From the 16 July 2014 article at Think Progress
Are companies dumping large quantities of dangerous chemicals into our water supply under the guise of fluoridation? Did a U.S. spy agency infect African Americans with HIV? Does the government tell parents to give vaccines to their children even though that could increase their risk of developing autism? Are U.S. health officials withholding information about natural cures for cancer so that pharmaceutical companies can continue to profit, or pretending they don’t know that cell phones can cause cancer? Are genetically modified foods a plot to shrink the global population?
About half of the American public believes at least one of those medical conspiracy theories, according to a study conducted by University of Chicago researchers. The greatest proportion of respondents, 37 percent, believes that the FDA is deliberately suppressing information about natural treatments for cancer. On top of that, less than a third of participants were willing to say they actively disagreed with this theory, leaving everyone else somewhere in the middle.
From the 4 August 2014 Harvard School of Public Health News item
In St. Louis, Missouri, Delmar Boulevard marks a sharp dividing line between the poor, predominately African American neighborhood to the north and a more affluent, largely white neighborhood to the south. Education and health also follow the “Delmar Divide,” with residents to the north less likely to have a bachelor’s degree and more likely to have heart disease or cancer.
Pointing to Delmar as an example, Melody Goodman, an assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis, recently spoke to a Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) audience about the links between segregation and poor health. An HSPH alumna, Goodman gave the keynote address at the first annual symposium sponsored by the Department of Biostatistics Summer Program in Quantitative Sciences. She told the audience at the July 24, 2014 event, which was held at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, “Your zip code is a better predictor of your health than your genetic code.”
Last week, I encountered yet another example of why it’s so important to always read the whole study — not just the press release. In this case, it was actually a report, not a study. A press release from Alzheimer’s International with the somewhat misleading headline, “Smoking Increases Risk Of Dementia” arrived in my inbox, citing a new World Health Organization report that put smokers at a 45% higher risk for developing the disease than non-smokers.
It’s a good reminder that regardless of the reputation of the organization or institution issuing a report, study or press release, read the source information yourself. You never know what you may find.
Researchers say pro-pot messages set stage for drug use
Hundreds of thousands of American youth are following marijuana-related Twitter accounts and getting pro-pot messages several times each day, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found.
The tweets are cause for concern, they said, because young people are thought to be especially responsive to social media influences. In addition, patterns of drug use tend to be established in a person’s late teens and early 20s.
In a study published online June 27 in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, the Washington University team analyzed messages tweeted from May 1 through Dec. 31, 2013, by a Twitter account called Weed Tweets@stillblazintho. Among pro-marijuana accounts, this one was selected because it has the most Twitter followers — about 1 million. During the eight-month study period, the account posted an average of 11 tweets per day.
“As people are becoming more accepting of marijuana use and two states have legalized the drug for recreational use, it is important to remember that it remains a dangerous drug of abuse,” said principal investigator Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg, PhD. “I’ve been studying what is influencing attitudes to change dramatically and where people may be getting messages about marijuana that are leading them to believe the drug is not hazardous.”
Although 19 states now allow marijuana use for medical purposes, much of the evidence for its effectiveness remains anecdotal. Even as Americans are relaxing their attitudes about marijuana, in 2011 marijuana contributed to more than 455,000 emergency room visits in the United States, federal research shows. Some 13 percent of those patients were ages 12 to 17.
A majority of Americans favor legalizing recreational use of the drug, and 60 percent of high school seniors report they don’t believe regular marijuana use is harmful. A recent report from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said that more Americans are using cannabis as their perception of the health risk declines. The report stated that for youth and young adults, “more permissive cannabis regulations correlate with decreases in the perceived risk of use.”
Cavazos-Rehg said Twitter also is influencing young people’s attitudes about the drug. Studying Weed Tweets, the team counted 2,285 tweets during the eight-month study. Of those, 82 percent were positive about the drug, 18 percent were either neutral or did not focus on marijuana, and 0.3 percent expressed negative attitudes about it.
Many of the tweets were meant to be humorous. Others implied that marijuana helps a person feel good or relax, and some mentioned different ways to get high.
With the help of a data analysis firm, the investigators found that of those receiving the tweets, 73 percent were under 19. Fifty-four percent were 17 to 19 years old, and almost 20 percent were 16 or younger. About 22 percent were 20 to 24 years of age. Only 5 percent of the followers were 25 or older.
“These are risky ages when young people often begin experimentation with drugs,” explained Cavazos-Rehg, an assistant professor of psychiatry. “It’s an age when people are impressionable and when substance-use behaviors can transition into addiction. In other words, it’s a very risky time of life for people to be receiving messages like these.”
Cavazos-Rehg said it isn’t possible from this study to “connect the dots” between positive marijuana tweets and actual drug use, but she cites previous research linking substance use to messages from television and billboards. She suggested this also may apply to social media.
“Studies looking at media messages on traditional outlets like television, radio, billboards and magazines have shown that media messages can influence substance use and attitudes about substance use,” she said. “It’s likely a young person’s attitudes and behaviors may be influenced when he or she is receiving daily, ongoing messages of this sort.”
The researchers also learned that the Twitter account they tracked reached a high number of African-Americans and Hispanics compared with Caucasians. Almost 43 percent were African-American, and nearly 12 percent were Hispanic. In fact, among Hispanics, Weed Tweets ranked in the top 30 percent of all Twitter accounts followed.
“It was surprising to see that members of these minority groups were so much more likely than Caucasians to be receiving these messages,” Cavazos-Rehg said, adding that there is particular concern about African-Americans because their rates of marijuana abuse and dependence are about twice as high as the rate in Caucasians and Hispanics.
The findings point to the need for a discussion about the pro-drug messages young people receive, Cavazos-Rehg said.
“There are celebrities who tweet to hundreds of thousands of followers, and it turns out a Twitter handle that promotes substance use can be equally popular,” she said. “Because there’s not much regulation of social media platforms, that could lead to potentially harmful messages being distributed. Regulating this sort of thing is going to be challenging, but the more we can provide evidence that harmful messages are being received by vulnerable kids, the more likely it is we can have a discussion about the types of regulation that might be appropriate.”
PITTSBURGH—Mindfulness meditation has become an increasingly popular way for people to improve their mental and physical health, yet most research supporting its benefits has focused on lengthy, weeks-long training programs.
New research from Carnegie Mellon University is the first to show that brief mindfulness meditation practice – 25 minutes for three consecutive days – alleviates psychological stress. Published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, the study investigates how mindfulness meditation affects people’s ability to be resilient under stress.
“More and more people report using meditation practices for stress reduction, but we know very little about how much you need to do for stress reduction and health benefits,” said lead author J. David Creswell, associate professor of psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
For the study, Creswell and his research team had 66 healthy individuals aged 18-30 years old participate in a three-day experiment. Some participants went through a brief mindfulness meditation training program; for 25 minutes for three consecutive days, the individuals were given breathing exercises to help them monitor their breath and pay attention to their present moment experiences. A second group of participants completed a matched three-day cognitive training program in which they were asked to critically analyze poetry in an effort to enhance problem-solving skills.
Following the final training activity, all participants were asked to complete stressful speech and math tasks in front of stern-faced evaluators. Each individual reported their stress levels in response to stressful speech and math performance stress tasks, and provided saliva samples for measurement of cortisol, commonly referred to as the stress hormone.
The participants who received the brief mindfulness meditation training reported reduced stress perceptions to the speech and math tasks, indicating that the mindfulness meditation fostered psychological stress resilience. More interestingly, on the biological side, the mindfulness mediation participants showed greater cortisol reactivity.
“When you initially learn mindfulness mediation practices, you have to cognitively work at it – especially during a stressful task,” said Creswell. “And, these active cognitive efforts may result in the task feeling less stressful, but they may also have physiological costs with higher cortisol production.”
Creswell’s group is now testing the possibility that mindfulness can become more automatic and easy to use with long-term mindfulness meditation training, which may result in reduced cortisol reactivity.
In addition to Creswell, the research team consisted of Carnegie Mellon’s Laura E. Pacilio and Emily K. Lindsay and Virginia Commonwealth University’s Kirk Warren Brown.
The Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse Opportunity Fund supported this research.
For more information, visit http://www.psy.cmu.edu/people/creswell.html.
Olfactory receptors in the skin detected
Skin cells possess an olfactory receptor for sandalwood scent, as researchers at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum have discovered. Their data indicate that the cell proliferation increases and wound healing improves if those receptors are activated. This mechanism constitutes a possible starting point for new drugs and cosmetics. The team headed by Dr Daniela Busse and Prof Dr Dr Dr med habil Hanns Hatt from the Department for Cellphysiology published their report in the “Journal of Investigative Dermatology“.
The nose is not the only place where olfactory receptors occur
Humans have approximately 350 different types of olfactory receptors in the nose. The function of those receptors has also been shown to exist in, for example spermatozoa, the prostate, the intestine and the kidneys. The team from Bochum has now discovered them in keratinocytes – cells that form the outermost layer of the skin.
Experiments with cultures of human skin cells
The RUB researchers studied the olfactory receptor that occurs in the skin, namely OR2AT4, and discovered that it is activated by a synthetic sandalwood scent, so-called Sandalore. Sandalwood aroma is frequently used in incense sticks and is a popular component in perfumes. The activated OR2AT4 receptor triggers a calcium-dependent signal pathway. That pathway ensures an increased proliferation and a quicker migration of skin cells – processes which typically facilitate wound healing. In collaboration with the Dermatology Department at the University of Münster, the cell physiologists from Bochum demonstrated that effect in skin cell cultures and skin explants.
