Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sleep apnea and memory

If your sleep is disrupted by an irregular breathing pattern known as sleep apnea, research suggests that as you snooze, you lose...brain cells that is. Sleep experts have long known that persons who are restless by night from sleep apnea are befuddled by day, and they assumed that such foggy-headedness resulted from fatigue. Investigators in Kentucky beg to differ, however, after they discovered that periodic lack of oxygen in rodents wreaks havoc on the brain's memory center called the hippocampus.

Dr. David Gozal and his colleagues studied ratty little brains and found that intermittent hypoxia (IH)--the episodic drop in blood oxygen levels that occurs during the prolonged respiratory pauses of sleep apnea--causes apoptosis or death of neurons involved in memory and learning. On the other hand, sustained low oxygen levels such as those that might occur in rats residing in Leadville, CO or in a Tibetan monastary, causes protective adaptive changes that spare these vital brain areas.

These research findings suggest that untreated and prolonged sleep apnea may lead to permanent changes in brain functioning. There is good news, however, from the Southern rodents. Those animals who agreed to undertake the rat-sized equivalent of a one hour daily walk in the park were protected against the destructive effects of IH on their brains.

Bad news, on the other hand, from an analysis of the effects of diet on rat brains exposed to IH. The rats who ate a high-fat, refined-carbohydrate diet (as in American convenience foods) were dazed in their mazes, and the inability to figure a route out was magnified if this lousy diet was paired with IH. The combined effect of IH and fast food on rats prompted Dr. Gozal to call such double trouble "a major disaster for the brain."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Is that your final diagnosis?

Guilty pleasures. Lying on the bedroom floor drinking a smoothie and watching reality TV (no, I won't say which show). During a commercial break, I caught a glance at myself in the mirror; dang, there's a bleeding cut across the bridge of my nose. Must've slammed the wire frames of my reading glasses into the skin, although you'd think I'd remember doing something like that. Well, it stung a little bit, but no sense messing with it until after the show.

Somewhat later, I inspect the wound, now wearing my reading glasses. Odd colored blood, more pink than red. As I wiped the area with a wet Kleenex, all the 'blood' disappears and there's no damage whatsoever to the skin. I can't imagine what it is, I'm not even sure I want to know. But not until I rinse out the smoothie glass do I figure out the mystery. While tipping back the cup to get the last dregs of crushed strawberry, I deposited bits of same on my nose from the far rim of the glass.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

You think what you eat

If Leftover Salmon means nothing more to you than a rollicking bluegrass band, your brain may be in jeopardy. Turn off the progressive rock station and forage instead in your 'frig for dinner remnants rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Fish dishes have long been known as "brain food." Here's why.

Investigators followed the menus and mentation of 1600 aging individuals over five years. The survey results, published in the January, 2004 issue of the journal Neurology, showed an inverse relationship between dietary intake of fish oils and cognitive impairment. In other words, those whose diets were high in marine omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (EPA and DHA) were at a significantly lower risk of losing their marbles over time. They bested the befuddled fish-free folk during mental testing both with respect to accuracy and speed. On the other hand, the group that favored foods rich in cholesterol and saturated fat were more likely to develop memory problems and an inability to learn and apply new material.

The scientists from the Netherlands estimated that the effect of eating an additional 80 mg. more cholesterol each day was similar to the effect of being 3 years older. I don't know how they came to that particular conclusion, but just the disturbing trends here are enough to make me worry about the longterm effects of McD's on my brain.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Who's cee-ell-yoo less now?

A patient was in the other day with that which is going around. She sounded awful and looked worse, glassy-eyed and pale.

"So," she said after I looked her over, "do you think it's eff-ell-yoo?"

Hmm, I thought, eff-yoo-oh stands for fever of unknown origin. What's this fancy, new acronym about?

"What does eff-ell-yoo stand for?" I asked.

She looked at me dumbfounded. "Uh...Flu?"

Later, that day, another patient and I were talking about menopause moments. I told her this story, all the way through my clueless question. I paused, waiting for the laughter.

"So," she said with an expectant smile. "What does it stand for?"

Sunday, May 11, 2008

How do I get 'dis connected?

This from Beverly:

I recently got a new laptop that is equipped for wireless, and I have a router and all that.

I couldn't get it to work, so I called the company. The lady very patiently took me through everything...finally I looked and saw that I had not turned on the switch that connected it all. I felt rather dumb! I thanked the lady over and over. I did feel foolish.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

If you can't say anything nice...

don't have a menopause moment.

My family and I having lunch at a restaurant in a mountain resort. The service was indifferent at best, and by the end of the meal had deteriorated to appalling. The final straw occurred when our waitress set our desserts next to our uncleared dishes from the meal.

