Speaking Two Languages Improves Brain Function Late in Life



A new study shows that speaking at least two languages improves brain function later in life.


 

 

 

SPEAKING TWO LANGUAGES IMPROVES BRAIN FUNCTION LATE IN LIFE

Although there are an estimated 6,000 distinct languages spoken on the planet, only about 1 in 4 countries officially identify themselves as bilingual or multilingual nations.  However, there are more people in the world who speak at least two languages than there are people who speak only one language.  Therefore, the majority of humankind can be thought of as generally being bilingual or multilingual.

Based upon previously published cognitive studies, being bilingual or multilingual appears to “strengthen” the areas of the brain that are involved in both language processing and other higher cognitive functions.  Indeed, based upon these prior studies, lifelong multilingual people appear to experience a later onset of cognitive decline in life, and a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease, compared to monolingual people.  Now, a newly published research study, which appears in the Journal of Neuroscience, provides fascinating new insights into exactly how bilingualism and multilingualism may help to preserve cognitive function in the brain as we age.

In this study, 110 older monolingual and bilingual adults participated in several “task-switching” exercises that test cognitive function.  Using a sophisticated imaging system that measures blood flow within specific areas of the brain (functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI), these monolingual and bilingual study volunteers were put through their paces with various task-switching exercises while their brain function was monitored by fMRI.

Among the monolingual older adults, areas of the brain associated with the processing of information, and with decision-making, were highly activated during task-switching exercises, indicating that these areas of the brain were working very hard to complete the tasks assigned by the researchers.  The bilingual older adults also experienced increased activity in the left lateral frontal cortex and cingulate cortex, but significantly less so than the monolingual study volunteers.  At the same time, the bilingual volunteers consistently outperformed their monolingual fellow volunteers on the task-switching exercises, despite lower levels of activation of these two key areas of the brain.  Thus, just as has been predicted by previous cognitive testing studies, lifelong bilingualism does indeed appear to increase the efficiency of the areas of the brain that are involved in high-level cognitive processing, and also appear to decrease the rate of loss of these cognitive abilities with advancing age, when compared to monolingualism.  In this clinical study, the bilingual older adults were more successful in completing task-switching cognitive exercises than monolingual older adults; and at the same time, the brains of the bilingual adults accomplished this improved cognitive performance with less effort than their monolingual counterparts (based upon fMRI measurements of brain activity).

While there are many potential personal, professional, social and cultural benefits to speaking more than one language, this elegant clinical research study confirms earlier predictions that lifelong bilingualism and multilingualism may help to preserve the cognitive efficiency and function of the higher processing centers of the brain much later in life.  Given at least the perception that the United States lags behind many other countries in the world in the area of foreign language education, the findings of this new study offer yet another reason for schools in the US to ramp up their foreign language programs.  We live in an increasingly competitive, globalized and multilingual world, and preparing our children for a successful future in that world should include early and continuous exposure to foreign language training, in my view.

 

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Dr. Wascher’s latest video:

Dark as Night, Part 1


Dark as Night, Part 1

Dark as Night, Part 1


At this time, more than 8 percent of Americans are unemployed.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, the unemployment rate for veterans who served on active duty between September 2001 and December 2011 is now more than 12 percent.  A new website, Veterans in Healthcare, seeks to connect veterans with potential employers.  If you are a veteran who works in the healthcare field, or if you are an employer who is looking for physicians, advanced practice professionals, nurses, corpsmen/medics, or other healthcare professionals, then please take a look at Veterans in Healthcare. As a retired veteran of the U.S. Army, I would also like to personally urge you to hire a veteran whenever possible.


For a groundbreaking overview of cancer risks, and evidence-based strategies to reduce your risk of developing cancer, order your copy of my bestselling book, “A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race,” from AmazonBarnes & NobleBooks-A-MillionVroman’s Bookstore, and other fine bookstores!