Additional olfactory receptors in skin detected
In addition to OR2AT4, the RUB scientists have also found a variety of other olfactory receptors in the skin, the function of which they are planning to characterise more precisely. “The results so far show that they possess therapeutic and cosmetic potential,” says Prof Hanns Hatt. “Still, we mustn’t forget that concentrated fragrances should be handled with care, until we have ascertained which functions the different types of olfactory receptors in skin cells have.”
Daniela Busse et al. (2014): A synthetic sandalwood odorant induces wound healing processes in human keratinocytes via the olfactory receptor OR2AT4, Journal of Investigative Dermatology, DOI: 10.1038/JID.2014.273
Prof Dr Dr Dr Hanns Hatt, Department for Cellphysiology, Faculty of Biology and Biotechnology at the Ruhr-Universität, 44780 Bochum, Germany, phone: +49/234/32-24586, email:Hanns.Hatt@rub.de
In recent years, it has become increasingly clear that many diseases are triggered or maintained by changes in bacterial communities in the gut. However, the general view up into now has been rather simple: bacteria stimulate the immune system, leading to inflammation or autoimmune disorders in a single direction.
Now, in work published in Immunity, scientists led by Sidonia Fagarasan from the RIKEN Center for Integrative Medical Science in Japan have painted a more complex picture: the gut immune system does not simply prevent the influx of pathogens, but is actively involved in the maintenance of a rich and healthy community of gut bacteria. They propose that faults in the immune regulation lead to changes in the bacterial community that in turn feed back into the immune system.
In the study, the group demonstrated that the regulation by immune T cells of immunoglobulin A (IgA), an antibody that plays a key role in immunity in the gut, is critical for the maintenance of rich bacterial communities in mammal guts.
They began by studying mice with various immune deficiencies and attempted to restore the mice by providing the missing components. They monitored the bacterial communities in the mice’s guts with or without the reconstitutions and evaluated the flow of information between the immune system and bacteria. They discovered that the precise control of IgA production by regulatory T cells is critical for keeping a rich and balanced bacterial community.
To investigate how bacteria feed back to the host, they looked at germ-free mice (mice born and maintained sterile in special incubators) and young pups that had been transplanted with different bacterial communities (either by injection of bacteria or by painting the fur with fecal bacteria extracts from normal or immune-deficient mice). They discovered that the immune system “sees” and responds differently to different bacterial communities. Rich and balanced bacterial communities seem to be perceived as “self” and induce a quick maturation of the immune system and gut responses (induction of regulatory T cells and IgA), while a poor and unbalanced bacterial community is apparently perceived as “non-self” and induces responses aimed at eliminating it (T cells with inflammatory properties and IgG or IgE responses).
According to Sidonia Fagarasan, who led the work, “This study should have an impact on the way we understand immune-related disorders associated with bacteria dysbiosis in the gut. In order to reestablish a healthy state we need to interfere not only with the bacteria, by providing probiotics or through fecal transplantation, but also with the immune system, by correcting the faults caused either by inherited deficiencies or by aging.”
“It was surprising,” she continues, “to see how the reconstitution of T cell-deficient mice with a special regulatory T cell type leads to dramatic changes in gut bacterial communities. It was spectacular to see how the immune system perceives and reacts to different bacteria communities. It gives us hopes that with a better knowledge of the symbiotic relationships between the immune system and bacteria in the gut, we could intervene and induce modifications aiming to reestablish balance and restore health.”
Thinking this would be great fodder for an global warming/climate change exploitation movie. Something along the lines of the giant virus that killed human civilization…..
From the July 2014 article
An ancient virus has “come back to life” after lying dormant for at least 30,000 years, scientists say.
It was found frozen in a deep layer of the Siberian permafrost, but after it thawed it became infectious once again.
The French scientists say the contagion poses no danger to humans or animals, but other viruses could be unleashed as the ground becomes exposed.
Professor Jean-Michel Claverie, from the National Centre of Scientific Research (CNRS) at the University of Aix-Marseille in France, said: “This is the first time we’ve seen a virus that’s still infectious after this length of time.”
The ancient pathogen was discovered buried 30m (100ft) down in the frozen ground.
Called Pithovirus sibericum, it belongs to a class of giant viruses that were discovered 10 years ago.
These are all so large that, unlike other viruses, they can be seen under a microscope. And this one, measuring 1.5 micrometres in length, is the biggest that has ever been found.
The last time it infected anything was more than 30,000 years ago, but in the laboratory it has sprung to life once again.
Excerpt from the 2014 paper **
Abstract“Neuroreductionism” is the tendency to reduce complex mental phenomena to brainstates, confusing correlation for physical causation. In this paper, we illustrate thedangers of this popular neuro-fallacy, by looking at an example drawn from the media: astory about “hypoactive sexual desire disorder” in women. We discuss the role of folkdualism in perpetuating such a confusion, and draw some conclusions about the role of“brain scans” in our understanding of romantic love.* * *There has been a surge of interest in recent years in “the neuroscience of love.” Bylooking at images of people’s brains when they are gazing pictures of their romantic partner, forexample, and comparing those against images of the same people looking at pictures of aplatonic friend, scientists have begun to construct a picture of “what is going on in our brains”when we we’re in love. They’re also starting to identify a number of brain chemicals—such asoxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin—that seem to play in role in whether and how we formromantic and other social attachments.For some people, this research is exciting—opening upnew frontiers for how we understand some of our most basic human experiences. For others, it’sa little bit unsettling. Doesn’t it suggest that “love”—our most prized and mysterious emotion—is really just a bunch of stupid brain chemicals swirling around in our skulls?The answer is yes and no.At one level of description,everything that we experience,from, yes, falling in love, to, say, getting a stomach ache after eating a burrito, is (at least in principle) explainable in terms of microscopic events playing out between our neurons. But there are many different levels of description—including psychological, social, cultural, and even philosophical—that are just as important if we want to have a more complete understanding ofthe sorts of things that matter to us in our daily existence.“Brain chemicals” only get us so far…….***
From the May 2014 article
…A study from Nigeria published last year found 64% of students believed that wearing glasses can damage eyes. Research in the Indian state of Karnataka put the figure at 30%, and in Pakistan 69% of people feel the same way. In Brazil, even medical staff believed that your eyes would gradually get weaker as a consequence of wearing glasses. Is there any evidence to suggest they are right?
There are, of course, two very different reasons why people wear glasses – short-sightedness, or myopia, where things in the distance are blurry; and long-sightedness, or hyperopia, where you can’t focus on things close up. Long-sightedness is often age-related: many people begin noticing in their 40-50s that it’s difficult to read in low lighting. As we age the lenses in our eyes gradually stiffen, making it harder to adjust to different distances. When people get to the stage where their arms aren’t long enough to hold a book or menu far enough away to focus on the text, they opt for reading glasses.
What’s surprising is how few trials have been conducted on the prolonged effect of wearing glasses. And from what we know there’s no persuasive evidence that wearing reading glasses affects your eyesight….
From the 13 April 2004 article
….such claims are inaccurate on two counts: DEHA is not used in the manufacture of PET bottles (nor is it created through the breakdown of such bottles), and DEHA is not classified as a human carcinogen:DEHA is neither regulated nor classified as a human carcinogen by the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration, the National Toxicology Program or the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the leading authorities on carcinogenic substances.
In 1991, on the basis of very limited data, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classified DEHA as a “possible human carcinogen.” However, in 1995, EPA again evaluated the science and concluded that ” … overall, the evidence is too limited to establish that DEHA is likely to cause cancer.”
Further, DEHA is not inherent in PET as a raw material, byproduct or decomposition product.
Moreover, DEHA has been cleared by FDA for food-contact applications and would not pose a health risk even if it were present.
Finally, in June 2003, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research conducted a scientific study of migration in new and reused plastic water bottles from three countries. The Swiss study did not find DEHA at concentrations significantly above the background levels detected in distilled water, indicating DEHA was unlikely to have migrated from the bottles. The study concluded that the levels of DEHA were distinctly below the World Health Organization guidelines for safe drinking water.
The American Cancer Society also debunked such claims, stating:In fact, DEHA is not inherent in the plastic used to make these bottles, and even if it was the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says DEHA “cannot reasonably be anticipated to cause cancer, teratogenic effects, immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity, gene mutations, liver, kidney, reproductive, or developmental toxicity or other serious or irreversible chronic health effects.” Meanwhile, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), says diethylhexyl adipate “is not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans.”
As for the notion that freezing water in plastic bottles releases dioxin, the American Chemical Council asserted:There simply is no scientific basis to support the claim that PET bottles will release dioxin when frozen. Dioxins are a family of chemical compounds that are produced by combustion at extremely high temperatures. They can only be formed at temperatures well above 700 degrees Fahrenheit; they cannot be formed at room temperature or in freezing temperatures. Moreover, there is no reasonable scientific basis for expecting dioxins to be present in plastic food or beverage containers in the first place.
Johns Hopkins researcher Dr. Rolf Halden also said of such claims that:Q: What do you make of this recent email warning that claims dioxins can be released by freezing water in plastic bottles?
A: This is an urban legend. There are no dioxins in plastics. In addition, freezing actually works against the release of chemicals. Chemicals do not diffuse as readily in cold temperatures, which would limit chemical release if there were dioxins in plastic, and we don’t think there are.
Dr. Halden did note that drinking water from plastic bottles that had been exposed to high temperatures could be problematic, though:There is another group of chemicals, called phthalates that are sometimes added to plastics to make them flexible and less brittle. Phthalates are environmental contaminants that can exhibit hormone-like behavior by acting as endocrine disruptors in humans and animals. If you heat up plastics, you could increase the leaching of phthalates from the containers into water and food.
