Author Archives: Sarenka Smith

The Landscape of Brain Diseases & Disorders

The primary issue that consumes the majority of the burden of healthcare costs in the United States is chronic disease: specifically, as of late, brain diseases and disorders. While primary care providers have long faced the struggle of determining how to implement best practice care for patients diagnosed with chronic diseases, recent studies indicate that almost half of the entire U.S. population has at least one chronic health condition. Statistics designate these health care treatments costs to account for 86% of cumulative national healthcare spending, and the CDC reports that chronic conditions are the leading causes of death and disability in the country.

While recent headlines continuously account for the monetary implications of these disorders, they also impact the very fabric of our society, as these diseases are not confined to one group of people, a specific geographic area, or a certain type of lifestyle: disorders of the brain impact not only your patients, but people you encounter each day. Moreover, the social and financial costs of these diseases are severe.

Roughly 142 Americans die from opioid overdoses each day; 2016 saw 59,000 drug overdose deaths: the highest ever on record. The economic impacts are severe, exacting more than $740 billion in annual costs.

The number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s is currently at 5 million; by 2050, this number could rise as high as 16 million—costing the nation as much as $1.1 trillion.

Cases and diagnoses of ADHD have been increasing dramatically in the past few years, with the CDC reporting that 11 percent of American children have the attention disorder. The economic expenses range between $143 to $266 billion each year.

More than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder; the prevalence of autism in U.S. children increased by almost 120% from 2000 to 2010, making it the fastest-growing developmental disability. Autism services cost between $236 and $262 billion each year.

These diagnoses are multifaceted, nuanced, and complex. In addition to a myriad of doctor’s visits, medical jargon, and an abundance of information, patients and their caretakers must quickly learn to navigate the healthcare system in order to identify the necessary and available services and treatments. These processes require time and resources, committed motivation, and a wealth of support. In order to facilitate education surrounding brain diseases and disorders, the A4M/MMI 26th Annual Spring Congress, taking place at The Diplomat Beach Resort & Spa in Hollywood, Florida from April 13-14, will focus on brain diseases and disorders: the most current and cutting-edge topics in the landscape of modern medicine.

Keynote speakers include Dr. Daniel Amen, Dr. Rudolph Tanzi, Raun K. Kaufman, and Dr. Brennan Spiegel. Renowned double-board certified psychiatrist, educator, international lecturer, and New York Times bestselling author Dr. Amen is widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost experts on the application of brain imaging science to clinical practice; his nationwide clinics have the world’s largest database of functional brain scans relating to human behavior, totaling 73,000 scans on patients from 90 countries.

Dr. Rudolph Tanzi serves as the Vice-Chair of Neurology and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research at Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School. Co-discoverer of three of the first Alzheimer’s disease genes, Dr. Tanzi has identified several other genes through his direction of the Alzheimer’s Genome Project—receiving the highest awards in his field, including TIME’s 100 Most Influential People in the World.

Raun Kaufman is the author of the book Autism Breakthrough: The Groundbreaking Method That Has Helped Families All Over the World. As a young boy, Kaufman was diagnosed with severe autism. His parents developed the Son-Rise Program, which ultimately enabled Kaufman to recover from his autism with no residual traces. Kaufman currently serves as Director of Global Education for the Autism Treatment Center of America, and holds a degree in Biomedical Ethics from Brown University.

Dr. Brennan Spiegel is the Director of Health Services Research for Cedars-Sinai Health System and Professor of Medicine and Public Health at UCLA, where he teaches digital health science, health analytics and health economics.

At A4M/MMI, we believe that peer-to-peer connections, in conjunction with the latest clinical education, can spur social change—ultimately transforming care and enhancing patient outcomes. Just as spring represents rebirth and rejuvenation, A4M/MMI’s Spring Congress will focus on the concept of ‘brain awakening:’ renewing your understanding of the complex world of the mind, and finding collaborative solutions together. As Leonardo da Vinci aptly stated: “Learning never exhausts the mind.”

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Link Between Ultra-Processed Foods & Cancer

While ultra-processed foods are not known for their health qualities, new research published Wednesday in the BMJ further confirms the health risks involved in processed products.

