Health File

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Remembrance Day Sorrow

It can be distressing when you or someone close to you is overcome by emotion at a Remembrance Day ceremony—but that’s no reason not to take part in services if you want to go.

“The majority of people are likely to have some emotional reaction; it’s Remembrance Day and there’s grief,” says Dr. Jitender Sareen, psychiatry professor at the University of Manitoba and a post-traumatic stress disorder specialist at Deer Lodge Centre, a veterans’ rehabilitation and long-term care facility in Winnipeg.

“If they want to go and want to participate, they should try to go,” even if it causes an emotional response, he says. Such a reaction is normal, and for most people the feeling of anxiety and sadness will pass, particularly if they talk about it with someone close. “Over time, it will get less and less.”

Preparing yourself for an emotional reaction may ease things. “Expecting some anxiety may be helpful,” says Sareen. “The best way to deal with distress is to accept the distress, remind yourself that you are not weak, and talk about it with family or friends, if you feel like it.” If you don’t feel like talking, that’s normal, too. “Everybody has their own individual way of coping.”

But for some, the sadness of Remembrance Day lingers and morphs into sleep disturbance, loss of appetite, depression, even flashbacks to traumatic experiences. If these symptoms carry on for a week or two, see your family doctor, suggests Sareen. Veterans, serving Canadian Forces members and their families might also want to contact the Operational Stress Injury Social Support Network, which offers peer support. You can find the support nearest you by visiting the website www.osiss.ca

“I would really highly recommend that people not take emotional symptoms as a sign of either weakness or of need for care,” says Sareen. Although distressing at the time, particularly if unexpected, reacting emotionally is entirely normal.

Dementia And PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder increases a veteran’s risk of developing dementia, new U.S. research suggests. Researchers gathered data for a decade on 10,481 veterans 65 and older who had been seen at least twice between 1997 and 1999 at a Department of Veterans Affairs medical centre in Texas.

Overall, 36.4 per cent of the veterans in the study had PTSD.  Among veterans not injured in combat, 11.1 per cent of those with PTSD developed dementia compared to 4.5 per cent of those without the disorder. Among those injured in combat, 7.2 per cent with PTSD developed dementia compared to 5.9 per cent of non-PTSD patients.

“Although we cannot at this time determine the cause for this increased risk, it is essential to determine whether the risk of dementia can be reduced by effectively treating PTSD,” Dr. Mark Kunik, senior author of the study that appeared in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, said in a press release. He is also a psychiatrist with the DeBakey VA Medical Center in Texas.

This confirms earlier research from San Francisco reported in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco and the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center studied 180,000 veterans 55 and older for seven years. At the beginning of the study 30 per cent had PTSD, but none had dementia; nearly 11 per cent of the veterans with PTSD developed dementia later, compared to seven per cent of those without PTSD.

Further research is needed to determine if years of stress causes changes to the brain. PTSD has also been linked to increased risk of heart and vascular disease; metabolic syndrome, which leads to diabetes; and substance abuse.

Fishy Help For Diabetics

Overweight type 2 diabetics may want to increase the amount of fish oils in their diet following new research that shows how omega-3 fatty acids reduce chronic inflammation and insulin resistance.

White blood cells called macrophages secrete substances called cytokines that cause inflammation. Obese fat tissue is home to lots of macrophages which produce lots of cytokines that result in chronic inflammation. When neighbouring cells are exposed to too many cytokines, they become resistant to insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels in the body. As time goes on, this results in type 2 diabetes.

Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), both abundant in fish oil, turn on a macrophage receptor in body fat that turns down inflammation, found researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.

The researchers say more research is needed to determine how much fish oil is needed to produce benefits and what dosage is safe, since high dosages of fish oil have been linked to increased risk of stroke. And of course, identifying the receptor means researchers can look for drugs that mimic the action of fish oils, providing the same inflammation-fighting benefit without the risks.

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