Within one week of publication, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race was ranked #6 among all cancer-related books on the Amazon.com “Top 100 Bestseller’s List” for Kindle e-books. Within three months of publication, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race was the #1 book on the Amazon.comTop 100 New Book Releases in Cancer” list.




Disclaimer:  As always, my advice to readers is to seek the advice of your physician before making any significant changes in medications, diet, or level of physical activity


 

Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, professor of surgery, cancer researcher, oncology consultant, and a widely published author


 

I and the staff of Weekly Health Update would again like to take this opportunity to thank the more than 100,000 health-conscious people from around the world who visit this premier global health information website every month.  Over the past 12 months, more than 2.3 million pages of high-quality medical research findings were served to the worldwide audience of health-conscious readers.  As always, we enjoy receiving your stimulating feedback and questions, and I will continue to try and personally answer as many of your inquiries as I possibly can.


 


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Increasing Number of CT and PET Scans Raise Cancer Risk Concerns





 

A new research study reveals a striking increase in the number of CT and PET scans being performed, resulting in increased radiation exposure levels


 

 

INCREASING NUMBER OF CT AND PET SCANS RAISE CANCER RISK CONCERNS

Last week, I discussed new data regarding CT scans in children, and the potential increase in lifetime cancer risk associated with these scans.  This week, I will continue with this general theme by reviewing a new clinical study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, that documents the continuing rise in the number of medical imaging studies being performed, including computed tomography (CT) scans.  In view of this continuing increase in the number of medical imaging exams being performed, public health experts are concerned that cancer rates may also rise.

As I discuss in my bestselling book, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race, exposure to medical x-rays, and particularly exposure to radiation from CT scans, is an under-appreciated cancer risk factor.  Based upon conservative estimates, exposure to medical radiation is thought to cause approximately 2 percent of all new cancer cases, and most of this medical x-ray exposure comes from CT scans and positron emission tomography (PET) scans.

It is important to acknowledge that, when ordered and performed appropriately, CT scans, PET scans, and other medical imaging studies offer enormous potential benefits to patients and their doctors, and the benefits of medical imaging far outweigh the risks in such cases.  However, since the advent of CT scans and other forms of advanced medical imaging, many physicians have increasingly come to rely upon these imaging studies when other methods of clinical diagnosis that do not expose patients to large doses of ionizing radiation will work just as well.

In this new clinical study, the electronic medical records systems of 6 large integrated health care systems in the United States were analyzed.  In this very large study, between 1 and 2 million patient records were reviewed every year between 1996 and 2010.  All patient-members enrolled in the following health care organizations during this 15-year period were evaluated:Group Health Cooperative in Washington State; Kaiser Permanente in Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington; and the Marshfield Clinic and Security Health Plan in Wisconsin.

The focus of this study was on Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs), because these organizations typically have very robust utilization management systems that are designed to monitor for, and prevent, wasteful or inappropriate medical studies, including unnecessary medical imaging exams.  Given that the use of advanced medical imaging studies has skyrocketed in the fee-for-service world in recent years, the authors of this new study sought to assess trends in the use of advanced medical imaging studies among HMOs, specifically.

During the 15-year study period, the patients of these 6 HMOs underwent 31 million medical imaging exams, equal to an average of 1.2 imaging tests per year for every patient-member.  More than one-third of these medical imaging exams were advanced medical imaging studies (CT scans, MRI scans, PET scans, and ultrasound scans).  When measured on an annual basis during the 15 year duration of this study, CT scan exams increased by 8 percent per year, while MRI scans increased by 10 percent per year.  PET scans, which are typically combined with CT scans, increased by a whopping 57 percent per year from 2004 through 2010.  (Ultrasound scans, which, like MRI scans, do not expose patients to ionizing radiation, increased by 4 percent per year.)

