Tag Archives: healthy lifestyle

Not too old for Clinical Trials?

It is not news to anyone that we are all living longer. Life expectancy in the United States increased by 30 years during the 20th Century and 25 of those years were attributed to advances in medicines and the treatment of disease in older people. Life is now the survival of those who live in the better conditions, rather than those who are born fitter. But challenges remain, particularly in the fight against Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Differences between Young and Old

There are many differences between the bodies of an older person and a younger person, besides the obvious outward appearance. Older people often have more than one health condition at a time, making it difficult to successfully deal with those conditions. Nothing can be treated in isolation. The older body absorbs medication differently to the younger body and it is also weaker, making it more vulnerable to the potential side effects of medication.

A Discipline in Itself

So, there is no surprise that the study of disease in the elderly has its own discipline, called Gerontology. Just as the United States has seen an increase in life expectancy, so has Europe. The ageing population is expected to increase from 84 million to 141 million by 2050. Rather than waiting for a problem to arrive on the doorstep, the European Union has established an agency dedicated to the advancement of medical care for the older generation, implementing strategies that span the creation of new medicines and treatment protocols. The goal is greater understanding of how to successfully fight conditions that affect the elderly and ultimately better care.

What Part Can the Elderly Play?

This is not a problem that can be solved in isolation. Clinical testing at the pre-licensing stage needs to include more elderly volunteers.

How Clinical Trials Work

For those interested in participating, there are two types of medical trial open to human volunteers: trials with healthy volunteers that test the effects of a drug on an organ that it is not intended to treat and trials that test medications for specific conditions.

A good example of the first trial would be a medicine that is intended to treat the liver, but the sponsor wants to see if there is any effect on the heart but not necessarily a negative effect, or what might be classed as a side effect. An example of the second would be a trial that tests a new Alzheimer’s medication and requires volunteers who have the condition.

Another important distinction is that trials requiring healthy volunteers pay an honorarium, whereas condition specific trials don’t because it is perceived that the volunteer can derive benefits from exposure to the new drug. Companies like GSK deliver both types of trial and their honorariums for trials in the UK begin at £50 and can be up to £2000 depending on the trial and how many times you volunteer.

Medical testing for healthy volunteers is open to people up to the age of 80. It is a fascinating process to see science at work and to participate in the development of drugs that could help someone you will never meet.

Guest post contributed by Sally Shaws, who writes about volunteering for paid clinical trials. You can visit GlaxoSmithKline for more information on taking part in these trials or to register as a volunteer.

Senior Diet Solutions: Addressing Multiple Health Conditions

Seniors often have multiple conditions resulting in a thorny diet problem. A good example is the combination of heart problems, diabetes, and renal failure. Heart problems and diabetes call for a for a heart-healthy diet low in saturated fat, loaded with vegetables, fruits and whole grains. But when diabetes leads to renal failure, the patient must keep phosphorous, sodium, and potassium to a minimum. Many meats that are high in protein, fruits, veggies and grains are loaded with potassium, a nutrient healthy for most people…but not those in renal failure. How can you make a healthy diet from what’s left?

 The Contradictions

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) the diet goals of a patient with chronic kidney disease are to limit fluids, eat a low protein diet, and restrict salt, potassium, phosphorous and other electrolytes. Since it’s difficult to get enough calories on a low-protein diet, kidney patients are encouraged to eat lots of high-volume carbs, including breads, cake, honey, hard candy, and pie…foods diabetics should avoid like the plague.

Diabetics are encouraged to drink plenty of water, eat a lot of vegetables, and eat a diet higher in protein and low in processed carbs, basically the same diet recommended for heart patients.

The irony is that diabetes often leads to heart disease and kidney disease, and the only area where the conditions agree is in restricting sodium. The convergence of all these diverse issues is most common in the elderly, because it takes years for diabetes and other conditions to wreak this level of havoc on the body.

