Newsletter 06/15/18 – Parkinson’s, BP and a Potpourri

To My Patients and Friends,

Here’s the latest medical news summary… enjoy!

A moment of opportunity

It’s not news that having optimal blood pressure is really important.  We know that high blood pressure (hypertension) can increase our risk for heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.  We also know from previous research that having hypertension can increase the risk of developing dementia as we age.  Now, a large ongoing UK study (the Whitehall II study) has reported in the European Heart Journal that even individuals with borderline elevated blood pressure (130 mm Hg systolic- the “top number”) as they reached the age of 50 had a 45% higher risk of dementia than people of the same age with a lower blood pressure.  I encourage everyone to get their blood pressure checked on a regular basis… and remember that maintaining healthy lifestyle habits goes a long way to keeping blood pressure in the normal range.

Can we prevent Parkinson’s disease?

A recent population analysis published in the journal Neurology has revealed that people with type II (traditionally described as “adult-onset” or “non-insulin dependent”) diabetes have a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, especially in patients in whom diabetes developed prior to age 44.  The authors of the study speculate that the relationship between these two disease processes may reflect a complex interplay between genetics, environmental and lifestyle factors, and the numerous cellular effects associated with inflammation, elevated blood sugar and insulin resistance.

Type II diabetes is generally considered to be a lifestyle disease… meaning that it can be prevented (or at least modified) by implementing healthy lifestyle habits and maintaining a normal weight.  So by extension, it seems to me that Parkinson’s disease- at least in some cases- may be preventable as well.  My take-home message (as if you haven’t heard it from me before): making good lifestyle choices on a consistent basis enables us to stay healthy.  The science proves it!

A common blood pressure medicine may increase risk for skin cancer

It’s been around for decades, and it has been a reliable workhorse for physicians who treat patients with hypertension… but studies have shown that hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ) may increase the risk of sunburn and even of developing certain types of skin cancer.  Most recently, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has demonstrated an association between long term use of HCTZ and melanoma (a particularly life-threatening form of skin cancer), and a statistical analysis of the data suggests a probable cause-and-effect relationship.  So patients who use HCTZ should take appropriate measures to protect their skin from UV light (use strong sunscreen or sunblock, and avoid prolonged direct sun exposure when possible).  For patients at increased skin cancer risk (consider factors such as family history or a previous personal history of skin cancer), discussing a medication switch with your physician may be warranted.  And if you are a sun-avoider, be sure to speak with your physician about making sure your vitamin D levels are adequate, as our bodies normally rely on UV light exposure in order to produce vitamin D.

The pulse of the people

So how are we doing, anyway?  This potpourri of just-published population analyses may give us an idea:

  • Suicides are rising at a rate of 2% per year (3% per year for women) in the US, according to a report recently published by the National Center for Health Statistics.  In the US healthcare system, mental health has generally played second fiddle to physical health… this really needs to change.  If you or a loved one is experiencing feelings of anxiety or depression, be sure to talk about it with a health care provider.
  • The CDC reports that teen drug use and sexual activity are down; unfortunately, so is condom use.  And feelings of sadness, hopelessness and suicidal thoughts are on the rise in this age category.  Be sure to check in with your teens on a regular basis.
  • According to a study recently presented at the European Society of Cardiology’s annual nursing congress, loneliness can be a strong predictor of premature death due to heart damage.  If you know someone who could use a bit of company, a few minutes of your time might just save his or her life!
  • We already know that inadequate sleep can negatively impact our kids’ mood and cognitive function.  Now a study recently published in the journal Pediatrics has shown that longer sleep duration and higher sleep efficiency are associated with a more favorable cardiometabolic profile (decreased abdominal fat buildup, lower blood pressure and elevated HDL [good] cholesterol levels) in early adolescence.  So it’s never too late to help your child develop healthy sleep routines.

That’ll do it… wear sunscreen, talk to each other, sleep tight, enjoy the weekend, and Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there!