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Health Information Unusual Health Connections:
Connect the Dots

As a child, you may have learned that the foot bone is connected to the leg bone and the leg bone is connected to the knee bone. But many connections in the body are much less obvious.

For example, women who get migraines are actually less likely to get breast cancer than those who don't, according to a study published by the American Association for Cancer Research. The connection between these two seemingly unrelated issues appears to be hormones, but more study is needed to understand the link and what it might mean for breast cancer prevention. Read on for more unusual health connections and to learn how primary care physicians can be your connection to better health.

Loneliness and Alzheimer's disease
Menopause and high blood pressure
Inadequate sleep and weight gain

Loneliness and Alzheimer's disease
Although it may sometimes be difficult for busy people to find time to spend with family and friends, there’s good reason to keep socializing high on your list of priorities.

That's because researchers at the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center have connected one aspect of a person’s social well-being — loneliness — to Alzheimer's disease. This degenerative brain disorder affects memory and cognition.

Researchers found that people who feel emotionally isolated may be twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease. It's not known exactly how loneliness affects risk, but negative emotions in general appear to cause changes in the brain.

Once the precise mechanism behind this connection is discovered, it’s possible that medications or behavior changes may be able to lower the risk of Alzheimer's disease by decreasing the toll loneliness takes on a person’s brain health.

Meanwhile, research at Rush shows that staying mentally and socially active helps fend off cognitive decline in general, and maintaining close ties with family and friends provides protection against Alzheimer's disease specifically.

Menopause and high blood pressure
You may associate menopause largely with hot flashes, night sweats and sleeping problems. However, not all the physical changes that occur in this phase of a woman's life have such obvious expressions.

High blood pressure is sometimes referred to as a silent killer because it often quietly makes its way into women's lives around the time of menopause.

To some extent, that's because the body stops producing estrogen as part of menopause. Estrogen helps protect women from the buildup of plaque in their arteries and keeps arteries flexible, aiding the proper flow of blood.

"Normal blood pressure depends upon, among other factors, the health of a woman's arteries," says Bruce Huck, MD, an internist at Rush University Medical Center. "As menopause occurs, a woman loses the beneficial effects of estrogen on her arteries and becomes more vulnerable to high blood pressure."

However, the connection between menopause and blood pressure is not direct. Rather, the loss of estrogen begins a complex chain of events beginning with the stiffening of arteries and encompassing changes in levels of nitrous oxide and enzymes in the body, which can lead to higher blood pressure and increase the risk for other cardiovascular diseases.

Yet women often don't take the steps necessary to control their blood pressure and other risk factors.To make sure they avoid developing heart disease, postmenopausal women should have their blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels checked on a regular basis. Talk with your doctor to see how often you should be checked.

Inadequate sleep and weight gain
You snooze, you lose. Although that's supposed to be a bad thing, when it comes to dieting it is actually just sound advice. It turns out that people who don't get an adequate amount of sleep (7 to 8 hours a night) have more trouble getting to a healthy weight and are more likely to be overweight than people who get enough sleep.

In one study, dieters who spent fewer than 5.5 hours in bed per night lost less body fat and more lean body mass — the opposite of what dieters intend — than dieters who spent  8.5 hours in bed each night.

What is the connection between sleep and weight? Hormones.

Sleep regulates the hormones ghrelin and leptin. People who don't sleep enough may have high levels of ghrelin, which causes hunger. At the same time, they can have low levels of leptin, which controls hunger. Ghrelin also has an effect on how the body uses energy and fat: Too much ghrelin results in less energy used and more fat retained. The combination of these hormone imbalances can leave dieters fighting a losing battle with weight and struggling to control their eating habits when they're short on sleep.

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Unusual Health Connections:
Connect the Dots

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