Part of the Problem: Confusing Information from So-Called Experts

While researching, I found a page that seemed authoritative called Nephrology Physicians, LLC, and I’d like to use it as an example of how information gathered on the web can be dangerous. The page contains food lists for Kidney and Renal failure. Sounds good, right? But it’s misleading. It’s broken down by nutrient. Consider this sentence from the low phosphorous section, All Vegetables are Low in Phosphorus. Wow, so kidney patients can eat all the vegetables they want, right? I was suspicious. I chose a few random vegetables and checked them in the nutrition data tracker at self.com. Sweet potatoes, for example, had a whopping 950 mg of potassium. That would be disastrous addition to his diet. To add to the confusion, the carbohydrate count might make a diabetic nervous as well, unless he knew that sweet potatoes are high in fiber and low on the glycemic index.

The lesson here is this: Before following any advice found on the web, make sure it comes from an authoritative source. The American Association of Kidney Patients is a great resource, loaded with information.

 Finding a Solution

To solve this problem, I researched low phosphorous foods and then eliminated foods high in saturated fats, sodium, refined carbs, and sugar. Here’s the result:

Veggies: cabbage, cauliflower, beets, carrots, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce, bell peppers, onions, garlic, cucumber, eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, turnips, radishes, and watercress.

Fruits: blueberries, raspberries, apples, cranberries, strawberries, cherries, peaches, pears, plums, watermelon, and red grapes.

Proteins: Turkey breast (not processed cooked at home to control sodium and preservatives), egg whites, and fatty, fish like salmon, albacore tuna, herring, mackerel, and rainbow trout. Limit protein intake to 1 or 2 ounces per serving.

Fats: Omega-3 and omega-6 oils, like olive, canola, sunflower, and flaxseed oil.

Grains: White bread products are on the kidney patient diet, including crackers, white bread, pasta, cake, and cookies. Unfortunately, these things are contraindicated for diabetes patients. Address this problem by incorporating small amounts (for example, one slice of bread per meal or a slice of angel cake with berries for dessert). Whole grain products should be avoided.

Dairy: Dairy products should be limited, especially for pre-dialysis kidney patients. Choose low-fat options, like skim milk, no-sugar-added ice cream, plain, low-fat yogurt, and sugar-free pudding. Limit dairy to two 1/2 cup servings per day.

Sample Meal: While researching this topic, I came across a post on a food site that addressed the potential lack of flavor in such a limited diet. Here’s a tasty recipe for Caribbean chicken and veggie kabobs that meets the restrictions for both diabetics and kidney patients.

Loss of Appetite

Loss of appetite, and resulting weight loss, are common in kidney patients. Here are a few tips to help keep your patient or loved one’s weight up:

  • Small meals, eaten frequently all day. Big meals can be too much for a sick senior, but tiny plates with just a few appetizing bites are less intimidating and easier to swallow.
  • Cold finger foods. Cooking smells often make sick patients feel sicker. Try cold dishes, like a scoop of egg or tuna salad with brightly colored veggies to use as scoops.
  • Add egg white powder or protein powder to cooked foods or drinks to add nutrition.


Anemia is common to kidney patients, and an iron supplement may be in order. If the patient cannot get enough protein through food sources, a protein supplement will help, but check the label very carefully and bear in mind that supplements made for the seniors, like Glucerna and Boost, or protein powders designed for weight gain, are not necessarily formulated for kidney patients and may contain high levels of potassium, sugar, or some other harmful component.

Since grain products are limited, another concern may be getting enough fiber to keep digestion regular. A limited food list is notorious for gumming up the works. Only after consulting a doctor, choose a natural fiber product that has been thoroughly researched and has no known side effects or drug interactions, like brown seaweed extract.

Before taking any supplement, diabetics, heart patients, kidney patients, or anyone with an illness that requires medications should check with a doctor or nutritionist.


Once kidney disease progresses to the stage where dialysis is necessary, diet restrictions ease up a bit and patients usually find their appetites returning, but a healthy diet should still be the top priority for caregivers and patients.

