WOMEN'S HEALTH WATCH

Published Online: Monday, October 1, 2007

Coffee Gives Women Mental Pick-me-up

A recent study from the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research showed that caffeine seems to help safeguard the cognitive skills of older women. Researchers found that women who drank 3 or more cups of coffee per day were 30% less likely to experience a decline in memory than those who drank 1 cup or less.

They also found that the benefits appear to increase with age; women aged 80 years and older who drank 3 or more cups of coffee were about 70% less likely to have a decrease in memory. No similar protective effect was found in men.

The researchers surmised that caffeine is a cognitive stimulant which also helps to reduce the levels of the protein beta amyloid in the brain; accumulation of beta amyloid contributes to the development of Alzheimer's disease. The researchers studied >7000 women and men from 3 cities in France who were all free of dementia at study start. The participants were given a series of cognitive tests and asked about caffeine consumption at study start, then 2 years later, then 4 years later. The findings were reported in the August 7, 2007, issue of Neurology.

Migraines with Visual Problems May Increase Stroke Risk

Women who experience migraine headaches with accompanying visual symptoms could be at a greater risk for stroke, compared with women without migraines. The association increases when factors such as smoking, use of oral contraceptives, and recent onset of migraines (within the past year) are added. The study was conducted by the Baltimore Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Migraine has long been considered a risk factor for stroke, as strokes are caused by a blood clot blocking blood flow to the brain, but few previous studies have addressed the reasons why they could be related. Researchers looked at the stroke incidence among 386 women between the ages of 15 and 49 who had experienced a first ischemic stroke and compared them to 614 similarly aged women who had not had a stroke. All the women were questioned about past headaches. The researchers found that women who had experienced possible migraine with visual symptoms had a 6.9-fold greater risk of stroke than those who did not. The risk increased in women who smoked and/or used oral contraceptives. The findings were reported in the September 2007 issue of Stroke.

Older Women at Risk of HIV Avoid Testing

A recent study found that women who had a moderateto- high lifetime risk of exposure to HIV felt there was no need to be tested for the virus. HIV testing rates are traditionally low among adults older than 50 years of age, even though health officials encourage routine testing for everyone between the ages of 15 and 64.

The findings are cause for concern, because many older HIV-positive adults usually do not submit to testing until they develop evident symptoms of a severely impaired immune system. The results of the study were reported in the July/August 2007 issue of the Journal of Women's Health.

The study, conducted by the University of Pittsburgh in conjunction with health care facilities in Atlanta, Ga, included 514 women aged 50 years or older, who lived in the Atlanta area. More than 50% were considered to be at moderate or high risk of having been exposed to HIV. Risk factors included a history of intravenous (IV) drug use, sexual relations with men who had histories of IV drug use, or having a high lifetime number of sexual partners.

Only one third of the participants reported being tested for HIV, and, when questioned, only 22% expressed an interest in testing. One third of all the women who were not interested in testing also reported HIV risk factors.

Women Use Internet for Health Info More Than Men

A Bryant University study showed that women are more likely to seek out medical information on the Internet, compared with men. This correlated with past findings regarding gender differences in health care; as an example, the researchers pointed out that women are more likely than men to actually visit the doctor when they feel ill. "Women's online behavior?conforms to their off-line behavior. Women are more likely to ask for help than men," they said.

The researchers analyzed the results of 4 surveys of 1461 women and 1317 men who searched for health information online at least once between 2000 and 2004. Over that time, women were more apt to go online for health advice than men; in 2001, 72% of women used the Internet for health reasons, compared with 51% of men; by 2004, the figures were 82% of women versus 75% of men. Women were also more likely to use the Internet to find health care information on behalf of others. Men, however, were more likely to go online for sensitive health information that they might be uncomfortable sharing in person. The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in San Francisco in August 2007.

FAST FACT: Of American women aged 20 to 74, 62% are overweight; half of these women are considered obese.



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