Another common type of plastic bottle is made with bisphenol A, also known as BPA. These products are typically rigid plastic bottles intended for multiple re-use, such as baby bottles or water bottles carried by cyclists. Concerns about tests that may link BPA ingestion with cancer and reproductive damage in some animals and the possibility that BPA could leach out of plastic bottles and into the liquids they contain has led to bans on the use of BPA in plastic products intended for children (such as baby bottles), and has prompted some consumers to seek out non-BPA alternatives.
Read more at http://www.snopes.com/medical/toxins/plasticbottles.asp#uD3X2UPBl0L8LhsG.99
From the Director’s comments
Jerome Groopman, M.D., Harvard University Medical School, notes there is recent clinical evidence regarding marijuana’s health risks, benefits, tradeoffs, as well as uncertainties. Dr. Groopman, who often writes about biology, health, and medicine for lay audiences, adds the supporting evidence on all sides is important in view of current efforts to make marijuana legal for medicinal and/or recreational use across the U.S.
Currently, marijuana is available for medicinal use in 20 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Colorado now permits the sale of marijuana for recreational use (in small quantities). The state of Washington also will permit the sale of marijuana (or cannabis) for recreational use (also in small quantities) for the first time this spring.
Dr. Groopman, an internist, reports two systematic reviews (involving about 6,100 patients with a variety of medical conditions) suggest marijuana is useful to treat a number of diseases and conditions including: anorexia, nausea and vomiting, glaucoma, and irritable bowel disease. Marijuana also is clinically useful to treat: muscle spasticity, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, Tourette’s syndrome, and symptoms of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).
However, Dr. Groopman emphasizes there is a tradeoff of health risks versus benefits from marijuana use — similar to other medical drugs and procedures. For example, he notes current evidence suggests marijuana’s clinical risks include: decreased reaction time, reduced attention and concentration, a decline in short term memory, and an ability to assess external risks.
Dr. Groopman, who is a member of the Institute of Medicine, adds one study found marijuana impaired the performance of pilots on a flight simulator for as much as 24 hours. Similarly, Dr. Groopman notes studies on drivers suggest a strong association between cannabis and collisions. He adds research suggests drivers who use marijuana are two to seven times more likely to be responsible for accidents compared to motorists who do not use drugs or alcohol.
In addition, Dr. Groopman reports some evidence suggests a statistical association between marijuana use and the development of schizophrenia and other psychosis later in life. Dr. Groopman reports these findings are based on meta-analyses (from studies of the health records of young persons in Sweden, New Zealand, and Holland, who did and did not smoke marijuana).
Dr. Groopman explains the latter research does not suggest there is a causal link between marijuana use and psychosis’ development. Dr. Groopman, who has published five books about health and medicine, argues the state of current evidence suggests a need for more definitive research (via double blind, randomized, placebo-controlled approaches) to better assess the possible relationship between marijuana and psychosis’ development.
Moreover, Dr. Groopman notes there is some evidence that marijuana is associated with possible addiction and compulsive cravings that foster user dependence. Nevertheless, he reports other street drugs, such as cocaine or heroin, seem to retain comparatively higher risks of user addiction and dependence than marijuana.
Dr. Groopman continues the current evidence is somewhat equivocal about marijuana’s impact on pain reduction. He writes (and we quote): “While chronic pain seems amenable to amelioration by marijuana, its impact on reducing acute pain, such as after surgery, is minimal’ (end of quote).
Overall, Dr. Groopman explains if the arguments of marijuana’s critics and supporters are assessed through a clinical research perspective, some positions may not be supported by a robust evidence-base, some positions may be one-dimensional, and others might or might not be sustained. He concludes (and we quote): ‘.. as more studies are conducted on marijuana for medical or recreational uses, opponents and enthusiasts may both discover that they were neither entirely right nor entirely wrong’ (end of quote).
The essay, which includes a review of recent books about marijuana’s health risks and benefits, can be found at: nybooks.com.
Meanwhile, a website (from the National Institute on Drug Abuse) devoted to the topic whether marijuana is or is not medicine is available in the ‘related issues’ section of MedlinePlus.gov’s marijuana health topic page. Some tips for parents about teen and adult marijuana use (also from the National Institute on Drug Abuse) are found in the ‘overviews’ section of MedlinePlus.gov’s marijuana health topic page.
MedlinePlus.gov’s marijuana health topic page also provides links to the latest pertinent journal research articles, which are available in the ‘journal articles’ section. Links to relevant clinical trials that may be occurring in your area are available in the ‘clinical trials’ section. You can sign up to receive updates about marijuana and health as they become available on MedlinePlus.gov.
To find MedlinePlus.gov’s marijuana topic page type ‘marijuana’ in the search box on MedlinePlus.gov’s home page. Then, click on ‘marijuana (National Library of Medicine).’ MedlinePlus.gov also has health topic pages on drug abuse and substance abuse problems.
WASHINGTON, April 22, 2014 — Marijuana is in the headlines as more and more states legalize it for medicinal use or decriminalize it entirely. In the American Chemical Society’s (ACS’) newest Reactions video, we explain the chemistry behind marijuana’s high, and investigate what scientists are doing to ensure that legalized weed won’t send users on a bad trip. The video is available at http://youtu.be/4ukdUDCE56c
[Press release] The Lancet: Reducing just 6 risk factors could prevent 37 million deaths from chronic diseases over 15 years
Reducing or curbing just six modifiable risk factors—tobacco use, harmful alcohol use, salt intake, high blood pressure and blood sugar, and obesity—to globally-agreed target levels could prevent more than 37 million premature deaths over 15 years, from the four main non-communicable diseases (NCDs; cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory disease, cancers, and diabetes) according to new research published in The Lancet.
Worryingly, the findings indicate that not reaching these targets would result in 38.8 million deaths in 2025 from the four main NCDs, 10.5 million deaths more than the 28.3 million who died in 2010.
This is the first study to analyse the impact that reducing globally targeted risk factors will have on the UN’s 25×25 target to reduce premature deaths from NCDs by 25% relative to 2010 levels by 2025.
Using country-level data on deaths and risk factors and epidemiological models, Professor Majid Ezzati from Imperial College London, UK, and colleagues estimate the number of deaths that could be prevented between 2010 and 2025 by reducing the burden of each of the six risk factors to globally-agreed target levels—tobacco use (30% reduction and a more ambitious 50% reduction), alcohol use (10% reduction), salt intake (30% reduction), high blood pressure (25% reduction), and halting the rise in the prevalence of obesity and diabetes.
Overall, the findings suggest that meeting the targets for all six risk factors would reduce the risk of dying prematurely from the four main NCDs by 22% in men and 19% for women in 2025 compared to what they were in 2010. Worldwide, this improvement is equivalent to delaying or preventing at least 16 million deaths in people aged 30 years and 21 million in those aged 70 years or older over 15 years.
The authors predict that the largest benefits will come from reducing high blood pressure and tobacco use. They calculate that a more ambitious 50% reduction in prevalence of smoking by 2025, rather than the current target of 30%, would reduce the risk of dying prematurely by more than 24% in men and by 20% in women.
From the April news article
Common edible flowers in China are rich in phenolics and have excellent antioxidant capacity, research has shown. Edible flowers, which have been used in the culinary arts in China for centuries, are receiving renewed interest. Flowers can be used as an essential ingredient in a recipe, provide seasoning to a dish, or simply be used as a garnish. Some of these flowers contain phenolics that have been correlated with anti-inflammatory activity and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.
[News article] Marijuana use may increase heart complications in young, middle-aged adults — ScienceDaily
From the April report
Marijuana use may result in heart-related complications in young and middle-aged adults. Nearly 2 percent of the health complications from marijuana use reported were cardiovascular related. A quarter of these complications resulted in death, according to a study. Surveillance of marijuana-related reports of cardiovascular disorders should continue and more research needs to look at how marijuana use might trigger cardiovascular events, researchers say.
Originally posted on Full Text Reports...:
Source> Sutton Trust
Four in ten babies don’t develop the strong emotional bonds – what psychologists call “secure attachment” – with their parents that are crucial to success later in life. Disadvantaged children are more likely to face educational and behavioural problems when they grow older as a result, new Sutton Trust research finds today.
The review of international studies of attachment, Baby Bonds, by Sophie Moullin (Princeton University), Professor Jane Waldfogel (Colombia University and the London School of Economics) and Dr Liz Washbrook (University of Bristol), finds infants aged under three who do not form strong bonds with their mother or father are more likely to suffer from aggression, defiance and hyperactivity when they get older.
Novel study uncovers the way coughs and sneezes stay airborne for long distances.
The next time you feel a sneeze coming on, raise your elbow to cover up that multiphase turbulent buoyant cloud you’re about to expel.
That’s right: A novel study by MIT researchers shows that coughs and sneezes have associated gas clouds that keep their potentially infectious droplets aloft over much greater distances than previously realized.
“When you cough or sneeze, you see the droplets, or feel them if someone sneezes on you,” says John Bush, a professor of applied mathematics at MIT, and co-author of a new paper on the subject. “But you don’t see the cloud, the invisible gas phase. The influence of this gas cloud is to extend the range of the individual droplets, particularly the small ones.”
Indeed, the study finds, the smaller droplets that emerge in a cough or sneeze may travel five to 200 times further than they would if those droplets simply moved as groups of unconnected particles — which is what previous estimates had assumed. The tendency of these droplets to stay airborne, resuspended by gas clouds, means that ventilation systems may be more prone to transmitting potentially infectious particles than had been suspected.
