Friday, December 21, 2007

Medical Research Findings: Today and Tomorrow Can be Vastly Different

Isn't science a wonderful thing? Because of medical research, our life expectancy has changed dramatically. In 1900, the average life expectancy for a man was 47 years of age! Today it is 77 and getting older as we speak.

Medical research has allowed a death sentence for people diagnosed with HIV in 1982 to now become a chronic illness for the vast majority of those diagnosed since 1995. Cancer of the breast and prostate most often lead to death in in the 1960's. Today, the degree of the cancer determines survival. The lower the degree, better the survival rate.

Yesterday I reported that social, mental and physical activity to counteract loneliness helps to decrease the likelihood of developing dementia. Today, new research indicates that physical activity helps reduce the risk of Vascular dementia, but not Alzheimer's dementia.

These reports can become pretty confusing. You may feel as though your head is spinning. So what are you to believe?

Research reports are as good as the design and execution of the study. It is impossible for lay people to scrutinize every piece of information they hear and determine whether or not it is sound research.

Only time can really tell what will hold water in research results. While learning the results of studies is helpful, looking at the data is important to a physician, nurses, and other allied health professionals. Ask your health care provider to explain things that you hear that are pertinent to you.

Using common sense is helpful along the way. Consider the example of exercise. Does exercise help keep a person healthy? Scientific research is showing that, yes, it does. In years past, people were thinner because they did work that required alot more physical effort compared to most jobs today. Facts show that most adults in previous times did not develop diabetes. Diabetes was seen mostly in children who acquired it from a genetic or immune disorder.

Today, twenty percent of all adults age 60 years and older develop diabetes. Thirty(30%) percent of older adults who are obese have diabetes as compared to 13% of their thinner counterparts.

At least 10 million Americans at high risk for type 2 diabetes can sharply lower their chances of getting the disease with diet and exercise, according to the findings of a major clinical trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). All of the people enrolled in this study participated in lifestyle changes with diet and exercise which reduced their risk for developing diabetes. About 15% developed diabetes within 3 years of this study. Not reported in the short report was how many continued with the lifestyle changes.

I reported early in this blog that a new study reported that exercise will help reduce the risk for vascular dementia. So why talk about diabetes? People who exercise less often have a higher risk of developing diabetes. Diabetes causes complications in the blood vessels. Vascular dementia is one of these comlications. Vascular dementia is caused by a change in the blood flow in the vessels of the brain, causing cell death. Cell death in the brain causes dementia.

A tangled web or a domino effect? Lifestyle factors play a huge role. Balance in how many aspects of life impact health overall: stress level, social interaction, sleep, diet, exercise and physical activity level are all predictors of health. This is the overall theme to learn from current medical research findings. What we learn today, the changes in lifestyle made today, can effect our health tomorrow.