News & Current Affairs

September 29, 2008

Statins ‘prevent artery ageing’

Statins ‘prevent artery ageing’

Pills

Statins are now very widely used by the NHS

Drugs given to heart patients to lower cholesterol may have an additional benefit – keeping their blood vessels feeling younger.

Advanced heart disease patients have arteries which have effectively aged faster than the rest of their bodies.

University of Cambridge scientists, writing in the journal Circulation Research, say statins may be able to hold back this process.

They hinted the same drugs might also prevent damage elsewhere in the body.

It’s an exciting breakthrough to find that statins not only lower cholesterol but also rev up the cells’ own DNA repair kit
Professor Martin Bennett
Cambridge University

Statins are seen as a key tool in the fight against heart disease, and in low doses have been made available “over-the-counter” at pharmacies.

While it has been known for some time that they can lower cholesterol levels, this did not fully account for the benefits experienced by some patients, and evidence is growing that they can boost the function of the cells lining the heart arteries.

The Cambridge study adds to this evidence, and may shed light on how statins do this.

Cells in the body can only divide a limited number of times, and in patients with heart disease, the rate of division in these arterial cells is greatly accelerated – dividing between seven and 13 times more often than normal.

As the cells “run out of ” divisions, they can suffer DNA damage, and do not work as well.

One of the important roles of these cells is to keep the artery clear of fatty “plaques” which can expand and block them, causing angina or heart attack.

Cancer clue

The research found that statins appear to increase levels of a protein called NBS-1, which is involved in the repair of DNA within cells. This means they may be able to hold off the effects of old age in the artery wall for a little longer.

Professor Martin Bennett, who led the research, said: “It’s an exciting breakthrough to find that statins not only lower cholesterol but also rev up the cells’ own DNA repair kit, slowing the ageing process of the diseased artery.

“If statins can do this to other cells, they may protect normal tissues from DNA damage that occurs as part of chemotherapy and radiotherapy for cancer, potentially reducing the side-effects.”

Professor Peter Weissberg, the British Heart Foundation’s medical director, added: “Too much cholesterol in the blood induces a repeated cycle of damage and repair in the blood vessel wall which results in a heart attack if the repair mechanism is inadequate.

“Statins protect against heart attacks by reducing cholesterol levels and subsequent damage to the vessel wall – this research has shown they may also enhance the blood vessels’ natural repair mechanisms.”

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September 9, 2008

Vitamin linked to brain shrinking

Vitamin linked to brain shrinking

Vitamin B12

Many people are deficient in vitamin B12

A vitamin found in meat, fish and milk may help stave off memory loss in old age, a study has suggested.

Older people with lower than average vitamin B12 levels were more than six times more likely to experience brain shrinkage, researchers concluded.

The University of Oxford study, published in the journal Neurology, tested the 107 apparently healthy volunteers over a five-year period.

Some studies suggest two out of five people are deficient in the vitamin.

The rate of shrinkage of the brain as we age may be partly influenced by what we eat
Professor David Smith
Oxford University

The problem is even more common among the elderly, and recent moves to supplement bread with folic acid caused concern that this could mask B12 deficiency symptoms in older people.

The Oxford study looked at a group of people between 61 and 87, splitting it into thirds depending on the participants’ vitamin B12 levels.

Even the third with the lowest levels were still above a threshold used by some scientists to define vitamin B12 deficiency.

However, they were still much more likely to show signs of brain shrinkage over the five-year period.

Liver and shellfish

Professor David Smith, who directs the Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing, said he now planned a trial of B vitamins in the elderly to see if taking them could slow brain shrinkage.

He said: “This study adds another dimension to our understanding of the effects of B vitamins on the brain – the rate of shrinkage of the brain as we age may be partly influenced by what we eat.”

Shrinkage has been strongly linked with a higher risk of developing dementia at a later stage and Rebecca Wood, the chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, said further research was needed.

“This study suggests that consuming more vitamin B12 through eating meat, fish, fortified cereals or milk as part of a balanced diet might help protect the brain. Liver and shellfish are particularly rich sources of B12.

“Vitamin B12 deficiency is a common problem among elderly people in the UK and has been linked to declining memory and dementia.”

Dr Susanne Sorensen, from the Alzheimer’s Society said: “Shrinkage is usually associated with the development of dementia.

“As vitamin B may be given as a food supplement, it may be useful to include tests of vitamin B levels in the general assessment of health of older individuals.

“This is another example of why it is crucial for people to lead a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet rich in B vitamins and antioxidants.

“The best way to reduce your risk of developing dementia is to keep active, eat a balanced diet, don’t smoke and visit your GP to get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked.”

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