With this in mind, architects and engineers may want to re-examine the design of workplaces and hospitals, or air circulation on airplanes, to reduce the chances of airborne pathogens being transmitted among people….
Originally posted on Health Services Authors:
As you know a part of my work consists to participate in studies based on the extraction from retrospective databases and the analysis of the informations thus retrieved. The eligibility of the beneficiaries to the provision that represents the study’s outcome is always a major concern. There is two explanations for a beneficiary not having access to a care according to the data retrieved from the reimbursement base: either a real lack of access or a non eligibility of the care for a record in the reimbursement data base (for example if the insured is covered by another insurance or has lost his coverage and has exited from the health plan)*. I have always to keep in mind that I work on secondary data which are only a reflection of the primary data the reality of which I try to apprehend.
The dilemma is pretty well addressed in this article:
View original 225 more words
[News item] Religion, spirituality influence health in different but complementary ways — ScienceDaily
March 28, 2014
Oregon State University
Religion and spirituality have distinct but complementary influences on health, new research indicates. A new theoretical model defines the two distinct pathways. “Religion helps regulate behavior and health habits, while spirituality regulates your emotions, how you feel,” explains one of the authors.
Disclaimer: My husband’s cousin developed diabetes after serving in Afghanistan. Diabetes did not run in the family nor did he have a lifestyle that predisposed him to this disease (in our opinion, of course). The VA did pay for his treatment, no questions asked.
Am thankful that research is being done to show just how war related chemicals, and even preventive agents are very harmful and deadly.
March 27, 2014
University of California, San Diego Health Sciences
Veterans of the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War who suffer from “Gulf War illness” have impaired function of mitochondria – the energy powerhouses of cells, researchers have demonstrated for the first time. The findings could help lead to new treatments benefitting affected individuals — and to new ways of protecting servicepersons (and civilians) from similar problems in the future.
Golomb noted that impaired mitochondrial function accounts for numerous features of Gulf War illness, including symptoms that have been viewed as perplexing or paradoxical.
“The classic presentation for mitochondrial illness involves multiple symptoms spanning many domains, similar to what we see in Gulf War illness. These classically include fatigue, cognitive and other brain-related challenges, muscle problems and exercise intolerance, with neurological and gastrointestinal problems also common.”
There are other similarities between patients with mitochondrial dysfunction and those suffering from Gulf War illness: Additional symptoms appear in smaller subsets of patients; varying patterns of symptoms and severity among individuals; different latency periods across symptoms, or times when symptoms first appear; routine blood tests that appear normal.
“Some have sought to ascribe Gulf War illness to stress,” said Golomb, “but stress has proven not to be an independent predictor of the condition. On the other hand, Gulf veterans are known to have been widely exposed to acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, a chemical class found in organophosphate and carbamate pesticides, nerve gas and nerve gas pre-treatment pills given to troops.
“These inhibitors have known mitochondrial toxicity and generally show the strongest and most consistent relationship to predicting Gulf War illness. Mitochondrial problems account for which exposures relate to Gulf War illness, which symptoms predominate, how Gulf War illness symptoms manifest themselves, what objective tests have been altered, and why routine blood tests have not been useful.”
Tel Aviv University research shows fat mass in cells expands with disuse
Over 35 percent of American adults and 17 percent of American children are considered obese, according to the latest survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Associated with diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and even certain types of cancer, obesity places a major burden on the health care system and economy. It’s usually treated through a combination of diet, nutrition, exercise, and other techniques.
To understand how obesity develops, Prof. Amit Gefen, Dr. Natan Shaked and Ms. Naama Shoham of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, together with Prof. Dafna Benayahu of TAU’s Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, used state-of-the-art technology to analyze the accumulation of fat in the body at the cellular level. According to their findings, nutrition is not the only factor driving obesity. The mechanics of “cellular expansion” plays a primary role in fat production, they discovered.
By exposing the mechanics of fat production at a cellular level, the researchers offer insight into the development of obesity. And with a better understanding of the process, the team is now creating a platform to develop new therapies and technologies to prevent or even reverse fat gain. The research was published this week in the Biophysical Journal.
Getting to the bottom of obesity
“Two years ago, Dafna and I were awarded a grant from the Israel Science Foundation to investigate how mechanical forces increase the fat content within fat cells. We wanted to find out why a sedentary lifestyle results in obesity, other than making time to eat more hamburgers,” said Prof. Gefen. “We found that fat cells exposed to sustained, chronic pressure — such as what happens to the buttocks when you’re sitting down — experienced accelerated growth of lipid droplets, which are molecules that carry fats.
“Contrary to muscle and bone tissue, which get mechanically weaker with disuse, fat depots in fat cells expanded when they experienced sustained loading by as much as 50%. This was a substantial discovery.”
The researchers discovered that, once it accumulated lipid droplets, the structure of a cell and its mechanics changed dramatically. Using a cutting-edge atomic force microscope and other microscopy technologies, they were able to observe the material composition of the transforming fat cell, which became stiffer as it expanded. This stiffness alters the environment of surrounding cells by physically deforming them, pushing them to change their own shape and composition.
“When they gain mass and change their composition, expanding cells deform neighboring cells, forcing them to differentiate and expand,” said Prof. Gefen. “This proves that you’re not just what you eat. You’re also what you feel — and what you’re feeling is the pressure of increased weight and the sustained loading in the tissues of the buttocks of the couch potato.”
The more you know …
“If we understand the etiology of getting fatter, of how cells in fat tissues synthesize nutritional components under a given mechanical loading environment, then we can think about different practical solutions to obesity,” Prof. Gefen says. “If you can learn to control the mechanical environment of cells, you can then determine how to modulate the fat cells to produce less fat.”
The team hopes that its observations can serve as a point of departure for further research into the changing cellular environment and different stimulations that lead to increased fat production.
HUNTSVILLE, TX (3/20/14) — Parents who use alcohol, marijuana, and drugs have higher frequencies of children who pick up their habits, according to a study from Sam Houston State University.
The study, “Intergenerational Continuity of Substance Use,” found that when compared to parents who did not use substances, parents who used alcohol, marijuana, and other illicit drugs were significantly more likely to have children who used those same drugs. Specifically, the odds of children’s alcohol use were five times higher if their parents used alcohol; the odds of children’s marijuana use were two times higher if their parents used marijuana; and the odds of children’s other drug use were two times higher if their parent used other drugs. Age and other demographic factors also were important predictors of substance use.
“The study is rare in that it assesses the extent to which parent’s substance use predicts use by their children within age-equivalent and developmentally-specific stages of the life course,” said Dr. Kelly Knight of the College Criminal Justice’s Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology. “If a parent uses drugs, will their children grow up and use drugs? When did the parent use and when did their children use? There appears to be an intergenerational relationship. The effect is not as strong as one might believe from popular discourse, but when you measure it by developmental stage, it can provide important information on its impact in adolescence and early adulthood, specifically.”
The study examined the patterns of substance use by families over a 27-year period. It documents substance use over time, giving a more complete understanding of when substance use occurs, when it declines, and the influence of parents in the process.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2011, about 22.6 million Americans age 12 years and older said they used illicit drugs in the last month. Other studies show that drug use is associated with reduced academic achievement, lower employment rates, poorer health, dependency on public assistance, neighborhood disorganization, and an increase in the likelihood of involvement in crime, criminal victimization and incarceration. The cost of drug use in this country from lost productivity, healthcare, and criminal justice is nearly $600 billion.
By plotting the life course of substance use within families, the study may be a valuable tool for the development of intervention programs. The study suggests that if substance use can be curtailed in adolescence, it may help to curb its prevalence in future generations.
The study also helps pinpoint the use of different illicit substances over the span of a lifetime, including its emergence in adolescence and when that use may decline. For example, marijuana and other drug use is most prevalent in adolescence and generally declines before or at age 24. Alcohol use continues to increase throughout adolescence and young adulthood, and then remains relatively steady over the lifetime.
These findings come from the National Youth Survey Family Study, which has collected data from three generations over a 27-year period. The analysis is based on 655 parents and 1,227 offspring from 1977 to 2004.
Addictive behavior such as drug and alcohol abuse could be associated with poor development of the so-called “love hormone” system in our bodies during early childhood, according to researchers at the University of Adelaide. The groundbreaking idea has resulted from a review of worldwide research into oxytocin, known as the “love hormone” or “bonding drug” because of its important role in enhancing social interactions, maternal behavior and partnership. This month’s special edition of the international journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior deals with the current state of research linking oxytocin and addiction, and has been guest edited by Dr Femke Buisman-Pijlman from the University of Adelaide’s School of Medical Sciences. Dr Buisman-Pijlman, who has a background in both addiction studies and family studies, says some people’s lack of resilience to addictive behaviors may be linked to poor development of their oxytocin systems.
“We know that newborn babies already have levels of oxytocin in their bodies, and this helps to create the all-important bond between a mother and her child. But our oxytocin systems aren’t fully developed when we’re born – they don’t finish developing until the age of three, which means our systems are potentially subject to a range of influences both external and internal,” Dr Buisman-Pijlman says. She says the oxytocin system develops mainly based on experiences. “The main factors that affect our oxytocin systems are genetics, gender and environment. You can’t change the genes you’re born with, but environmental factors play a substantial role in the development of the oxytocin system until our systems are fully developed,” Dr Buisman-Pijlman says. IMAGE: This photo shows Dr. Femke Buisman-Pijlman from the University of Adelaide. She is the guest editor of the April 2014 edition of Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior, which is focused on… Click here for more information. “Previous research has shown that there is a high degree of variability in people’s oxytocin levels. We’re interested in how and why people have such differences in oxytocin, and what we can do about it to have a beneficial impact on people’s health and wellbeing,” she says. She says studies show that some risk factors for drug addiction already exist at four years of age. “And because the hardware of the oxytocin system finishes developing in our bodies at around age three, this could be a critical window to study. Oxytocin can reduce the pleasure of drugs and feeling of stress, but only if the system develops well.” Her theory is that adversity in early life is key to the impaired development of the oxytocin system. “This adversity could take the form of a difficult birth, disturbed bonding or abuse, deprivation, or severe infection, to name just a few factors,” Dr Buisman-Pijlman says. “Understanding what occurs with the oxytocin system during the first few years of life could help us to unravel this aspect of addictive behavior and use that knowledge for treatment and prevention.”