Brain Food: Eating Right to Fight Alzheimer’s

We’re all familiar with the concept of  “superfoods,” but few people actually know why some foods are so much better than others. Fewer still know that some foods have a direct effect on the brain, reducing inflammation, facilitating communication between cells, and building new neural pathways. Here are some of the best foods to keep elderly minds sharp and focused, stimulate brain activity, and fight Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

  • Concord grape juice, red wine, blackberries, and chocolate all have something in common. Polyphenols are powerful antioxidants found in all three that stimulate neural activity, reduce inflammation, and increse the blood flow to the brain. Researchers at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine performed a small study with 12 elderly adults suffering from memory loss. For three months, each senior was given either a glass of real concord grape juice every day or a grape-flavored drink. The researchers concluded that participants given the real grape juice showed a significant improvement in spatial memory and verbal skills. Two ounces of dark chocolate, one glass of red wine, or a cup of blackberries contains a comparable amount of polyphenols.
  • Extra virgin olive oil contains a compound called oleocanthal that is known to block the development of  amyloid B-derived diffusible ligands (ADDLs), proteins directly associated with Alzheimer’s disease, loss of memory, and brain degeneration.
  • Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids (DHA), including salmon, sardines, and other oily fish common to cold water, are well known for lowering bad cholesterol, but scientists have recently begun to explore how DHA affects the brain and helps stop Alzheimer’s.
  • Food rich in vitamins D, E, K and folate (a B vitamin) stimulate cognitive brain functions, improve memory, and help lift the fog. Dark leafy greens, like kale, spinach, and turnip greens, are bursting with these nutrients and are a great way to improve both health and brain function. There is some controversy about whether taking vitamins offers the same benefits as getting vitamins through whole food nutrition.
  • Curry, a common spice used in Indian cooking, has a substance called curcumin, which is known to reduce inflammation and prevent the formation of beta amyloid plaques characteristic of Alzheimer’s. Tumeric, the main ingredient in curry powder, is the curcumin source. Tumeric is a mild spice that can be added to soups, stews, bean and vegetable dishes to add the benefits without the spicy curry flavor that might irritate a delicate digestive system.
  • There are two common hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, beta-amyloid plaques that build up and tau proteins that tangle in the brain and cause brain cell death. For the last couple of years, the University of California at Santa Barbara has been studying the effects of compounds found in cinnamon, proanthocyanidins and cinnamaldehyde, on tau proteins. Similar research at the UCSB Neuroscience Research Institute (NRI) is focused on cinnamon’s insulin-like function and how the reactions affect proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Cinnamon is well known in diabetic circles, but the research tying it to Alzheimer’s is in the infancy stage. Even though it’s unproven, a tasty sprinkle on toast or in oatmeal can’t hurt and can potentially help. There’s no down side.
  • A common supplement or food additive, carnosine, was studied in 2008 for its effects on another neurological disease, Parkinson’s. A team of researchers from  Illarioshkin S. Research Center of Neurology at the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences in Moscow found that adding carnosine to the diets of study participants showed significant improvement of neurological symptoms. Similar results have been noted in Alzheimer studies on rats.

There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s, and one of the most effective known treatments is exercise. The foods on this list are all healthy and highly recommended by the American Heart Association.

One note of caution: People taking chemotherapy should report all supplements and diet changes to the oncologist in charge of treatment to ensure that the efficacy of cancer treatment is not affected by the changes.

The research on diet and Alzheimer’s disease is encouraging. Future treatments for many difficult diseases and the recipe for a longer, healthier life may someday come down to a lifetime of better menu choices and a commitment to more exercise. How exciting that we can observe changes in cognitive function with something as simple and pleasurable as a glass of grape juice or grilled salmon for dinner.


Bio: Cindy Johnson is a freelance writer with a passion for healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle. Read her blog for weekly health updates. When she’s not writing, Cindy loves to hike in the mountains of North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, son, and a small assortment of dogs.

Can Exercise Help Prevent Breast Cancer in Seniors?

Let’s be honest. There are a million reasons to exercise and not many acceptable reasons to avoid it. People who exercise are happier, less stressed, more well rested, leaner, and overall healthier than couch potatoes. But recently, researchers at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill added another reason for women to exercise to an already impressive list.

