Beer belly gene

  • Health
  • Sunday, 12 Jan 2003

IT’S official. You can blame that beer gut on your genes rather than your slothful eating, drinking or lack of exercise.  

Scientists have discovered a certain gene variation that predisposes men to a drooping gut. The genes make such men more likely to gain the kilos and develop a spare tyre around the middle.  

The finding came after a study (the Olivetti Prospective Heart Study) was done on heart disease involving 959 men, aged between 25 and 75 years old, who work for the Italian company Olivetti. The men were all weighed and measured, and their gene type was determined with a blood test.  

Yes, you can now blame it partly on your genes for that generous keg wrapped around your middle.

The suspect appears to be angiotensin-converting enzyme, a substance in the body that helps regulate blood pressure. According to the scientists, ACE might also play a role in the growth of fat cells in the body.  

The scientists, led by Pasquale Strazullo of the University of Naples in Italy, investigated several natural variations in the gene that are found in healthy men. One genetic variant (polymorphism), known as DD, was found to increase the tendency for developing fat around the stomach. Men with the DD genetic sub-type were more than twice as likely to become overweight over the course of two decades than those with a different gene type.  

The scientists wrote in the Annals of Internal Medicine that the gene variant was associated with larger increases in body weight and blood pressure in ageing persons, as well as with higher incidence of overweight. 

The scientists have admitted, however, that the study does have limitations as it only looked at Italian men and may not apply generally. Hence, more research is needed to unravel the relationship between particular genes and obesity.  

The search for a genetic predisposition to obesity is an essential step to defining obesity prevention and treatment strategies, and in arresting the stigma that obesity is always an individual’s fault, said a spokeswoman for the American Obesity Association.  

Fizzy behaviour

DOCTORS studying for a potential link between soft drinks with caffeine and sleep disorders in children have found that such drinks do disrupt sleep and affect the children the next day.  

The doctors looked at 191 teenagers between the ages of 14 and 16 for two weeks and looked at their sleep patterns and daily intake of caffeinated drinks and foods. 

They found that the average daily intake of caffeine was 63mg - the equivalent of half a cup of coffee. Boys drank about 70mg each day compared to girls who consumed 55mg on average.  

In general, it was found that the teenagers who drank more and thus had higher intake of caffeine had disrupted sleep patterns. These teenagers were also more tired the next day. Obviously, a higher proportion of boys were affected as they took in more caffeine compared to the girls.  

Dr Charles Pollak, from Ohio State University, who headed the study, wrote in the journal Pediatrics that regardless of whether caffeine was consumed as a result of interrupted asleep or its use interrupted sleep, caffeinated beverages had pharmacologic effects on the teenagers.  

The doctors have suggested that steps be taken to reduce the amount of caffeine consumed by young people. Among the proposed interventions are limiting the availability of such drinks in schools and reducing caffeine levels in such drinks.  

A growing number of schools in the UK and the United States have introduced bans on junk food and fizzy drinks. Teachers at New End Primary School in Hampstead in London say a ban there has seen pupils’ behaviour improve dramatically, while staff at Charles Burrell School in Thetford in Norfolk say their water-only policy has helped pupils to concentrate and is improving their academic performance. 

Drunk state of the mind

SOME psychologists are saying that being drunk is partly in the mind. Really?  

The research, to be published in Psychological Science, a journal of the American Psychological Society, was carried out by psychologists at Victoria University in New Zealand.  

The research investigated the power of the so-called placebo effect. In this particular study, the researchers somehow convinced 148 students that they were drinking vodka in a room set up to look just like a pub – with bartenders, vodka bottles and glasses.  

Half of the subjects were told that they were drinking vodka and half tonic water. In reality, all they had were just plain water with limes. How they tricked them into thinking it was vodka must have been some feat. 

Anyway, the “drinkers” were then shown slides of a crime. They were asked to assess the story, which was spiked with misleading information.  