DALLAS, March 16, 2014 — Honey, that delectable condiment for breads and fruits, could be one sweet solution to the serious, ever-growing problem of bacterial resistance to antibiotics, researchers said here today.
Medical professionals sometimes use honey successfully as a topical dressing, but it could play a larger role in fighting infections, the researchers predicted. Their study was part of the 247th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society.
The meeting, attended by thousands of scientists, features more than 10,000 reports on new advances in science and other topics. It is being held at the Dallas Convention Center and area hotels through Thursday.
“The unique property of honey lies in its ability to fight infection on multiple levels, making it more difficult for bacteria to develop resistance,” said study leader Susan M. Meschwitz, Ph.D. That is, it uses a combination of weapons, including hydrogen peroxide, acidity, osmotic effect, high sugar concentration and polyphenols — all of which actively kill bacterial cells, she explained. The osmotic effect, which is the result of the high sugar concentration in honey, draws water from the bacterial cells, dehydrating and killing them.
In addition, several studies have shown that honey inhibits the formation of biofilms, or communities of slimy disease-causing bacteria, she said. “Honey may also disrupt quorum sensing, which weakens bacterial virulence, rendering the bacteria more susceptible to conventional antibiotics,” Meschwitz said. Quorum sensing is the way bacteria communicate with one another, and may be involved in the formation of biofilms. In certain bacteria, this communication system also controls the release of toxins, which affects the bacteria’s pathogenicity, or their ability to cause disease.
Meschwitz, who is with Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I., said another advantage of honey is that unlike conventional antibiotics, it doesn’t target the essential growth processes of bacteria. The problem with this type of targeting, which is the basis of conventional antibiotics, is that it results in the bacteria building up resistance to the drugs.
Honey is effective because it is filled with healthful polyphenols, or antioxidants, she said. These include the phenolic acids, caffeic acid, p-coumaric acid and ellagic acid, as well as many flavonoids. “Several studies have demonstrated a correlation between the non-peroxide antimicrobial and antioxidant activities of honey and the presence of honey phenolics,” she added. A large number of laboratory and limited clinical studies have confirmed the broad-spectrum antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties of honey, according to Meschwitz.
She said that her team also is finding that honey has antioxidant properties and is an effective antibacterial. “We have run standard antioxidant tests on honey to measure the level of antioxidant activity,” she explained. “We have separated and identified the various antioxidant polyphenol compounds. In our antibacterial studies, we have been testing honey’s activity against E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, among others.”
March 19, 2014
American Heart Association
Kids whose parents are demanding but not emotionally responsive are about one-third more likely to be obese than kids whose parents set healthy boundaries, are affectionate and discuss behavior. Researchers compared kids whose parents are generally affectionate, have reasonable discussions about behavior with their child and set healthy boundaries (authoritative) with those whose parents were strict about limits without much dialogue or affection (authoritarian).
[News story] Commonly used pain relievers have added benefit of fighting bacterial infection — ScienceDaily
Some commonly used drugs that combat aches and pains, fever, and inflammation are also thought to have the ability to kill bacteria. New research reveals that these drugs, better known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, act on bacteria in a way that is fundamentally different from current antibiotics. The discovery could open up new strategies for fighting drug-resistant infections and ‘superbugs.’
“We discovered that some anti-inflammatory drugs used in human and veterinary medicine have weak antibiotic activity and that they exert this secondary activity by preventing bacteria from copying their DNA, which they need to do in order to multiply,” explains senior author Dr. Aaron Oakley of the University of Wollongong, in Australia. The researchers analyzed three NSAIDs: bromofenac, carprofen, and vedaprofen. The more commonly known NSAIDs, which include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, were not tested.
Originally posted on robertbyron22:
A nice introduction to probability, using an important example. [h/t Sobering Thoughts] Posted as another example of public health in action for Lexi who is considering a major in the topic, but thinks she is done with math.
I remember when the BRCA genes were discovered and first used in screening for cancer. Estimates were that approximately 10 times the number of the women who could possibly have developed breast cancer chose to have mastectomies. Many of these were undoubtedly prophylactic surgeries, but still … Now the test is recommended to be used in the context of family histories, rather than in testing the general population. Here is a current factsheet from the National Cancer Institute:
Who should consider genetic testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations?
Because harmful BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations are relatively rare in the general population, most experts agree that mutation testing of individuals…
View original 223 more words
Originally posted on Public Health View:
Low protein consumption in middle age and moderate to high consumption in older adults works best for health and longevity, researchers said in a new study. Adverse effects of proteins were mostly due to animal proteins rather than plant-based proteins, they added.
The study, which included over 6,000 participants aged 50 and above, found that those aged 50-65 reporting high-protein diets had a 75% higher risk of death and 4 times the risk of cancer death than those who did not. Conversely, it found that this risk turned into a protective effect for those who were 65 and older. These older individuals had a lower risk of death overall and death from cancer if they consumed more proteins.
Both adult groups, however, were 5 times more at risk of death from diabetes if their lifestyle included a high-protein diet.
Also, when animal-based…
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Excerpts from the 21 February 2014 article
The bacteria in our guts can influence the working of the mind, says Frank Swain. So could they be upgraded to enhance brainpower?
I have some startling news: you are not human. At least, by some counts. While you are indeed made up of billions of human cells working in remarkable concert, these are easily outnumbered by the bacterial cells that live on and in you – your microbiome. There are ten of them for every one of your own cells, and they add an extra two kilograms (4.4lbs) to your body.
Far from being freeloading passengers, many of these microbes actively help digest food and prevent infection. And now evidence is emerging that these tiny organisms may also have a profound impact on the brain too. They are a living augmentation of your body – and like any enhancement, this means they could, in principle, be upgraded. So, could you hack your microbiome to make yourself healthier, happier, and smarter too?
“Diet is perhaps the biggest factor in shaping the composition of the microbiome,” he says. A study by University College Cork researcherspublished in Nature in 2012 followed 200 elderly people over the course of two years, as they transitioned into different environments such as nursing homes. The researchers found that their subjects’ health – frailty, cognition, and immune system – all correlated with their microbiome. From bacterial population alone, researchers could tell if a patient was a long-stay patient in a nursing home, or short-stay, or living in the general community. These changes were a direct reflection of their diet in these different environments. “A diverse diet gives you a diverse microbiome that gives you a better health outcome,” says Cryan.
Beyond a healthy and varied diet, though, it still remains to be discovered whether certain food combinations could alter the microbiome to produce a cognitive boost. In fact, Cryan recommends that claims from probiotic supplements of brain-boosting ought to be taken with a pinch of salt for now. “Unless the studies have been done, one can assume they’re not going to have any effect on mental health,” he says. Still, he’s optimistic about the future. “The field right now is evolving very strongly and quickly. There’s a lot of important research to be done. It’s still early days.”
Review article highlights lack of strong research about addictive nature of viewing sexual images
Journalists and psychologists are quick to describe someone as being a porn “addict,” yet there’s no strong scientific research that shows such addictions actually exists. Slapping such labels onto the habit of frequently viewing images of a sexual nature only describes it as a form of pathology. These labels ignore the positive benefits it holds. So says David Ley, PhD, a clinical psychologist in practice in Albuquerque, NM, and Executive Director of New Mexico Solutions, a large behavioral health program. Dr. Ley is the author of a review article about the so-called “pornography addiction model,” which is published in Springer’s journal Current Sexual Health Reports.
“Pornography addiction” was not included in the recently revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual because of a lack of scientific data. Fewer than two in every five research articles (37 percent) about high frequency sexual behavior describe it as being an addiction. Only 27 percent (13 of 49) of articles on the subject contained actual data, while only one related psychophysiological study appeared in 2013. Ley’s review article highlights the poor experimental designs, methodological rigor and lack of model specification of most studies surrounding it.
The research actually found very little evidence – if any at all – to support some of the purported negative side effects of porn “addiction.” There was no sign that use of pornography is connected to erectile dysfunction, or that it causes any changes to the brains of users. Also, despite great furor over the effects of childhood exposure to pornography, the use of sexually explicit material explains very little of the variance in adolescents’ behaviors. These are better explained and predicted by other individual and family variables.
Instead, Ley and his team believe that the positive benefits attached to viewing such images do not make it problematic de facto. It can improve attitudes towards sexuality, increase the quality of life and variety of sexual behaviors and increase pleasure in long-term relationships. It provides a legal outlet for illegal sexual behaviors or desires, and its consumption or availability has been associated with a decrease in sex offenses, especially child molestation.
Clinicians should be aware that people reporting “addiction” are likely to be male, have a non-heterosexual orientation, have a high libido, tend towards sensation seeking and have religious values that conflict with their sexual behavior and desires. They may be using visually stimulating images to cope with negative emotional states or decreased life satisfaction.
