alzheimer's disease

High amounts of folic acid may help ward off dementia.

* THE QUESTION As the U.S. population ages, the ranks of those with Alzheimer's disease are expected to swell unless a means is discovered to prevent or delay the disease, a neurological disorder that affects thinking, memory, language and behavior. Might vitamin consumption -- through diet and supplements -- affect the development of Alzheimer's?

* THIS STUDY compared the vitamin intake of 579 people older than 60 who were participating in a long-term study on aging. In a period of about nine years, 57 participants were diagnosed with Alzheimer's. People who consumed the recommended daily allowance (RDA) or more of folate (400 micrograms) were 55 percent less likely to have the disease than were those who took in less than that amount. Consuming more than the RDA of vitamins E (15 milligrams) and B6 (1.3 milligrams) slightly reduced the risk, while intake of vitamins C, B12 and carotenoids showed no effect on development of Alzheimer's. Of those who consumed the recommended amount of folate -- a B vitamin (also called folic acid) found in dark-green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, beans and whole grains -- just 13 percent did it through diet alone.

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? Older people, as aging is considered the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer's. Ten percent of people over 65 and nearly half of those over 85 have the disease.

* CAVEATS Participants were mostly white men; whether the results would apply to other groups is unclear. The findings were based on participants' recordings of foods eaten and supplements taken. Research in a more controlled environment would be needed to determine whether the decreased risk might be due to factors other than folate.

* FIND THIS STUDY July issue of Alzheimer's & Dementia; abstract available online at www.alzheimersanddementia.org.

* LEARN MORE ABOUT Alzheimer's disease at www.alz.org and www.alzheimers.org.

bipolar disorder

'Social rhythm' therapy seems to help stem recurrences.

* THE QUESTION The manic-depressive episodes of bipolar disorder are often treated with mood-stabilizing drugs. Might psychotherapy aimed at maintaining a regular routine and improving the quality of a person's relationships -- which some believe can spark bipolar episodes when disrupted -- be an effective treatment adjunct?

* THIS STUDY randomly assigned 175 adults with bipolar I disorder -- meaning they had recurrent episodes of mania and depression -- to receive so-called interpersonal and social rhythm therapy or standard psychotherapy immediately after an episode and then to be treated with one of the two therapy methods for the next two years. Standard treatment sessions focused on educating participants about the causes, symptoms and treatments of the disorder; social rhythm therapy helped participants stabilize daily activities, avert potential disruptions and resolve relationship problems. Both groups also were given medication, mainly lithium. People given social rhythm therapy after their first episode were more likely to be free of additional episodes for the next two years than were those treated first with standard therapy, no matter which follow-up treatment they received. The more regular their social routines became, the longer they went without a recurrence.

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? People with bipolar disorder, which can affect people of all ages and tends to run in families.

* CAVEATS Participants with other medical problems did better with standard therapy; those with better physical health had more success with the social rhythm therapy.

* FIND THIS STUDY September issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry; abstract available online at www.archgenpsychiatry.com,

* LEARN MORE ABOUT bipolar disorder at www.healthyminds.org and www.nimh.nih.gov.

disease transmission

Hand cleansers may keep kids from spreading GI illnesses.

* THE QUESTION As most any parent will attest, contagious diseases picked up at a child-care center spread readily from youngsters to other family members. Might the risk of passing on respiratory and gastrointestinal (GI) illnesses be lessened by the use of hand sanitizers at home?

* THIS STUDY randomly assigned 292 families (1,053 people) with at least one young child enrolled in child care outside the home to use or specifically not use alcohol-based hand sanitizers at home. Those using hand sanitizers also received biweekly mailings of hand-hygiene information, games and toys aimed at triggering awareness of hand cleanliness practices. The others were sent information about a healthy diet. After five months, families who used hand sanitizers had 59 percent fewer secondary GI illnesses -- i.e., those caught from a family member -- than those who did not use them. The rate of secondary respiratory illnesses differed little between the groups.

* WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? Families with young children.

* CAVEATS At the start of the study, adult participants acknowledged cleansing their hands after changing a diaper or using the bathroom more often than after wiping a child's nose. The authors suggested that this tendency, if it continued throughout the study, may explain why there was little difference between the two groups in the transmission of respiratory illnesses. Findings were based on reporting of symptoms by participants rather than laboratory tests. The study was funded by a manufacturer of hand sanitizers.

* FIND THIS STUDY September issue of Pediatrics; abstract available online at www.pediatrics.org.

* LEARN MORE ABOUT health aspects of child care at www.medem.com (search for "controlling illness") and learn about the benefits of hand cleansing at http://nrc.uchsc.edu (search for "handwashing").

-- Linda Searing

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.