DISEASE — US scientists have shown for the first time that vitamin C actively protects against osteoporosis, a disease affecting large numbers of mostly elderly women and men in which bones become brittle and can fracture.

The findings in an animal model are published online in the journal Public Library of Science One.

"This study has profound public health implications, and is worth exploring for its therapeutic potential in people," says lead researcher Dr Mone Zaidi, professor of medicine (endocrinology, diabetes and bone disease, and of structural and chemical biology), and director of the Mount Sinai Bone Programme.

"This study shows that large doses of vitamin C, when ingested orally by mice, actively stimulate bone formation to protect the skeleton.

Further research may discover that dietary supplements may help prevent osteoporosis in humans," says Zaidi.


Healthy lungs aid thinking

MEMORY —Keeping the lungs healthy could help retain thinking functions that relate to problem-solving and processing speed in later years, say US scientists.

Their research shows that while these two types of "fluid" cognitive functions were influenced by reduced pulmonary function, a drop in lung health did not appear to impair memory or lead to significant loss of stored knowledge.

Researchers used data from a Swedish study of ageing that tracked participants’ health measures for almost two decades.

An analysis of the data with statistical models designed to show the patterns of change over time determined that reduced pulmonary function can lead to cognitive losses, but problems with cognition do not affect lung health.

"The logical conclusion from this is that anything you could do to maintain lung function should be of benefit to fluid cognitive performance as well," says Dr Charles Emery, professor of psychology at Ohio State University and lead author of the study.


Young also susceptible to stroke

RISKS — Strokes may be affecting people at a younger age, say US scientists in an online issue of Neurology.

"The reasons for this trend could be a rise in risk factors such as diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol," says study author Dr Brett Kissela, of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in Ohio and a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology.

"Other factors, such as improved diagnosis through the increased use of MRI imaging may also be contributing.

Regardless, the rising trend found in our study is of great concern for public health because strokes in younger people translate to greater lifetime disability."

While the research is US-based, specialists in SA are noticing similar trends.

"The good news is that some of the possible contributing factors to these strokes can be modified with lifestyle changes ," says Kissela. "However, given the increase in stroke among those younger than 55, younger adults should see a doctor regularly to monitor their overall health and risk for stroke and heart disease."


How cocaine may affect mothers

DRUGS — Mother rats respond differently to cocaine compared with rats that have never given birth, say US scientists at the University of Michigan’s Molecular and Behavioural Neuroscience Institute.

They say that while rats and people are very different, research on rodents allows scientists to study brain chemistry and drug-related behaviour in detail, and pave the way for translating those findings to human drug treatment.

The findings may help lay the groundwork for more tailored human addiction treatment, based on scientific understanding of how gender, hormones and life experience affect drug use, the researchers say.

They have identified clear differences in how intensely the "pleasure centres" in the mother rats’ brains reacted to the drug, compared with non-mothers.