels may increase the prevalence and severity of chronic kidney disease and cardiovascular calcification and skin atrophy.
"Humans need a healthy diet and keeping the balance of phosphate in the diet may be important for a healthy life and longevity," Dr. M. Shawkat Razzaque of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine says in a statement. "Avoid phosphate toxicity and enjoy a healthy life."
Razzaque and a colleague examined the effects of high phosphate levels in mice missing the gene klotho, which when absent, causes mice to have toxic levels of phosphate in their bodies. These mice lived from eight to 15 weeks.
Mice fed a high phosphate diet also died within 15 weeks, while mice not fed a high phosphate diet lived for 20 weeks.
Webb telescope passes key design review
WASHINGTON, April 28 (UPI) -- NASA says scientists have determined the James Webb Space Telescope will meet all of its scientific and engineering requirements for its mission.
Space agency officials said that evaluation was part of the telescope's most significant mission milestone to date -- the Mission Critical Design Review.
"I'm delighted by this news and proud of the Webb program's great technical achievements," said Eric Smith, NASA's Webb telescope program scientist. "The independent team conducting the review confirmed the designs, hardware and test plans for Webb will deliver the fantastic capabilities always envisioned for NASA's next major space observatory. The scientific successor to Hubble is making great progress."
Officials said the project's schedule will undergo a review during the next few months. The spacecraft design, which passed a preliminary review in 2009, will continue toward final approval next year.
"The Webb is the premier next-generation space observatory for exploring deep space phenomena from distant galaxies to nearby planets and stars," NASA said. "The telescope will provide clues about the formation of the universe and the evolution of our own solar system, from the first light after the Big Bang to the formation of star systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth."
The telescope is a joint project of NASA and the European and Canadian Space Agencies.
Study: Handclapping aids cognitive skills
BEER-SHEVA, Israel, April 28 (UPI) -- Israeli scientists say they've conducted the first study to show a link between handclapping songs and development of important cognitive skills in people.
Idit Sulkin, a researcher at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, said she found a direct link between participation in handclapping songs and development of major skills in children and young adults.
"We found children in the first, second and third grades who sing these songs demonstrate skills absent in children who don't take part in similar activities," Sulkin said. "We also found children who spontaneously perform handclapping songs … during recess have neater handwriting, write better and make fewer spelling errors."
Music psychologist Warren Brodsky, who supervised Sulkin's research, said the findings suggest, "Children who don't participate in such games may be more at risk for developmental learning problems like dyslexia and dyscalculia.
Sulkin said she also discovered handclapping song activity has a positive effect on adults: University students reported that after taking up such games, they became more focused and less tense.
"These techniques are associated with childhood, and many adults treat them as a joke," she said. "But once they start clapping, they report feeling more alert and in a better mood."
She said the study's findings, part of her dissertation, suggest handclapping songs should be an integral part of education for children aged 6 to 10 to provide motor and cognitive training.