Health Highlights: March 1, 2017

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Brisk Walking May Benefit Some Early-Stage Alzheimer’s Patients: Study

Some people with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease may benefit from frequent, brisk walks, new research suggests.

Along with improving physical abilities, the walks might also slow the loss of memory and thinking abilities, according the University of Kansas study in the February issue of the journal PLoS One, The New York Times reported.

The study included 70 patients. Some were assigned to a supervised walking program that eventually had them briskly walking for at least 150 minutes a week. Others were assigned to a control group that did stretching and toning classes.

After six months, many participants in both groups showed improvements in physical functioning. Those in the control group showed a slight decline in thinking and memory, and many of the walkers showed declines or no improvement, The Times reported.

But some of the walkers did show notable improvements in thinking and memory, along with slight increases in the size of their brain’s hippocampus, an area affected early in the course of Alzheimer’s disease.

The fact that thinking and memory improvements in the walking group were modest and not universal raises questions about how and why exercise may benefit some people with Alzheimer’s but not others, The Times reported.

“It seems likely that the right exercise programs could be disease modifying. We just don’t know yet what the ideal exercise programs are,” study leader Jill Morris, a senior scientist at the University of Kansas Alzheimer’s Disease Center, said.


Gene-Modified Potatoes Approved in U.S.

Three varieties of genetically modified potatoes have been approved by U.S. officials.

The Russet Burbank, Ranger Russet and Atlantic potatoes — designed to resist late blight, the pathogen that caused the 19th century Irish potato famine — are safe for the environment and safe to eat, according to the Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration, the Associated Press reported.

The potatoes were previously approved by the Department of Agriculture, and Idaho-based J.R. Simplot Co. can now plant the potatoes this spring and sell them in the fall.

The new potatoes contain genes from an Argentine variety of potato that is naturally resistant to late blight. The three varieties contain no DNA from an unrelated organism, according to the company.

There is no evidence that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are unsafe to eat, but some groups oppose changing the genetic code of foods, the AP reported.

The new potatoes do not quality as non-GMO, according to the Non-GMO Project, a Washington state-based organization that is against GMOs and verifies non-GMO food and products.

“There is a growing attempt on the part of biotechnology companies to distance themselves from the consumer rejection of GMOs by claiming that new types of genetic engineering … are not actually genetic engineering,” the group said in a statement, the AP reported.


VA Mistreatment of Patients Causes Uproar

Officials at a Veterans Administration hospital said they’ve taken action after pictures of patients being ignored were posted on social media and triggered outrage.

Former Marine Stephen McMenamin and his wife Hanna posted photos of two veterans in distress in the waiting room of the Durham VA Medical Center in North Carolina, the Associated Press reported.

The couple said both older men were ignored for hours even though they said they had severe pain. One practically fell out of his wheelchair, and the other man stretched out on the floor after being denied a place to rest.

The McMenamins said they were so shocked by the situation that they felt they had to take pictures and post them on social media, the AP reported.

Thousands of people expressed anger over the plight of the two veterans. An employee involved in the situation has been removed from patient care pending an internal review, according to DeAnne Seekins, head of the medical center.

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