Of particular interest to me, as a cancer prevention expert was the finding that the increased use of CT scans resulted in a per capita doubling of radiation exposure doses among the patient-members of these 6 HMOs.  Moreover, the proportion of patient-members who received high and very high medical radiation doses also doubled during the course of this study, reflecting the increased use of high-energy medical imaging studies, including, primarily, CT scans and CT-PET scans.  Indeed, by 2010, 7 percent of these HMO patient-members received medical imaging studies that placed them within the “high annual radiation exposure” category (> 20-50 millisieverts, or mSv), while 4 percent of patients received “very high annual radiation exposure” doses of medical radiation (> 50 mSv).

Once again, it is important to stress that advanced medical imaging is a very powerful tool that can provide physicians with essential diagnostic information for many of their patients.  However, experts in the fields of Radiology and Public Health have become very concerned, in recent years, regarding the questionable indications for advanced imaging scans in many cases.  Indeed, there is the sense that these powerful diagnostic scans are too easily and too quickly ordered in many cases, and without compelling clinical justification.  Therefore, it behooves both patients and their physicians to ask a simple but very important question:  Does the likely benefit of undergoing a CT scan or CT-PET scan outweigh the possible associated risks?  If the answer to this question is no, then such scans should not be performed.


At this time, 8.2 percent of Americans are unemployed.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, the unemployment rate for veterans who served on active duty between September 2001 and December 2011 is now more than 12 percent.  A new website, Veterans in Healthcare, seeks to connect veterans with potential employers.  If you are a veteran who works in the healthcare field, or if you are an employer who is looking for physicians, advanced practice professionals, nurses, corpsmen/medics, or other healthcare professionals, then please take a look at Veterans in Healthcare.


For a groundbreaking overview of cancer risks, and evidence-based strategies to reduce your risk of developing cancer, order your copy of my bestselling book, “A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race,” from AmazonBarnes & NobleBooks-A-MillionVroman’s Bookstore, and other fine bookstores!

Within one week of publication, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race was ranked #6 among all cancer-related books on the Amazon.com “Top 100 Bestseller’s List” for Kindle e-books. Within three months of publication, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race was the #1 book on the Amazon.comTop 100 New Book Releases in Cancer” list.




Disclaimer:  As always, my advice to readers is to seek the advice of your physician before making any significant changes in medications, diet, or level of physical activity


 

Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, professor of surgery, cancer researcher, oncology consultant, and a widely published author


 

I and the staff of Weekly Health Update would again like to take this opportunity to thank the more than 100,000 health-conscious people from around the world who visit this premier global health information website every month.  (More than 1.3 million pages of high-quality medical research findings were served to the worldwide audience of health-conscious people who visited Weekly Health Update in 2011!)  As always, we enjoy receiving your stimulating feedback and questions, and I will continue to try and personally answer as many of your inquiries as I possibly can.


 




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CT Scans and Cancer Risk in Children





 

A new clinical study suggests that performing CT scans during childhood may significantly increase the risk of leukemia and brain cancer.


 

 

CT SCANS AND CANCER RISK IN CHILDREN

As I discuss in my bestselling book, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race, exposure to medical x-rays, and particularly exposure to radiation from CT scans, is an under-appreciated cancer risk factor.  Based upon even conservative estimates, exposure to medical radiation is thought to cause at least 1 to 2 percent of all new cancer cases, and most of this medical x-ray exposure comes from CT scans.  Additionally, as I also discuss in my book, there is enormous variation in the amount of radiation exposure associated with CT scans between different hospitals, and even within individual hospitals.  Now, a newly published clinical study suggests that the risk of cancer in children due to medical x-rays may be of particular concern.  This new paper appears in the forthcoming issue of the journal The Lancet.

In this study from the United Kingdom, nearly 180,000 patients who underwent CT scans as children, between 1985 and 2002, were followed.  The incidence of cancer in this very large group of patients was then monitored.