Son and husband left while daughter and I lingered over coffee. When the check came, I was too annoyed to tip the waitress. But in an uncharacteristic fit of incivility, I also left a note advising her to find another career as she was completely unsuited for the one she was in.

As we hurried out into the cool mountain air, I realized I'd left my favorite purple windbreaker behind at the table. Did I go back in and face the server's wrath, or slink away without a coat?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Cat's got your phone?

Here's a teenage moment to rival any lapse I've got to offer.

I was reading in the kitchen when a string of unprintable words issued from the teen as he traversed the back hallway. I squelched the maternal impulse to run and check out the situation, and, indeed, no need to get up, he soon ambled round the corner at a leisurely pace, shoulders slumped sadly.

"I can't believe it. I dropped my *#?# cell phone in the cat's water."

Well this got me to my feet. "You what? Good heavens, did you fish it out?"

"Are you kidding?" He looked at me as if I was the one who'd lost my mind. "And touch that water?"

I flew around the corner and rescued the cell phone which, amazingly, still worked. And the teenager wisely chose to still use it anyway, cat water bath and all, rather than have no phone at all.

Saturday, May 3, 2008


I never think about nutmeg except briefly at Thanksgiving to once again note that I have none on my shelf when it's time to make pumpkin pie. Thanks to recent research out of India, I need to rethink my nutmeg indifference so that I may continue to think at all.

First, a word or two about making memories, in a biochemical sense. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter which allows neurons in charge of memory functions to communicate with one another in order to both make 'em and keep 'em--memories that is. Acetylcholinesterase is the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine, and the inhibitor of same allows acetylcholine to work longer in the gap between memory-preserving neurons(1).

That is how some current medications for Alzheimer's disease, including Aricept and Exelon, work. London pharmacologists screened a number of Indian herbs for this activity(2) and found that even weensy bits of nutmeg extract diminished the activity of acetylcholinesterase inhibitor by 50%(3).

I don't even know if I really like nutmeg between never having it in the cupboard and not having a very discerning palate. I think I could learn to like it, however, if it supports my aging brain!

But watch out, if a little is good, a lot is not better. This spice can be toxic; persons actually abuse it for its psychoactive properties including hallucinations and euphoria. But then really, how euphoric can you get after downing a tablespoon-plus of nutmeg?
(1)This is why anticholinergic medications like benadryl and other antihistamines (used for allergies and sleep), oxybutynin (used for bladder control), and amitryptilline (used for sleep and chronic pain control) can befuddle susceptible older persons and should not be used.

(2)Mukherjee, PK, et al. Screening of Indian medicinal plants for acetylcholinesterase inhibitory activity. Phytother Res. 2007 Dec;21(12):1142-5.

(3)Other winning herbs in a acetylcholinesterase inhibiting sort of way included Centella asiatica, Nardostachys jatamansi (more on this one in a later post), and Evalvulus alsinoides. They also inhibited the enzyme's activity by 50%. I googled them all; you can buy them as supplements.

I've flipped my lid!

Menopause moment from Wendy:

I was cold when I got home, so decided to warm up some milk and make hot chocolate. Opened a new tin of cocoa. I like to make my hot chocolate with honey and cocoa - the old fashioned way.

Took off the red plastic lid, peeled back the inner seal, spooned out some cocoa and then tried to put the lid back on. Didn't fit. I tried to screw it on. Wouldn't work. Tried to clip it on somehow - still didn't work. It just sat on top of the tin (actually cardboard) container of cocoa. I squished it on, only to spill a bunch of chocolate powder on my t-shirt.

O.K. - now I'm getting mad. What is wrong with these people! They can't even make a lid to fit - actually fit back on the container ?? Why do people have to make things so cheaply these days?? This is crazy. I'll just call the company.

I called the 1-800 number on the tin.
"How can I help you, ma'am?"
"I can't get this red plastic lid back on my cocoa. I've tried to screw it on, or clip it on, and I've only succeeded in spilling cocoa. This lid does not fit properly!"
"Oh, just a moment, I'll go and get a container and lid and see if I can help you solve this. Would you mind if I put you on hold?"
"Not at all. Thank you."

Thinking to myself: stupid cheap companies. If they think they can get away with lids that don't fit......
Hmm - what happens if I flip it over and put it on.

Click! Like magic the lid snapped into place.
I was mortified! Oh no - I had it on upside down!!! My fault entirely - and here I was blaming the company.
Should I wait for the customer service person to come back on the line?
No - I chickened out and quickly hung up.

Oh boy, he must think I'm the dumbest person alive. Maybe he even thought it was a crank call. Nobody would be that dumb!
The phone rang. Agggggg - don't tell me it's him, wanting to know why I hung up!

Whew - it was only my daughter. I was laughing when I answered the phone, so had to tell her of yet another "menopause moment."

Please send me menopause moments of your own for sharing. E-mail me at: