Monday, February 19, 2018

Three New Studies Find: 'DNA Is Not Destiny'

Contributing Author: The Tortoise

Three new studies suggest that the fate of our health is not bound irrevocably to our genetic makeup. Genetic risk has generally been viewed as unavoidable. But research is now discovering that lifestyle choices and diet can mitigate even high-risk gene variants, affect an organism's DNA gene sequence, and reduce age-related disease risk.

1 A study led by Massachusetts General Hospital investigators has found that even among people with high genetic risk of heart disease, a healthy lifestyle can cut the probability of a heart attack or similar event in half. Published in the New England Journal of Medicine on November 15, 2016, the findings will be presented at the American Heart Association (AHA) Scientific Sessions. 'The basic message of our study is that DNA is not destiny,' says Sekar Kathiresan, MD, director of the Center for Human Genetic Research at Massachusetts General Hospital. The research team analysed genetic and clinical data from more than 55,000 participants in 4 large-scale studies. Participants were assigned a genetic risk score based on whether they carried any of 50 gene variants associated with elevated heart attack risk. Four AHA defined lifestyle factors -- no current smoking, lack of obesity, physical exercise at least once a week, and a healthy dietary pattern -- were used to measure participants' level of lifestyle health. Researchers found that the presence of each healthy lifestyle factor reduced risk, and the presence of an overall favourable lifestyle could reduce the incidence of coronary events by 50 percent in participants with the highest genetic risk scores.

Read the news release here:
Read the New England Journal of Medicine paper here:

HEALTH TIP: Stop smoking, keep your Body Mass Index under 30, exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet.

2 Researchers from the University of Montreal have found that the makeup of a person's intestinal bacteria ecology (microbiome) -- an ecology largely determined by choice of diet -- may play an important role in determining if they will develop age-related macular degeneration (AMD) . AMD is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in the industrialised world, and is characterised by a heightened immune response, large deposits of fat debris at the back of the eye (early AMD), destruction of nerve cells, and growth of new diseased blood vessels (late form, wet AMD). Until now, data has suggested that smoking and abdominal obesity (in men) were risk factors for AMD. The researchers found that changes in the bacterial communities of the gut, such as those brought on by a diet rich in fat, cause long-term low-grade inflammation in the whole body and promote diseases such as wet AMD. 'Our study suggests that diets rich in fat alter the gut microbiome in a way that aggravates wet AMD, a vascular disease of the aging eye. Influencing the types of microbes that reside in your gut either through diet or by other means may thus affect the chances of developing AMD and progression of this blinding disease,' says Dr Przemyslaw Sapieha, a researcher in the November 15, 2016 study.

Read the news release here:
Read the EMBO Molecular Medicine paper here:

HEALTH TIP: Eat less saturated fat, avoid processed foods, and consume more fruits and vegetables.

3 We are what we eat, goes the old saying. Now researchers at the University of Oxford have demonstrated that the diets of organisms can affect the DNA sequences of their genes, by studying groups of eukaryotic parasites and bacterial parasites that infect different plant or animal hosts. Dr Steven Kelly, from Oxford's Department of Plant Sciences, says: 'Organisms construct their DNA using building blocks they get from food. Our hypothesis was that the composition of this food could alter an organism's DNA. For example, could a vegetarian panda have predictable genetic differences from a meat-eating polar bear? To test this hypothesis, we picked simple groups of parasites to use as a model system. These parasites share a common ancestor but have evolved to infect different hosts and eat very different foods. We found that different levels of nitrogen in a parasite's diet contributed to changes in its DNA. Specifically, parasites with low-nitrogen, high-sugar diets had DNA sequences that used less nitrogen than parasites with nitrogen-rich, high-protein diets.' Doctoral candidate Emily Seward, from the same department, says: 'It has been unclear why very closely related organisms can look so different in their genetic makeup. So many factors...can influence the DNA sequence of an organism. But our study explains a very high percentage of these differences and provides evidence that we really are what we eat.'

Read the news release here:
Read the Genome Biology paper here:

HEALTH TIP: As before. Eat less saturated fat, avoid processed foods, and consume more fruits and vegetables.

Image Source: Pixabay

Monday, February 5, 2018

Research Participation Opportunities in February

Are you a person with MS, or a spouse of a person with MS?
Do you have diabetic foot ulcers?
Are you over 55 and have made disability-related job accommodation requests?
Do you live in Tigard, Oregon?
Do you live in the US and use Goggle?
Do you have cerebral palsy?
Are you or do you plan to become pregnant?

Please consider participating in a research study. Some require you to visit a local facility, others are conducted as online surveys or focus groups. Some research offers a cash stipend for participating, or free medical treatment.

All research adds to the body of knowledge that benefits us as persons with disabilities.

Visit the Research Pavilion on Healthinfo Island in Second Life®. Click on a poster to receive information about a research study.

If you are new to Second Life, you can create a free account. Start here and after you have downloaded and installed the Second Life Viewer, then entered Second Life for the first time, you can visit the displays. To do this, click on the "Research Pavilion on Healthinfo Island" link above, then click the "Visit this location" button on the map in the page that comes up.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Displays on Healthinfo Island: February 2018

In Second Life®, Virtual Ability owns several islands. One of them is Healthinfo Island, which is home to a number of exhibits about a variety of topics. Do visit these very informative and enlightening displays. Thanks to Mook Wheeler, a member of the Virtual Ability community, they are updated on a monthly basis.