Researchers discovered that people who consume more ultra-processed foods–including those with unrecognizable and unpronounceable words on the list of ingredients–demonstrate a higher risk of cancer. While most food is processed to some degree, ultra-processed foods are typically packed with higher calories, increased amounts of sodium, and an abundance of sugar.

Data and findings have long indicated that people who live on ultra-processed food tend to be more obese and overweight, with more cardiovascular problems and difficulties concerning diabetes. Studies have also found a correlation between consumption of processed meat and colorectal cancer.

Researchers located this new cancer link through an analysis of 24-hour dietary records of nearly 105,000 adults in the NutriNet-Sante cohort, a general population group in France. The individuals recorded what they ate from a list of 3,300 food items, which were then categorized by how processed they were–using a system called NOVA.

The scientists found that a 10% increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods in the diet was associated with a significant increase of greater than 10% in terms of risks for overall cancer and breast cancer. The published study states: “Ultra-processed fats and sauces, sugary products and drinks were associated with an increased risk of overall cancer. Ultra-processed sugary products were associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.”

People who consumed more ultra-processed food also tended to smoke more and exercise less than the others, yet the study’s authors controlled these factors and still found the elevated cancer risk. “It was quite surprising, the strength of the results. They were really strongly associated, and we did many sensitive analysis and adjusted the findings for many co-factors, and still, the results here were quite concerning,” study co-author Mathilde Touvier said.

Unfortunately, ultra-processed occupy a growing part of the globe’s diet. A 2016 study found that 60% of the calories in an average American’s diet come from these types of foods, while a 2017 study confirmed that they make up 50% of the Canadian and U.K. diets. While more of the developing world is starting to eat this way, the authors advise a balanced and diversified diet as one of the most critically important public health priorities.

A balanced and diversified diet should be considered one of the most important public health priorities, the authors advise, by eating real, whole foods and trying to limit ultra-processed items.

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Mushrooms as Medicine?

Mushrooms have been used in Eastern medicine for centuries, treating everything from asthma to gout. The food is now being marketed in the West as part of a medicinal regimen to prevent cancer, and/or stimulate higher brain function. While there are relatively few trials that have been conducted in humans to support these claims, there are studies that have confirmed the food’s anti-tumor properties.

While mushrooms are inherently healthy and low in calories, scientists at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, assert that mushrooms are particularly good for us because of what they do before humans harvest them. Viki Sabaratnam, the scientist in charge of the school’s mushroom research center, states: “Their basic function in the environment is recycling of large molecules, and in the process they produce these fruit bodies, we call them, and they accumulate some of these components.”

These components include dozens of nutrients like selenium, vitamin D, potassium, and compounds known as beta glucans, which can help fight inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation is a primary contributor to many diseases associated with aging, including cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia. In the lab, researchers have reported many promising benefits from mushrooms, ranging from killing cancer in human cells to reducing insulin resistance in diabetic mice.

While the research on humans has not been prolific, and has been re legated to small and specifically targeted populations, a few outliers exist: shitake mushroom extracts have been found to help prolong the lives of stomach cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy; maitake (hen-of-the-woods) and scaly wood mushroom extracts seem to strengthen the immune system of some breast cancer patients. Reishi extracts have been credited with reducing obesity in mice by altering gut bacteria, and in the lab, extracts of oyster mushrooms appear to inhibit growth of breast and colon cancer cells.

Sabaratnam’s research focuses on how mushrooms might someday help fight off dementia, which impacts approximately 50 million people today–with 10 million more added each year. She and her team reviewed studies of 20 different medicinal mushrooms thought to improve brain function, and about 80 different metabolites isolated from those mushrooms that were tested in cells in the lab and in mice. Their findings indicate that these metabolites improved recovery and function in damaged neural cells, and also had antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.

“We have shown in lab experiments, yes, some of these properties are there…but it’s quite a long way to go” in terms of the mushroom extracts’ effect on humans. The edible mushrooms that contain high levels of nutrients and antioxidants are high in fiber and lower in cholesterol, and make for a positive addition to any diet.

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