“We need better methods to help people who struggle with the high frequency use of visual sexual stimuli, without pathologizing them or their use thereof,” writes Ley, who is critical about the pseudoscientific yet lucrative practices surrounding the treatment of so-called porn addiction. “Rather than helping patients who may struggle to control viewing images of a sexual nature, the ‘porn addiction’ concept instead seems to feed an industry with secondary gain from the acceptance of the idea.”###
Reference: Ley, D. et al. (2014). The Emperor Has No Clothes: A Review of the “Pornography Addiction” Model, Current Sexual Health Reports. DOI 10.1007/s11930-014-0016-8.
The full text article and interviews are available to journalists upon request.
Contact: Alexander Brown | Springer | tel.: +1 212.620.8063 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Biologists have shown in rats that chronic stress makes stem cells in the brain produce more myelin-producing cells and fewer neurons, possibly affecting the speed of connections between cells as well as memory and learning. This could explain why stress leads to mental illness, such as PTSD, anxiety and mood disorders, later in life.…
Does stress affect brain connectivity?
Kaufer’s findings suggest a mechanism that may explain some changes in brain connectivity in people with PTSD, for example. One can imagine, she said, that PTSD patients could develop a stronger connectivity between the hippocampus and the amygdala — the seat of the brain’s fight or flight response — and lower than normal connectivity between the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, which moderates our responses.
“You can imagine that if your amygdala and hippocampus are better connected, that could mean that your fear responses are much quicker, which is something you see in stress survivors,” she said. “On the other hand, if your connections are not so good to the prefrontal cortex, your ability to shut down responses is impaired. So, when you are in a stressful situation, the inhibitory pathways from the prefrontal cortex telling you not to get stressed don’t work as well as the amygdala shouting to the hippocampus, ‘This is terrible!’ You have a much bigger response than you should.”
Stress tweaks stem cells
Kaufer’s lab, which conducts research on the molecular and cellular effects of acute and chronic stress, focused in this study on neural stem cells in the hippocampus of the brains of adult rats. These stem cells were previously thought to mature only into neurons or a type of glial cell called an astrocyte. The researchers found, however, that chronic stress also made stem cells in the hippocampus mature into another type of glial cell called an oligodendrocyte, which produces the myelin that sheaths nerve cells.
The fact that chronic stress also decreases the number of stem cells that mature into neurons could provide an explanation for how chronic stress also affects learning and memory, she said.
Kaufer is now conducting experiments to determine how stress in infancy affects the brain’s white matter, and whether chronic early-life stress decreases resilience later in life. She also is looking at the effects of therapies, ranging from exercise to antidepressant drugs, that reduce the impact of stress and stress hormones.
[Press release] NIH to partner with biopharmaceutical companies and nonprofits to diagnose/treat diseases
The Accelerating Medicines Partnership (AMP) is a bold new venture between the NIH, 10 biopharmaceutical companies and several non-profit organizations to transform the current model for developing new diagnostics and treatments by jointly identifying and validating promising biological targets of disease. The ultimate goal is to increase the number of new diagnostics and therapies for patients and reduce the time and cost of developing them.
[At the risk of breaking copyright, this came via Twitter]
AMP will begin with three to five year pilot projects in three disease areas:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- type 2 diabetes
- autoimmune disorders of rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus)
For each pilot, scientists from NIH and industry have developed research plans aimed at characterizing effective molecular indicators of disease called biomarkers and distinguishing biological targets most likely to respond to new therapies.
Through this cross-sector partnership, which will be managed through the Foundation for the NIH (FNIH), NIH and industry partners are sharing expertise and resources — $230 million — in an integrated governance structure that enables the best informed contributions to science from all participants. A critical component of the partnership is that industry partners have agreed to make the AMP data and analyses publicly accessible to the broad biomedical community. These pilot projects will set the stage for broadening AMP to other diseases and conditions.
Government Industry Non-Profit Organizations FDANIH AbbVieBiogen Idec
Johnson & Johnson
Alzheimer’s AssociationAmerican Diabetes Association
Lupus Foundation of America
Foundation for the NIH
Geoffrey Beene Foundation
Rheumatology Research Foundation
Budget: 5 years [$230 Million (Rounded) Total Project Funding]
($Millions) Total Project Total NIH Total Industry Alzheimer’s Disease 129.5 67.6 61.9 Type 2 Diabetes 58.4 30.4 28 Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lupus 41.6 20.9 20.7 Total 229.5 118.9 110.6
Major implications in concepts as free will, sin, justice, mental illness, government/medical “intervention”…..
AUSTIN, Texas — A new study correlating brain activity with how people make decisions suggests that when individuals engage in risky behavior, such as drunk driving or unsafe sex, it’s probably not because their brains’ desire systems are too active, but because their self-control systems are not active enough.
This might have implications for how health experts treat mental illness and addiction or how the legal system assesses a criminal’s likelihood of committing another crime.
Researchers from The University of Texas at Austin, UCLA and elsewhere analyzed data from 108 subjects who sat in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner — a machine that allows researchers to pinpoint brain activity in vivid, three-dimensional images — while playing a video game that simulates risk-taking.
The researchers used specialized software to look for patterns of activity across the whole brain that preceded a person’s making a risky choice or a safe choice in one set of subjects. Then they asked the software to predict what other subjects would choose during the game based solely on their brain activity. The software accurately predicted people’s choices 71 percent of the time.
“These patterns are reliable enough that not only can we predict what will happen in an additional test on the same person, but on people we haven’t seen before,” said Russell Poldrack, director of UT Austin’s Imaging Research Center and professor of psychology and neuroscience.
One way to address the growing heroin epidemic? Address lifestyle and environment components.
Certainly would be a public health way to stem folks dependence on substances that can often diminish quality of life and death.
From the 4 January 2014 Science Daily article (read the entire article at this link)
Researchers have discovered that sensitivity to pain could be altered by a person’s lifestyle and environment throughout their lifetime. The study is the first to find that pain sensitivity, previously thought to be relatively inflexible, can change as a result of genes being switched on or off by lifestyle and environmental factors — a process called epigenetics, which chemically alters the expression of genes.
This news release is available in German.
IMAGE: A biopsy punch arranges the biopolymer substrate into the appropriate shape (left). Cells then colonize these circular discs in cell culture vessels (right).
It all began with the pancreas. Prof. Charli Kruse, head of the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Marine Biotechnology EMB in Lübeck, still remembers it well. The researchers had isolated some cells taken from the organ in a petri dish as part of their research – their aim was to investigate the function of the protein Vigilin, which is produced in the gland cells. “Suddenly we realized that these cells were reproducing in an unusual way, since the microscope showed not only gland cells in the dish but nerve and muscle cells, too.” Stem cells had formed out of the gland tissue and multiplied to form a variety of different cells. It quickly became apparent that other gland cells shared the same capability: “We slowly worked our way outward from the internal organs until we got to the skin – and the sweat glands. Again, this yielded the same result: a petri dish full of stem cells.” Up to now the sweat glands haven’t really received much attention since laboratory animals such as mice or rats have them only on their paws. A human being, on the other hand, possesses up to three million – predominantly on the soles of the feet, palms of the hand, armpits and forehead.
Healing stem cells obtained from the armpit
Biologists and medics use stem cells to obtain new tissue to replace cells that are damaged or diseased. They play a particularly important role in healing wounds. Stem cells taken from the patient’s own body are ideal because there is no chance of the body rejecting them. Getting at them, however, requires a cumbersome operation to extract the stem cells either from bone marrow or from the blood. “The sweat glands are significantly easier to get to. All that is required is a short walk-in walk-out visit to your dermatologist. We can obtain stem cells from less than 3 millimeters of underarm skin,” explains Kruse. When grafted to a skin injury, these stem cells can have a very beneficial effect on the healing process. Whether it is the cells themselves that build new skin cells and blood vessels or whether their role is to manage healing processes by releasing growth hormones that in turn activate immune cells is currently undergoing investigation.
Tests conducted by the scientists on animals and on human skin in the petri dish have demonstrated the beneficial effect of stem cells in healing injuries.
From the 25 October 2013 blog item by James Coyne, PhD at PLoS Blogs (Public Library of Medicine)
Is advertising a psychotherapy as “evidence supported,” any less vacuous than “Pepsi’s the one”? A lot of us would hope so, having campaigned for rigorous scientific evaluation of psychotherapies in randomized controlled trials (RCTs), just as is routinely done with drugs and medical devices in Evidence-based Medicine (EBM). We have also insisted on valid procedures for generating, integrating, and evaluating evidence and have exposed efforts that fall short. We have been fully expecting that some therapies would emerge as strongly supported by evidence, while others would be found less so, and some even harmful.
Some of us now despair about the value of this labeling or worry that the process of identifying therapies as evidence supported has been subverted into something very different than we envisioned. Disappointments and embarrassments in the branding of psychotherapies as evidence supported are mounting. A pair of what could be construed as embarrassments will be discussed in this blog.
Websites such as those at American Psychological Association Division 12 Clinical Psychology and SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices offer labeling of specific psychotherapies as evidence supported. These websites are careful to indicate that a listing does not constitute an endorsement. For instance, the APA division 12 website declares
This website is for informational and educational purposes. It does not represent the official policy of Division 12 or the American Psychological Association, nor does it render individual professional advice or endorse any particular treatment.
Readers can be forgiven for thinking otherwise, particularly when such websites provide links to commercial sites that unabashedly promote the therapies with commercial products such as books, training videos, and workshops. There is lots of money to be made, and the appearance of an endorsement is coveted. Proponents of particular therapies are quick to send studies claiming positive findings to the committees deciding on listings with the intent of getting them acknowledged on these websites.
But now may be the time to begin some overdue reflection on how the label of evidence supported practice gets applied and whether there is something fundamentally wrong with the criteria.