In this study, CT scans that delivered a cumulative radiation dose of at least 30 milligray were associated with three times the subsequent risk of leukemia as was observed in patients who received radiation doses less than 5 milligray.  The incidence of brain cancer was also three times higher among patients who received a cumulative radiation dose of 50 milligray or more from CT scans, when compared to patients who received less than 5 milligray.  Now, it is important to mention that these increases in cancer risk were increases in relative risk.  Since both leukemia and brain cancer are rare diseases, the absolute increase in cancer risk was actually quite small (one excess case of leukemia and one excess case of brain cancer per 10,000 CT scans of the head).  However, the findings of this important study point out the need to reduce radiation doses associated with CT scans to as low a level as is possible, especially for CT scans performed on children.  Moreover, alternative imaging studies to CT scans, such as ultrasound and MRI scans, should be used whenever possible to further reduce the exposure of both pediatric patients and adult patients to medical x-rays.


For a groundbreaking overview of cancer risks, and evidence-based strategies to reduce your risk of developing cancer, order your copy of my bestselling book, “A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race,” from AmazonBarnes & NobleBooks-A-MillionVroman’s Bookstore, and other fine bookstores!

Within one week of publication, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race was ranked #6 among all cancer-related books on the Amazon.com “Top 100 Bestseller’s List” for Kindle e-books. Within three months of publication, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race was the #1 book on the Amazon.comTop 100 New Book Releases in Cancer” list.




Disclaimer:  As always, my advice to readers is to seek the advice of your physician before making any significant changes in medications, diet, or level of physical activity


 

Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, professor of surgery, cancer researcher, oncology consultant, and a widely published author


 

I and the staff of Weekly Health Update would again like to take this opportunity to thank the more than 100,000 health-conscious people from around the world who visit this premier global health information website every month.  (More than 1.3 million pages of high-quality medical research findings were served to the worldwide audience of health-conscious people who visited Weekly Health Update in 2011!)  As always, we enjoy receiving your stimulating feedback and questions, and I will continue to try and personally answer as many of your inquiries as I possibly can.


 





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Addition of MRI to Mammogram and Ultrasound Increases Breast Cancer Detection






 

New research shows that adding MRI to mammogram and ultrasound increases breast cancer detection rate, but with a high rate of false positive results.


 

 

ADDITION OF MRI TO MAMMOGRAM AND ULTRASOUND INCREASES BREAST CANCER DETECTION

Currently, women who are at an average risk of developing breast cancer are advised to undergo annual screening mammograms beginning at 40 to 45 years of age.  Mammography, like any medical test, is not perfect (at least 10 to 20 percent of breast cancers will not show up on a mammogram among women who are at average risk for this type of cancer).  Moreover, mammography, which relies upon low-powered x-rays to form images of the breasts, is especially challenged by women with dense breast tissue, which is, by itself, a known risk factor for breast cancer.

In many cases, the addition of ultrasound to mammography can help to form more accurate images of dense breast tissue, and is also useful for further evaluation of indeterminate breast abnormalities identified by mammography.  (Also, both the lobular sub-type of breast cancer and small “low-grade” breast cancers tend to show up better on ultrasound than they do on mammograms.)  Together, the combination of mammography and ultrasound can accurately detect approximately 85 to 90 percent of breast cancers in women with normal-density breast tissue; but, once again, in women with dense breast tissue (including most women under the age of 40), the sensitivity and overall accuracy of mammography plus ultrasound is often considerably decreased.

Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, has become a popular tool for breast imaging, although, like mammography and ultrasound, MRI of the breast has its downsides as well.  MRI is known to be much more sensitive than either mammography or ultrasound in identifying breast cancers, with most studies showing a 95 percent or greater sensitivity associated with MRI.  However, this exquisite sensitivity of breast MRI, as I discuss in my bestselling book, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race, is also associated with poor specificity (i.e., a high false-positive rate).  Because of its poor specificity, MRI scans of the breast will be wrong, or falsely-positive, in 15 to 35 percent of cases where an abnormality is detected.  Although there are other reasons as well, this high false-positive rate is the primary reason that MRI scans are not routinely used to screen for breast cancer.