The researchers found that the “vodka” drinkers had poorer memory powers than those given the “tonic”. The “vodka” drinkers were also found to be more suggestible and less reliable as eye witnesses.  

The research shows that memory is not just about filing information and putting it in some part of the brain, just like a computer. It is also about what we use to understand and remember events in a social setting, such as witnessing a crime.  

According to Dr Jim Golby of the University of Teesside in England, it is well known that memory can be affected by perception. How you perceive a crime is influenced by the state you are in at the time, he said. He said: “It’s not new that memory is affected by social circumstances – that’s well-documented.”  

Latest research on bone diseases

THE latest research on two widespread age-related bone diseases – osteoporosis and osteoarthritis – focused on challenging established drug regimens, developing new drugs and confirming the importance of diet and exercise.  

Osteoporosis: Last year’s dramatic halt, for safety reasons, of the Women’s Health Initiative’s study of hormone replacement therapy in post-menopausal women cast a pall on some of the more encouraging initial data: Taking oestrogen and progestin was shown to reduce the rate of hip and spine fractures by one-third and of osteoporosis-related fractures at other sites by nearly one-fourth.  

Many experts concluded that for most women, such benefits were not worth the increased risk of breast cancer and heart disease tied to HRT, given safer alternatives. A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that bone loss resumes but does not accelerate after stopping HRT.  

On the dietary front, a study in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a protein-rich diet, when combined with adequate calcium and vitamin D, increased bone mass in men and women over 65. But a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) suggested a high intake of vitamin A may promote hip fractures in post-menopausal women.  

Another JAMA study found walking reduced the risk of fractures in post-menopausal women. A study in the journal Bone found similar benefits from back-strengthening exercise.  

The US Food and Drug Administration approved the first drug that stimulates bone growth. Teriparatide, marketed by Eli Lilly under the brand name Forteo, contains human parathyroid hormone, the body’s primary regulator of calcium and phosphate metabolism in bones. The injectable drug, recommended only for those at high risk for fracture, has been linked to an increased cancer risk in animal, but not human, studies.  

Osteoarthritis: Treatment remained focused on pain relief. But the news here was disturbing. A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that women who regularly use over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen (found in Tylenol) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (found in Advil and Motrin) increased their risk of developing high blood pressure. And a study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that Celebrex (along with Vioxx, a top-selling prescription painkiller) didn’t protect the stomach from bleeding ulcers much better than OTC competitors.  

A study in The New England Journal of Medicine found that arthroscopic knee surgery, a common procedure to clear out the debris and repair cartilage in the knee joint, did little to relieve osteoarthritis pain.  

The US National Institutes of Health launched a study to compare the effectiveness of the popular supplement pills containing glucosamine and chondroitin to that of Celebrex. A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that long-term glucosamine treatment may slow the progression of osteoarthritis of the knee.  

Recommendations: Bisphosponates such as Fosamax continue to be the drugs of choice to treat osteoporosis. The US National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) advises all Americans to get 1,000mg to 1,200mg per day of calcium and 400 to 800 IUs per day of vitamin D. It also recommends weight-bearing exercise such as walking or strength training and a bone mineral density test for all women 65 or older and for post-menopausal women under 65 who have other risk factors. The DXA, an X-ray that measures density of the spine, hip or entire body, is the best measure.  

The US National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) recommends that people with osteoarthritis maintain a healthy body weight, do muscle strengthening and weight resistance exercise and control pain as needed with medication.  

The Next Thing: The search is on for an easier-to-use delivery method – such as inhalers, patches or pills – for bone-builder Forteo. Felicia Cosman, clinical director for NOF, says researchers also hope to develop more precise measures of bone quality to identify people at high risk of fracture. Research continues on the effects of oestrogen-only therapy on bone density. In the field of osteoarthritis, researchers remain hopeful about stem cell transplantation and tissue engineering, where cartilage is removed from the body, new cells are cloned or grown and then injected into the patient’s joints to replace lost cartilage. Research is also under way to identify biomarkers for the disease. – LAT-WP 

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