If you are new to Second Life, you can create a free account. Start here and after you have downloaded and installed the Second Life Viewer, then entered Second Life for the first time, you can visit the displays. To do this, click one of the links below, then click the "Visit this location" button.

While there, Click the title poster of the exhibit or display to get a full text notecard. Click each poster for live links and text chat.

Healthinfo Island Exhibits and Displays for February 2018

Other exhibits and displays on Healthinfo Island during February:

And of course, February is Heart Health Month, so check out the exhibits to learn about:

Saturday, January 27, 2018

January is Blood Donor Month

Contributing Author: Alice Krueger

If you have been a blood donor, thank you. I may have received your blood during my spine surgery.

Why January?
Winter weather conditions make it harder for committed blood donors and new donors to get to donation centers. Yet the need for blood and blood products continues. This January, there is a critical need for both O negative and B negative whole blood and for platelets.

Why donate blood?
It’s a simple, nearly painless process that allows you to share a precious renewable personal resource that will make a tremendous difference in the life of another person. Blood can not be manufactured; the only source is from donors.

Need more encouragement? Several retail partners offer discounts or other rewards for blood donors. To learn more about these donor deals:

Now that you’ve decided to donate blood, what should you do to prepare?
Be sure you’ve included plenty of iron-rich foods in your menus in the weeks prior to donation. These foods include red meats, beans and other legumes, seafood, dark green veggies, enriched and whole grain cereals and brightly colored fruits. For more information on iron-rich foods, check out both pages here:

On the day your donation is scheduled, drink plenty of fluids to stay well hydrated. Wear comfortable clothing with sleeves that you can roll or push up above your elbows. And bring a list of all medications, prescription and over-the-counter, that you are currently taking.

What are the steps at the blood donation center?
  • During intake, you will show your identification and receive background information. You will have a private interview to establish your eligibility to donate. You will be asked about travel outside the US and Canada in the past three years.
  • A mini-physical exam (temperature, blood pressure, hemoglobin level) will check your health status.
  • The actual donation process begins with cleaning your arm on the inside of your elbow, and inserting a thin needle into a large vein right at the bend of your arm. This is nearly painless. It feels like a short pinch and then you no longer feel it.
  • You will sit for about 10 minutes as about a pint of your blood is collected. (Collection for platelets or plasma can take much longer, up to 2 hours.) Since you have about 10 pints of blood throughout your body, you probably won’t notice the difference.
  • When the donation is complete, the needle is removed, and a cotton ball and bandaid stuck on.
  • You will then get a snack and drink and can sit in the refreshments area for 10 minutes or so. When you are released, you can return to your normal daily activities.

What are the eligibility criteria to become a blood donor?
Of course to maintain the safety of the blood supply, you must be in general good health and feeling well on the day of your donation. “General good health” means you feel well, can perform normal life activities, and that any chronic conditions are being treated and under control.

Certain other health conditions and medicines you take may change your donation status. Check here for details:

Also, you must be at least 17 years old (age requirements vary by state) and weigh at least 110 pounds.

There may be specific requirements for various types of donations (platelets, plasma, etc.).

How often can I donate blood?
The American Red Cross restricts donation frequency to every 56 days (about two months) for whole blood donations. Donation frequencies vary by donation type. For more information see:

What about platelet donation?
Platelets are tiny fragments of cells carried in your blood that help stop bleeding from wounds by forming clots. Donated platelets are essential to people with blood-clotting disorders, and those who are battling cancer, traumatic injuries or chronic diseases. Donated platelets must be used within 5 days of collection, so there’s always a need for new donors. To learn more about platelet donation, look here:

What about plasma donation?
Plasma is the complex liquid component of fluid blood. It is mainly water, but contains important proteins, clotting factors, vitamins and minerals, digestive products and hormones.
When your blood is collected for plasma, the red cells and other blood components are filtered out and returned to you with additional saline fluid to replace the extracted blood volume. You can donate plasma once a month, and the duration of the collection procedure is a little over an hour. For more information:

Can I designate that my blood be used for a family member or friend?
This is possible through what is known as “directed donation.” The recipient must initially give consent for specific designated donors, and the recipient’s doctor must submit a written request to collect blood from the designated donors.

There is little evidence that this is safer than blood from anonymous donors. In fact, the social pressure to donate for a family member or friend may compromise the validity of responses to health- and lifestyle-history questions during the intake interview.

What is autologous donation?
If you are scheduled for surgery and the surgeon anticipates the need for a blood transfusion, you can donate your own blood ahead of time. Autologous donation requires a prescription and there are more numerous health requirements. For further information, please see:

If I identify as LGBTQ, can I donate blood?
Probably yes. Donation criteria are found here:

Is all donated blood tested for infectious diseases?
Yes, the Red Cross tests every single unit of donated blood or blood products. However, these tests are not 100% effective at detecting infections of the donor in very early stages. That is why donation centers have strict rules about eligibility to be a donor.

Image source: Pixabay.