After studying more than 3,000 women between the ages of 20 and 98 years old, some of whom had breast cancer and some who did not, the team found a startling commonality. Women who exercised were less likely to develop breast cancer, regardless of the period of their lives when they start. The data held true for women who exercised throughout their lives and also for women who started exercising after menopause. The bottom line, it’s never too late to start.

These findings add to a growing body of research that tie regular moderate exercise to lower rates of breast cancer. The results can’t lead to a definitive conclusion that it is exercise that lowers the risk of breast cancer. People who exercise may have other things in common, like a diet lower in saturated fat and higher in vegetables and fruits. However, the evidence is compelling, regardless of the reason for the results.

One possible reason for the lower breast cancer rates is lower body fat. Excess body fat has been linked to overproduction of hormones, including estrogen, and growth hormones that aid in tumor development. Exercise also boosts the immune system and helps prevent cell damage from free radicals.

The study interviewed 1,504 women with breast cancer and 1,550 women without cancer. Each was asked for details about lifetime exercise habits and other health factors, including smoking and alcohol intake.

The Catch
It’s not exactly a catch, but the correlation between lower incidence of breast cancer and exercise was notable only in post-menopausal women. Pre-menopausal women had a much lower statistical edge of 6%, perhaps because the risk factors are more determinate by genetic and other factors for younger cancer victims.

Post menopausal women who reported exercising for 10-19 hours a week during their reproductive years were 30% less likely to have breast cancer than women who did not exercise during the same stage of life.

In addition, women who started exercising after the onset of menopause and averaged 9 to 17 hours per week were 30% less likely to develop breast cancer than sedentary women of the same age. The benefits extended well into old age. Women well into elder years enjoyed the same benefits as younger women.

Quantifying the numbers
As mentioned before, women who exercise regularly often have very different lifestyles than women who do not exercise. After accounting for such factors as disparity of education and income, smoking, drinking, and other life and health details, exercise still rose to the top of the commonality list.

Of course, women who exercise can be different from sedentary women in many ways. Active women are often better educated, more financially secure and more inclined to eat a healthy diet. By contrast, low income results in poor nutrition, overwork (and underpay), and the stress that goes hand-in-hand with living in poverty. Lower cancer rates could be a result of any combination of factors, so the researchers accounted for differences in education, income, smoking and other lifestyle and health factors. Regardless of these influences, exercise was still linked to lower breast cancer risk.

Another factor the researchers took into consideration was body weight. Women who weighed less had lower breast cancer rates. For obese women, exercise may have played a role in mitigating the increased risk of cancer. Either way, exercise offered benefits for all women. If the benefit from exercise turns out to be due to lower body fat, it’s a moot point. Exercise still accounts for the difference. Active women have lower body fat.

Any study like this that relies on the memories of respondents has certain limitations and can only be examined for broad patterns, but the trend is clear and impressive. The questions were very specific about the amount of time spent exercising and the intensity of the exercise. The researchers used the information to assign a lifetime composite score to each participant, then compared the scores with incidence of cancer.

The Takeaway
Perhaps the most significant finding in the study is this: The intensity of exercise did not matter. Women who engaged in moderate physical activity for 2 hours a day, five days a week, benefited. Activities ranged from typical daily gardening, cleaning house, or walking to more intense activities like running or cycling. More intense activity did not increase the benefit. The lesson is simple. Anything women do at any age or stage in life that does not involve being motionless, results in lower risk of breast cancer.

Exercise has many benefits for elderly people. Studies show that  elderly people who exercise regularly  have more cognitive brain functions and are less inclined to mental deterioration. Minimizing the risk of breast cancer is just another big, fluffy feather in the exercise cap.

A great way to encourage seniors to start reaping the benefits is to advocate gentle activities like tai chi or yoga, gardening, bird watching, or simply a morning walk.

Cindy Johnson is a freelance writer with a new passion for healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle. Read her blog for healthy eating and lifestyle tips. When she’s not writing, Cindy loves to hike in the mountains of North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, son, and a small assortment of dogs.