March 29th, 2010
07:00 PM ET

Even a little activity helps fibromyalgia pain

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

Short bursts of activity can help ease the discomfort of fibromyalgia, a condition associated with long-term pain and tender joints, according to researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Approximately 10 million Americans suffer from the condition, according to the National Fibromyalgia Association. The condition has been linked to chronic fatigue, morning stiffness, sleep problems, and constant headaches.

The study looked at 84 minimally active adults with fibromyalgia. The patients were randomly put into two groups; either the “Lifestyle Physical Activity'” (LPA) group or the Fibromyalgia Education (FME) group. LPA involves moderate-intensity physical activity based around everyday life such as taking the stairs instead of using an elevator, gardening and walking. In this study, participants were taught to perform LPA intense enough to cause heavy breathing, but not so vigorous that they could not hold a conversation. In the FME group, participants only received information and support about their fibromyalgia, but no activity plan.

Seventy-three of the 84 participants completed the 12-week trial. The LPA group increased average daily steps by 54 percent compared with the FME group. The LPA group also reported significantly less movement problems and less pain than those in the non-active group. However, when both groups were given a six-minute walk test, there were no differences between the groups when it came to decreasing fatigue, depression, body mass index, or tenderness.

Kevin Fontaine, lead author of the study and a professor with the division of Rheumatology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said even a little movement helps. "The nature of fibromyalgia's symptoms, the body pain and fatigue, make it hard for people with this malady to participate in traditional exercise," explains Fontaine. "We've shown that LPA can help them to get at least a little more physically active, and that this seems to help improve their symptoms."

The study appears in the recent open access journal of Arthritis Research and Therapy.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

March 29th, 2010
05:05 PM ET

Passover health: Matzoh, soup and family

By Elizabeth Landau
CNN.com Health Writer/Producer

For Jews, Passover is somewhat like Thanksgiving: Families and friends gather to eat a lot of food. This holiday, commemorating the exodus of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt, began Monday and lasts for eight days, during which observers do not eat any leavened bread or various grains. Some traditionally also avoid beans, corn, and other starches.

The Passover meal - called a "seder," meaning "order," - traditionally happens on the first night, during which participants go through a series of symbolic foods representing elements of the Passover story. Some families have a seder on the second night also.

Some seder foods carry health benefits. And  one, perhaps the best known of the seder elements, may cause some digestive issues.

Matzoh, which Passover observers eat to symbolize the Jewish people fleeing their homes without enough time for their bread to rise, is actually quite constipating, although no one knows exactly why. There's only about 1 gram of fiber per piece of matzoh, so it's certainly not helping in that area. But dried fruit, thought to be an antidote, is also kosher for Passover, notes Joe Regenstein, professor of food science at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. "As long as you drink enough water and eat enough fiber to move things, you’re probably OK," says Dr. Lisa Bernstein, assistant professor at Emory University School of Medicine. There is also whole wheat matzoh available, contributing to good carbs and healthy fats, she says.

Matzoh ball soup: A 2009 study in the American Chemical Society's Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showed that chicken soup, otherwise known as "Jewish penicillin," may have medicinal properties. Researchers gave proteins from chicken legs' collagen to rats. In the rats used to model hypertension, blood pressure went down, researchers said. This line of research is credible and may explain the benefits of this "Jewish penicillin," Regenstein said.

Charoset, a paste made of apples and nuts, symbolizes the mortar used to lay bricks in Egypt (legend has it that Jewish slaves built pyramids; some historians have debunked this, and it remains controversial). Walnuts are high in omega-3 fatty acids, Bernstein notes, which have been shown to be good for your heart, vision, and even memory. If this is your first seder and you are allergic to nuts, though, make sure to steer clear.

Family, as with any major food-focused holiday, is a big part of Passover. There are always some issues with that - dealing with relatives you haven't seen a long time, making sure everyone gets along - but for most people, having the family reunited is a positive thing. A 2002 review of research on family routines and rituals, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, found that family rituals, including Passover and Thanksgiving, contribute to stability in stressful times. These, as well as routines such as a family mealtime, are linked with everything from academic success to children's health and strong family ties.

March 29th, 2010
09:34 AM ET

Scientists find there may be two forms of multiple sclerosis

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

Scientists and doctors who study multiple sclerosis know, as of now, one of the best way to treat the condition is with beta-interferon. But over the years, the drug's effectiveness has been lukewarm in some people causing a third of all MS patients who are on the drug to suffer from uncomfortable flu-like side effects. Many can't handle it and so far, researchers have never figured out why.

Now scientists from Stanford University School of Medicine may have discovered that there are actually two kinds of multiple sclerosis and that each reacts differently to the standard treatment.

Researchers know multiple sclerosis is triggered when immune cells, called T cells, attack the myelin sheathing, which insulates neurons in the body. Healthy myelin sheathing is essential for the nervous system to function properly. When this material is attacked, it can cause serious symptoms including paralysis and blindness in those with MS.

In this study, published in the current issue of Nature Medicine, researchers established animal models of multiple sclerosis by injecting mice with myelin into their immune systems, causing it to attack the animals' own myelin nerve-cell coatings, much as MS attacks a human being’s. By looking at these animals and treating them with beta-interferon and then testing their blood the researcher found there were actually two different types of MS, caused by different patterns of T cells in the body. So what works for one, doesn't necessarily work for the other.

The researchers found that beta-interferon improved the condition of animals who had MS caused by gamma-interferon-secreting T cells, but made the symptoms worse in those mice whose MS was caused by IL-17-secreting T cells.

Intrigued, the investigators turned to humans. One of the study's authors, Dr. Brigit deJong, had previously been involved in research in Amsterdam in which multiple sclerosis patients were treated with beta-interferon and closely followed. The Stanford group obtained blood samples taken from 26 of these patients both before and about two years after the initial treatment. Without knowing which samples came from patients who had responded well or poorly to beta-interferon treatment, they went about measuring IL-17 levels in those samples. The human results were much like the animal models. Those with high amounts of IL-17 T cells had had negative reactions to beta-interferon.

"By making these distinctions in large human studies, people with multiple sclerosis might someday be able to take a simple blood test to see whether they are likely to respond to treatment with the standard multiple-sclerosis therapy." says senior study author Lawrence Steinman, M.D. of the Neurology and Neurological Sciences Department at the Stanford University School of Medicine,

If an inexpensive test can be developed to detect IL-17 in humans, MS patients and their doctors will know whether beta interferon is or isn't going to work. "For those who don't have the IL-17 T cells," notes Steinman, "those patients can receive beta-interferon and probably not in a diluted form but in a higher dose, which will help them better fight their illness."

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society MS affects 400,000 people in the United States. Dr. Patricia A. O'Looney, vice president of biomedical research for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, says the new research is very exciting. "Obviously this will need more testing in human subjects," explains O’Looney, "But this is a positive step in the right direction to helping to treat MS and other autoimmune conditions."

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.