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High Blood Pressure Risk Evident In Kids

A recent study from New Zealand suggests that people at risk of developing high blood pressure before age 40 can be identified in childhood. Researchers from the University of Otago tracked more than 1,000 people in Dunedin, a coastal city in New Zealand, from their births in 1972-73 to the present. They collected information about the blood pressure of all the individuals from the time they were 7 years old until they reached 38 and found that more than one third were at risk of developing high blood pressure by early mid-life. Those at highest risk were male, had a family history of high blood pressure, were first born and were born with a lower than normal birth weight. In addition, the researchers reported that having a high body mass index and smoking cigarettes were linked to increasing blood pressure over time, especially among those having the other risk factors. The study also showed that the individuals at risk of high blood pressure were also more likely to have higher cholesterol levels as well as other health problems by age 38. The researchers suggested that losing weight (or maintaining a healthy weight) and not smoking might help reduce the overall risks, and noted that their findings could help physicians identify individuals at risk of high blood pressure while they’re still young. 

Children and Your Prescription Drugs

Each year between 2007 and 2011, about 9,500 children managed to get past child-resistant caps on prescription drug vials, swallow some of the pills and end up in the hospital. A study published in the September 15, 2014 issue of Pediatrics found that three-quarters of those kids are one-and-two year olds. In almost half of those cases, the drugs involved are buprenorphine (used to treat addiction to narcotics and sometimes to relieve pain) or clonidine (found in medications to treat high blood pressure, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and migraine headaches).  About 28 percent of the poisonings stemmed from ingestion of Vicodin, Oxycontin, Percocet and other opiod pain relievers, as well as the anti-anxiety drugs Valium, Ativan and Xanax. One way to make drugs safer would be to individually wrap each pill, suggested Daniel S. Budnitz, director of the Medication Safety Program at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and senior author of the study. Since the research for the study was completed but before publication, some of the medications named have been repackaged in blister packs, which may help defeat curious kids ... and make it harder for some older adults to get to their pills. Bottom line: if you want to avoid a rush to the hospital with a curious child who has swallowed your pills, be sure to keep all drugs out of sight, and stored in a place even the most enterprising kid can't reach.

How to Make Kids Smarter

The key may be physical fitness. A new study suggests that kids who are aerobically and physically fit may have developed better brainpower and thinking skills than kids who are not so fit. Earlier research has linked higher levels of fitness to better attention, memory and academic skills, and the study authors noted that exercise is known to increase brainpower temporarily – which is why working out before taking a test is a good idea. So far, however, they haven’t determined whether physical fitness makes kids permanently smarter. For the new study, the researchers scanned the brains of 24 nine and 10 year olds, looking for differences in white matter, which facilitates communication between brain regions. Some of the kids were fit and some weren’t. The differences suggested that the fit kids had better-connected brains, but another researcher noted that the less fit kids in the study weighed more than the fit kids, raising the question of whether obesity, not fitness, explains the difference in brainpower. The same research team is now engaged in a five-year randomized, controlled trial to see whether white matter improves over time in kids who begin and maintain a new fitness routine.

Laura Chaddock-Heyman, Arthur Kramer, Charles Hillman et al, “Aerobic fitness is associated with greater white matter integrity in children,” frontiers in Human Neuroscience, August 2014, doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00584

What’s Your View of the Hygiene Hypothesis? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed the frequency of children getting sick from attending school: Sick of Preschool? Check out the article and let us know what you think about the hygiene hypothesis.

Should Kids Take Vitamins?

I am often asked whether children should take vitamins. The answer is yes, I believe the evidence is clear that most children will benefit from an antioxidant and multi-mineral formula. Many kids don’t eat enough vegetables and fruits, and their diets are often full of processed and refined foods. However, vitamin supplements shouldn’t be substitutes for whole foods, and children need a full complement of healthy fats, slow-digesting carbohydrates and body building proteins.

You can help encourage a healthy diet by eating meals together, focusing on whole, fresh foods, and discouraging your children from eating too much fast food, processed food, sugar and caffeine (in cola and other drinks).

As far as supplements are concerned, give children a complete antioxidant formula as well as multiminerals. Try to find versions that do not have a lot of excess sugar, small tablets if they can be swallowed, or powders that can be blended into a smoothie. Be sure to keep the vitamins out of the reach of young children – some supplements for kids taste and look like candy and there is a danger of overdosing, especially when supplements contain iron.

What’s Your Take on Stroller Use? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed the use of a stroller for children and at what age a child should no longer use a stroller: When to Retire the Stroller? Check out the article and let us know your opinion on when a stroller should no longer be used.