As I have noted, none of these three common breast cancer screening tests are perfect, and each of them will miss some cancers that the other types of scans might pick up. With this information in mind, a newly published study, which appears in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, examines the potential role of ultrasound and MRI scans as supplements to screening mammograms in women who are at an increased risk for developing breast cancer.

In this prospective clinical research study, 612 women deemed to be at increased risk for breast cancer underwent three years of annual breast cancer screening exams with mammography and ultrasound.  After completing these three years of annual screening with mammography and ultrasound, these women additionally underwent MRI scans of their breasts.  Abnormalities suspicious for cancer, based upon any of these three diagnostic tests, were further evaluated by biopsy.  This cohort of women volunteers was then followed for an additional 12 months, to monitor them for any signs of interval development of breast cancer.

The 612 women who underwent mammography, ultrasound and MRI screening were also part of a larger group of 2,662 high-risk women (54 percent of whom had a personal history of a prior breast cancer) who enrolled in this study, and who underwent annual breast cancer screening with both mammography and ultrasound.  Altogether, 110 of these 2,662 women were diagnosed with a new breast cancer during the course of this prospective clinical research study.

The results of this study clearly illustrate the limitations of currently available breast cancer screening tests, particularly among high-risk women.  Following three years of annual screening, only 52 percent of the breast cancers that arose were detected by mammography alone in these high-risk women, although the false-positive rate of mammography was very low, at 9 percent.  The addition of ultrasound to mammography improved the sensitivity, or detection rate, to 76 percent, with a false-positive rate of 16 percent.  When MRI was added to mammography and ultrasound, the detection rate (sensitivity) for breast cancer improved, significantly, to 100 percent, although the false-positive rate increased greatly due to the poor specificity of MRI and, to a lesser extent, ultrasound.  When these three breast imaging modalities were combined, 35 percent of the abnormalities identified turned out to be benign lesions, and not cancer, following biopsy or other confirmatory diagnostic procedures.

This study confirms that essentially 100 percent of detectable breast cancers can be identified using a combination of mammography, ultrasound and MRI.  However, this high level of sensitivity comes at a significant cost in that more than one-third of the abnormalities identified by the combined use of these three breast imaging modalities will, upon further testing, including biopsy, turn out to be completely benign.  Therefore, this high false-positive rate, particularly associated with breast MRI, is the Achilles heel of this combined imaging approach to breast cancer screening.

Fortunately, there are emerging new breast imaging technologies that appear to have the same very high sensitivity rate as MRI, while maintaining the high specificity (i.e., low false-positive) rate of mammography.  Among these promising technologies are Breast-Specific Gamma Imaging and Positron Emission (PET) Mammography (also known as “PEM”).  Ultimately, these newer technologies, as well as even newer technologies, will most likely someday replace the use MRI to screen for breast cancer.



For a groundbreaking overview of cancer risks, and evidence-based strategies to reduce your risk of developing cancer, order your copy of my bestselling book, “A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race,” from AmazonBarnes & NobleBooks-A-MillionVroman’s Bookstore, and other fine bookstores!

Within one week of publication, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race was ranked #6 among all cancer-related books on the Amazon.com “Top 100 Bestseller’s List” for Kindle e-books. Within three months of publication, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race was the #1 book on the Amazon.comTop 100 New Book Releases in Cancer” list.



Disclaimer:  As always, my advice to readers is to seek the advice of your physician before making any significant changes in medications, diet, or level of physical activity


Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, professor of surgery, cancer researcher, oncology consultant, and a widely published author


I and the staff of Weekly Health Update would again like to take this opportunity to thank the more than 100,000 health-conscious people from around the world who visit this premier global health information website every month.  (More than 1.3 million pages of high-quality medical research findings were served to the worldwide audience of health-conscious people who visited Weekly Health Update in 2011!)  As always, we enjoy receiving your stimulating feedback and questions, and I will continue to try and personally answer as many of your inquiries as I possibly can.


 






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