Here's a roundup of five medical studies published this week that might give you new insights into your health, mind and body. Remember, correlation is not causation – so if a study finds a connection between two things, it doesn't mean that one causes the other.
ICU puts patients at risk of cognitive impairment
Journal: New England Journal of Medicine
A new study finds an alarming trend: Thinking and memory problems can last at least a year in patients discharged from the intensive care unit.
Adults who have been in the ICU because of respiratory failure or shock were evaluated three and 12 months after discharge. Of the 821 participants, 74% had developed delirium, characterized by confused thinking, while in the hospital.
Researchers found signs of persistent cognitive impairment in both older and younger patients.
After 12 months, 34% of patients had a similar performance in cognitive testing to patients with moderate traumatic brain injury, and 24% had scores resembling patients with mild Alzheimer's disease. And the longer delirium persisted, the worse the patients were in terms of cognition and executive function.
Depression may be connected to Parkinson's disease
If you have depression - especially in older age, and if the depression is harder to treat - you are more likely to develop Parkinson's disease, a new study finds. Researchers found a three-fold risk of Parkinson's in people who had been diagnosed with depression.
Cancer and stroke have also been linked to depression in other studies. But that doesn't mean depression causes Parkinson's or any of these other diseases in any individual.
"Many questions remain, including whether depression is an early symptom of Parkinson’s disease, rather than an independent risk factor for the disease,” study author Dr. Albert C. Yang, with Taipei Veterans General Hospital in Taipei, Taiwan, said in a statement.
Out come the stem cells!
Journal: Angewandte Chemie International
Neural stem cells can turn into a variety of types of nervous system cells, and scientists have high hopes that they can one day be used to treat neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease).
Researchers at the University of Oxford developed a technique to extract neural stem cells using nanoparticles, New Scientist reports. In rats, they showed that specially coated magnetic nanoparticles will attach to neural stem cells, and then a magnetic field can be used to bring the stem cells together.
Scientists sucked the stem cells out with a syringe, and apparently did not damage the cells or the rats. This is an advancement, scientists say, but there could be problems with applying the technique to humans.
Experimental drug may lower cholesterol
Journal: The Lancet
Plenty of Americans take statins to lower their cholesterol. But these drugs have nasty side effects in some people, and they don't work well in everyone. Scientists are still looking for effective alternatives.
The results of a phase 1 trial - that's a preliminary human clinical experiment aimed at evaluating safety - were reported this week for a chemical compound called ALN-PCS. The trial was sponsored by Alnylam Pharmaceuticals.
Researchers found an intravenous dose of the compound can reduce LDL ("bad") cholesterol in healthy people by 36% to 56%, TIME.com reports. More research is needed to verify that the effectiveness and safety will hold up on larger groups of people and to see what dose is best.
Scientists create first-ever penis shame scale
Journal: Journal of Sexual Medicine
Some men like what they've got; others, not so much. Researchers have developed a method of evaluating a man's beliefs about the size of his penis, called (creatively) the "Beliefs about Penis Size Scale."
"It may be used as part of an assessment for men who experience shame about the perceived size of their penis and as an outcome measure after treatment," the study authors wrote in the journal abstract.
The tool - which incorporates questions that address issues of body image, anxiety, erectile function, overall satisfaction and importance of penis size - may help measure the benefits of any psychological or physical intervention a man may undergo to treat his feelings of shame.
Interestingly, no correlation was found between the scale results and actual penis size.
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