Dad’s Diet Key for Healthy Kids

We have known for some time that adequate folate (vitamin B9) in women’s diets can protect against miscarriage and birth defects in their babies, but a new animal study suggests that a father’s folate levels may be just as important. The research from Canada’s McGill University concluded that men eating high-fat, fast food diets or who are obese may not be able to use or metabolize folate in the same way as those with optimal levels of the vitamin. Working with mice, the researchers compared the offspring of fathers with insufficient folate in their diets with the offspring of fathers whose diets contained sufficient folate levels. They observed that a folate deficiency in the male mice was associated with an almost 30 percent increase in birth defects of various kinds in their offspring, compared to the offspring of fathers with diets containing adequate folate. Foods containing folate include spinach, green vegetables and beans as well as fortified products such as orange juice, baked goods, and cereals. Other natural sources of folate include asparagus, bananas, melons, lemons, legumes, yeast, and mushrooms.

Sarah Kimmins et al, "Low paternal dietary folate alters the mouse sperm epigenome and is associated with negative pregnancy outcomes," Nature Communications 2013; 4 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms3889

Would You Let Your Child Play Contact Sports? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed concussions and the effects on children who play contact sports: How Dangerous Are Concussions? Check out the article and tell us your opinion on whether you would let your child play contact sports or not.

Early Learning Boosts Brain Resilience

Childhood music lessons pay off much later in life by speeding brain responses to speech soundsDid you take music lessons in your youth? Can you speak a second language? New research suggests that being bilingual can stave off dementia for more than four years, and that childhood music lessons pay off much later in life by speeding brain responses to speech sounds. Scottish and Indian researchers reviewed the case histories of 684 seniors with dementia. Of this group, 391 spoke more than one language. The investigators found that that being bilingual delayed the progression of dementia, even in study subjects who were illiterate, a finding that demonstrated for the first time that education levels alone don’t explain the delay. However, the study found no additional advantage to knowing three or more languages. Researchers at Northwestern University in Illinois found that taking music lessons for four to 14 years early in life paid off later by making possible recognition of a speech sound a millisecond faster than seniors who had no musical training. A millisecond may not seem like a big deal, but it is significant in terms of brain function. For the Northwestern study 44 healthy adults, ages 55-76, listened to a synthesized speech syllable (“da”) while researchers clocked electrical activity in the auditory brainstem, the brain region that processes sound. Childhood music lessons were related to faster brain responses, even in study participants who hadn’t played music in nearly 40 years, the researchers found.

My take? Mental exercise is vital to keeping sharp as we age. In general, the more education you have, the less likely you are to develop Alzheimer’s disease or to experience age-related cognitive decline; if you do experience them, they will appear later in life than in less educated people. Both of these new studies demonstrate again that using the brain is protective against age-related mental decline. The more learning you have had, the more connections you have in your brain, even if that learning took place during music lessons early in life or if you managed to master two languages, even without formal education or the ability to read.

Suvarna Alladi, et al, “Bilingualism delays age at onset of dementia, independent of education and immigration status.” Neurology, 10.1212/01.wnl.0000436620.33155.a4; published ahead of print November 6, 2013

Nina Kraus et al, “Older adults benefit from music training early in life: biological evidence for long-term training-driven plasticity,” Journal of Neuroscience, doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2560-13.2013

Caffeine and Kids’ Brains

The amount of caffeine kids consume may be disrupting kids' brainsWhile adolescents are fast asleep, their brains are busy maturing, making key connections (synapses), a process that continues until adulthood. But the amount of caffeine kids consume may be disrupting that process, warn a group of Swiss researchers who investigated how caffeine acts on the brains of rats. A study from the team at the University Children’s Hospital Zurich shows that caffeine intake equivalent to three or four cups of coffee per day reduced rats’ deep sleep and delayed the animals’ brain development. The researchers gave 30-day-old rats moderate amounts of caffeine over five days and measured the electrical current generated by their brains. They found that deep sleep periods were reduced from day 31 until day 42, seven days beyond the time the rats received the caffeine. Not only did the rats’ brain maturation slow, but the investigators reported that the animals, which normally grow more curious with age, remained timid and cautious. The researchers suggested that even if rat brains differ clearly from the human brain, there are enough developmental parallels to raise the issue of whether caffeine intake during puberty is harmless. The study was published in PLoS ONE on September 4, 2013.

Nadja Olini, Salomé Kurth, and Reto Huber. “The Effects of Caffeine on Sleep and Maturational Markers in the Rat,” PLoS ONE, September 4, 2013; DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0072539