Now you see it, now, you don’t: “Strong evidence” for the efficacy of acceptance and commitment therapy for psychosis
On September 3, 2012 the APA Division 12 website announced a rating of “strong evidence” for the efficacy of acceptance and commitment therapy for psychosis. I was quite skeptical. I posted links on Facebook and Twitter to a series of blog posts (1, 2, 3) in which I had previously debunked the study claiming to demonstrate that a few sessions of ACT significantly reduced rehospitalization of psychotic patients.
From the 27 January 2014 ScienceDaily article
“These studies have revealed that single gene mutations can alter the ability of an organism to utilize a specific diet. In humans, small differences in a person’s genetic makeup that change how well these genes function, could explain why certain diets work for some but not others,” said Curran, corresponding author of the study and assistant professor with joint appointments in the USC Davis School of Gerontology, the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, and the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
Curran and Pang studied Caenorhabditis elegans, a one-milimeter-long worm that scientists have used as a model organism since the ’70s. Decades of tests have shown that genes in C. elegans are likely to be mirrored in humans while its short lifespan allows scientists to do aging studies on it.
In this study, Curran and Pang identified a gene called alh-6, which delayed the effects of aging depending on what type of diet the worm was fed by protecting it against diet-induced mitochondrial defects.
“This gene is remarkably well-conserved from single celled yeast all the way up to mammals, which suggests that what we have learned in the worm could translate to a better understanding of the factors that alter diet success in humans,” Curran said.
Future work will focus on identifying what contributes to dietary success or failure, and whether these factors explain why specific diets don’t work for everyone. This could be the start of personalized dieting based on an individual’s genetic makeup, according to Curran.
“We hope to uncover ways to enhance the use of any dietary program and perhaps even figure out ways of overriding the system(s) that prevent the use of one diet in certain individuals,” he said.
From the 27 January 2014 article at ScienceDaily
Source:University of California – San FranciscoSummary:A new analysis of animal studies on cholesterol-lowering statins found that non-industry studies had results that favored the drugs even more than studies funded by industry.new analysis of animal studies on cholesterol-lowering statins by UC San Francisco researchers found that non-industry studies had results that favored the drugs even more than studies funded by industry.
The analysis of 63 animal studies of statins, led by Lisa Bero, PhD, UCSF professor clinical pharmacy, was published online January 21, 2014, in the scientific journal PLoS Biology.
In previous studies, Bero determined that drug-company-sponsored clinical trials were associated with publication of outcomes that favor the sponsor. Bero’s work has been cited as part of policy reform efforts that have led many journal publishers, agencies and institutions to require researchers to disclose funding sources and possible conflicts of interest when presenting their research.
The impetus for the current study, Bero said, was to explore whether or not industry-funded animal studies also would be likely to yield more positive outcomes for the companies’ drug candidates.
But in their analysis the researchers found the opposite: Results of animal studies that had industry sponsorship were less likely to measure a benefit for statins in slowing or preventing arterial disease. Of the studies that disclosed funding, 9 of 19 industry-sponsored studies had results that favored statins, in comparison to 18 out of 28 studies that favored statins among studies not funded by industry.
The explanation may be, said Bero, that “the interests of the pharmaceutical industry might be best served by underestimating efficacy prior to clinical trials, and overestimating efficacy in clinical trials. By underestimating efficacy in preclinical studies, the pharmaceutical industry could reduce the money spent on clinical trials that did not lead to marketable products.”
“Because demonstrating drug efficacy in human studies is linked to drug company profits, drug companies may have more incentive to publish favorable efficacy findings of human drug studies than animal studies.”
However, the reason for the opposite findings obtained in analyzing animal and human studies merits additional investigation, Bero said. Selective reporting of study outcomes might play a role, she suggested.
Conclusions of all the studies tended to be favorable in Bero’s PLoS Biology analysis. While the industry-sponsored animal studies had somewhat less favorable results, they nonetheless were more likely to present conclusions that favored the statin even when data were less favorable. This result highlights the role of “spin” in communicating research findings, Bero said.
The UCSF researchers also found methodological problems to be common, both in non-industry and industry-sponsored studies. Furthermore, Bero found that harmful side effects were not investigated.
“Not a single animal study we looked at assessed adverse events following the statin intervention,” Bero said. “As toxicity data from animal studies must be submitted to drug regulatory authorities before a compound can proceed to testing in humans, it is surprising that so little data on harm appear in the published scientific literature.”
In about half the studies analyzed, it appeared that animals were not assigned to treatment or placebo arms of the study randomly, a requirement of high-quality clinical trials. Furthermore, in about half the animal studies analyzed animals were identifiable to the person assigning treatment, a violation of the practice of “blinding.”
Criteria for including or excluding animals from studies often were not included in published reports, the UCSF researchers found, and many studies also failed to account properly for changes in the assigned treatment arm that occurred during the course of treatment.
Most of the industry and non industry studies analyzed in Bero’s PLoS Biology report were done using rabbits and mice. To gauge atherosclerosis, targeted by statins, researchers quantified blood vessel qualities such as number of damaged blood vessels, blood-vessel diameter, plaque severity, blockage to coronary and other arteries, and plaque rupture.
From the 27 January 2014 Karolinski Institute press release
IMAGE: Professor Tibor Harkany has shown that the use of Cannabis during pregnancy endangers fetal brain development. The findings are presented online in the EMBO Journal in January 2014….
Click here for more information.An increasing number of children suffer from the consequences of maternal drug exposure during pregnancy, and Cannabis is one of the most frequently used substances. This motivated the study, published in the EMBO Journal, cunducted in mice and human brain tissue, to decipher the molecular basis of how the major psychoactive component from Cannabis called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC affects brain development of the unborn foetus.
The study highlights that consuming Cannabis during pregnancy clearly results in defective development of nerve cells of the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that orchestrates higher cognitive functions and drives memory formation. In particular, THC negatively impacts if and how the structural platform and conduit for communication between nerve cells, the synapses and axons, will develop and function. Researchers also identified Stathmin-2 as a key protein target for THC action, and its loss is characterized as a reason for erroneous nerve growth. It is stressed that Cannabis exposure in experimental models precisely coincided with the fetal period when nerve cells form connections amongst each other.
According to study leader Professor Tibor Harkany, who shares his time between Karolinska Institutet and the Medical University Vienna in Austria, these developmental deficits may evoke life-long modifications to the brain function of those affected. Even though not all children who have been exposed to Cannabis will suffer immediate and obvious deficits, Professor Harkany warns that relatively subtle damage can significantly increase the risk of delayed neuropsychiatric diseases.
“Even if THC only would cause small changes its effect may well be sufficient to sensitize the brain to later stressors or diseases to provoke neuropsychiatric illnesses in those affected in the future”, says Professor Harkany. “This concerns also the medical use of Cannabis, which should be avoided during pregnancy.”
From the January 22/29 2014 issue
The phrase evidence-based medicine (EBM) was coined by Gordon Guyatt1 and then appeared in an article in The Rational Clinical Examination series in JAMA in 1992,2 but the roots of EBM go much further back. The personal stories of the origins of EBM were recently explored in a filmed oral history of some of the individuals most strongly associated with the birth of the movement (see Video, Evidence-Based Medicine: An Oral History).
JAMA and the BMJ invited 6 individuals (including us, with one of us as host, R.S.) who have played a prominent part in the development of EBM to participate in an oral history event and filming. Videos of this event and of interviews with 3 other EBM leaders (Box) have been woven together and may be accessed athttp://ebm.jamanetwork.com. Just 20 years after the term EBM began to be used, an early and informal history has emerged.
Evidence-based medicine grew out of critical appraisal. When Gordon Guyatt, currently a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics and medicine at McMaster University, took over as director of the internal medicine residency program at McMaster in 1990, he wanted to change the program so that physicians managed patients based not on what authorities told them to do but on what the evidence showed worked. He needed a name, and the first was “scientific medicine.” The faculty reacted against this name with rage, arguing that basic scientists did scientific medicine. The next name was “evidence-based medicine” (Evidence-Based Medicine: An Oral History Video).
In the Oral History Video, Sackett distinguishes EBM from critical appraisal because it combines research evidence with clinical skills and patient values and preferences.
[Oral history video here --> http://jama.jamanetwork.com/multimediaPlayer.aspx?mediaid=6391356]
Guyatt acknowledges that in the 1992 JAMA article there was little about patient values.2 It was over the next 5 years that patient values and preferences became much more central, and since then strongly emphasized (Evidence-Based Medicine: An Oral History Video).
Evidence-based medicine quickly became popular, Sackett believes, for 2 main reasons: it was supported by senior clinicians who were secure in their practice and happy to be challenged and it empowered young physicians—and subsequently nurses and other clinicians. Evidence-based medicine did, however, produce a backlash, particularly, says Sackett, “among middle-level guys who were used to making pronouncements,”
Related articles (varying viewpoints)
Posted by Gary Schwitzer in FDA
“Clinical Trial Evidence Supporting FDA Approval of Novel Therapeutic Agents, 2005-2012,” by Dr. Joseph Ross and colleagues, concluded that the quality of clinical trial evidence used by the FDA as the basis of approving new drugs varies widely. A couple of interesting data points:
- in the seven-year period of analysis, 37% of drugs were approved on the basis of a single pivotal trial.
- trials using surrogate end points as their primary outcome formed the exclusive basis of approval for 45% of drugs approved. (See our primer, “Surrogate markers may not tell the whole story.”)
In an opinion piece, “Opening the FDA Black Box,” Drs. Steven Goodman and Rita Redberg said the study:
“…raises a host of questions needing further exploration. Despite the FDA requirement for evidence from a minimum of 2 randomized clinical trials supporting an effect on health outcomes, 37% of product approvals were based on only 1 trial, 53% of cancer trials were nonrandomized, and an active comparator was used in only 27% of non–infectious disease trials. Surrogate end points were used in almost all approvals via the accelerated approval process and in 44% of nonaccelerated approvals. Trials were comparatively short, with most lasting less than 6 months, even those assessing chronic treatments for chronic diseases. Cancer drugs, perhaps predictably, were more often approved via the accelerated process and with weaker designs.”
Another paper looked at the reasons that FDA marketing approval for new drugs was delayed or denied.
And a fourth paper looked at FDA regulation of medical devices, “a process that has received relatively little attention,” according to Goodman and Redberg, who continued:
In USA Today, Liz Szabo wrote a good summary of the JAMA papers under the headline, “Not all FDA-approved drugs get same level of testing: Evidence behind FDA-approved drugs and devices often has major limitations.”
ClinicalTrials.gov is a registry and results database of publicly and privately supported clinical studies of human participants conducted around the world.
When available, study results information is included in the study record under the Study Results tab. See How to Find Results of Studies for more information on finding results entered in the results database.
Results (after 2008, only those required by US federal requirements) include
–Participant data (how many started the trial, dropped out, etc)
— Information about participants (age, gender, blood pressure readings, etc)
[Speaking of gender…]
Good to know, most drugs can affect women and men differently
— Outcome (results of taking the drug plus any placebo), with statistics
–Adverse effects , serious and other (this was not required before 2008)
Evaluating Health Information (from my personal Google site)
Another take on the “relaxation of standards”
[Reblog] Misleading BMJ news releases may be one reason journalists report on more observational studies
[At least 16 comments on this post, click on the link above to read them]
Just a few days ago, a paper in the journal PLoS One, “Media Coverage of Medical Journals: Do the Best Articles Make the News?” showed how journalists are more likely to report on observational studies than on randomized clinical trials. The authors suggest this shows a systematic bias to report on weaker evidence.
And here’s one reason why that may happen.
This week the BMJ sent out a news release on a paper from the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, one of the specialist journals it publishes. And I’ve been waiting for days to address it – waiting for the journal’s embargo time to pass so that I’m not violating that sacred trust.
The headline of the news release: HRT cuts risk of repeat knee/hip replacement surgery by 40%.
Nope. Sorry, BMJ news release writers. That’s an overstatement, to be kind. An inaccuracy, to be accurate. That’s not what the study showed, because it wasn’t equipped to show that anything “cut risk.” Proof of cutting risk would be proof of cause and effect. And the observational study in question can’t do that.
Don’t blame the authors of the journal article. They didn’t use cause-and-effect language. They concluded: “HRT is associated with an almost 40% reduction.” (My emphasis added.) That’s the way you describe the results of an observational study. That’s what we try to teach journalists and the public with a primer that’s been on our site for years. Maybe the BMJ should have its news release writers read it.
The researchers went even further, for any writer – journal news release writers included – who bothered to read the study. The research team wrote: “The main limitation of this study is its observational nature.”
To be clear, this was a large study with long followup. This could be a head-turner in medical circles.
But it still is what it is – a study that can only show statistical association.
And association ≠ causation.
We’ve written about this problem with BMJ news releases in the past, and will continue to do so until they get it right. Past examples:
- Unwrapping today’s chocolate story: troublesome BMJ news release
- The BMJ news release that keeps on giving the gift of chocolate hype
- BMJ news releases, observational studies, overstatement
- BMJ news release on alcohol & arthritis may have contributed to misleading coverage
As I wrote in one of these posts: Journals could help lift all ships – or they can (and sometimes do) help us all drown in a daily tsunami of global miscommunication about health news.
Humans are able to smell sickness in someone whose immune system is highly active within just a few hours of exposure to a toxin, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of theAssociation for Psychological Science.
According to researcher Mats Olsson of Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, there is anecdotal and scientific evidence suggesting that diseases have particular smells. People with diabetes, for example, are sometimes reported to have breath that smells like rotten apples or acetone.
Being able to detect these smells would represent a critical adaptation that would allow us to avoid potentially dangerous illnesses. Olsson wondered whether such an adaptation might exist already at an early stage of the disease.
“There may be early, possibly generic, biomarkers for illness in the form of volatile substances coming from the body,” explains Olsson.
To test this hypothesis, Olsson and his team had eight healthy people visit the laboratory to be injected with either lipopolysaccharide (LPS) — a toxin known to ramp up an immune response — or a saline solution. The volunteers wore tight t-shirts to absorb sweat over the course of 4 hours.
Importantly, participants injected with LPS did produce a noticeable immune response, as evidenced by elevated body temperatures and increased levels of a group of immune system molecules known as cytokines.
A separate group of 40 participants were instructed to smell the sweat samples. Overall, they rated t-shirts from the LPS group as having a more intense and unpleasant smell than the other t-shirts; they also rated the LPS shirt as having an unhealthier smell.
The association between immune activation and smell was accounted for, at least in part, by the level of cytokines present in the LPS-exposed blood. That is, the greater a participant’s immune response, the more unpleasant their sweat smelled.
Interestingly, in a chemical assay the researchers found no difference in the overall amount of odorous compounds between the LPS and control group. This suggests that there must have been a detectable difference in the composition of those compounds instead.
While the precise chemical compounds have yet to be identified, the fact we give off some kind of aversive signal shortly after the immune system has been activated is an important finding, the researchers argue. It grants us a better understanding of the social cues of sickness, and might also open up doors for understanding how infectious diseases can be contained.
From the 21 January 2014 press release at EurekAlert
What happens to our cognitive abilities as we age? Traditionally it is thought that age leads to a steady deterioration of brain function, but new research in Topics in Cognitive Science argues that older brains may take longer to process ever increasing amounts of knowledge, and this has often been misidentified as declining capacity.
The study, led by Dr. Michael Ramscar of the University of Tuebingen, takes a critical look at the measures that are usually thought to show that our cognitive abilities decline across adulthood. Instead of finding evidence of decline, the team discovered that most standard cognitive measures are flawed, confusing increased knowledge for declining capacity.
Dr. Ramscar’s team used computers, programmed to act as though they were humans, to read a certain amount each day, learning new things along the way. When the researchers let a computer ‘read’ a limited amount, its performance on cognitive tests resembled that of a young adult.
However, if the same computer was exposed data which represented a lifetime of experiences its performance looked like that of an older adult. Often it was slower, not because its processing capacity had declined, but because increased “experience” had caused the computer’s database to grow, giving it more data to process, and that processing takes time.
“What does this finding mean for our understanding of our ageing minds, for example older adults’ increased difficulties with word recall? These are traditionally thought to reveal how our memory for words deteriorates with age, but Big Data adds a twist to this idea,” said Dr. Ramscar. “Technology now allows researchers to make quantitative estimates about the number of words an adult can be expected to learn across a lifetime, enabling the team to separate the challenge that increasing knowledge poses to memory from the actual performance of memory itself.”
“Imagine someone who knows two people’s birthdays and can recall them almost perfectly. Would you really want to say that person has a better memory than a person who knows the birthdays of 2000 people, but can ‘only’ match the right person to the right birthday nine times out of ten?” asks Ramscar.
“It is time we rethink what we mean by the aging mind before our false assumptions result in decisions and policies that marginalize the old or waste precious public resources to remediate problems that do not exist,” said Topics in Cognitive Science, Editors Wayne Gray and Thomas Hills.
New types of drug intended for use in place of antibiotics have been given a cautious welcome by scientists.
University researchers have been probing the long-term effectiveness of drugs currently being developed by the pharmaceutical industry.
These work by limiting the symptoms caused by a bug or virus in the body, rather than killing it outright.
These treatments are designed to avoid the problem of infections becoming resistant to treatment, which has become widespread with antibiotics.
This approach is intended to enable the patient to tolerate disease, and buy the immune system valuable time to get rid of the infection naturally.
Researchers at the Universities of Edinburgh and Liverpool created a mathematical model to look at how at how drugs that limit the damage caused by disease could affect how infections spread and evolve.
They found that for certain infections, where the symptoms are not linked to the spread of disease, these drugs may prevent disease from evolving too quickly.
They will be useful over longer periods of time.
However, scientists caution that people given damage limitation treatments may appear healthy, but carry high levels of infection and so may be more likely to pass on disease.
In addition, people with lesser symptoms could remain undiagnosed and add to the spread of disease.
In treating infections with drugs, we change their environment, but bacteria and other infectious agents are incredibly good at adapting to their environment. Damage limitation therapies may be a useful alternative to antibiotics, but we should be cautious, and investigate their potential long-term consequences. Limiting damage may work for the individual, but could, in some cases, increase disease spread.
Dr Pedro Vale
School of Biological Sciences
From the 14th January 2014 ScienceDaily article
Contrary to a common belief, researchers have shown that genetic regions associated with increased risk of type 2 diabetes were unlikely to have been beneficial to people at stages through human evolution.
Type 2 diabetes is responsible for more than three million deaths each year and this number is increasing steadily. The harmful genetic variants associated with this common disease have not yet been eliminated by natural selection.
To try to explain why this is, geneticists have previously hypothesized that during times of ‘feast or famine’ throughout human evolution, people who had advantageous or ‘thrifty’ genes processed food more efficiently. But in the modern developed world with too much food, these same people would be more susceptible to type 2 diabetes.
“This thrifty gene theory is an attractive hypothesis to explain why natural selection hasn’t protected us against these harmful variants,” says Dr. Yali Xue, lead author of the study from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. “But we find little or no evidence to corroborate this theory.”