Health Technology Research Synopsis

137th Issue Date 07 SEP 2012

Compiled By Ralph Turchiano

www.healthresearchreport.me www.vit.bz

www.youtube.com/vhfilm www.facebook.com/vitaminandherbstore

www.engineeringevil.com


 

Editors Top Five:

1.     Study Finds How BPA Affects Gene Expression, Anxiety; Soy Mitigates Effects
2.     Vitamin B3 may offer new tool in fight against ‘superbugs’
3.     Johns Hopkins team finds ICU misdiagnoses may account for as many annual deaths as breast cancer
4.     Prenatal exposure to pesticide additive linked with childhood cough
5.     Childhood virus RSV shows promise against adult cancer

In this Issue:
1.     Vitamin B3 may offer new tool in fight against ‘superbugs’
2.     How a virus might make you diabetic later in life
3.     Adolescent pot use leaves lasting mental deficits
4.     Nutrition tied to improved sperm DNA quality in older men
5.     Energy drinks improve heart function
6.     Breast milk promotes a different gut flora growth than infant formulas
7.     Johns Hopkins team finds ICU misdiagnoses may account for as many annual deaths as breast cancer
8.     WSU researcher documents links between nutrients, genes and cancer spread
9.     Antibiotic residues in sausage meat may promote pathogen survival
10.  Smoking after stroke increases death risk by 3-fold
11.  The raccoon spreads dangerous diseases as it invades Europe
12.  Chocolate: A sweet method for stroke prevention in men?
13.  Bacterial cause found for skin condition rosacea
14.  WSU researchers discover mechanism leading from trichomoniasis to prostate cancer
15.  Lyme retreatment guidance may be flawed
16.  Chemical exposure in the womb from household items may contribute to obesity
17.  Affluent people less likely to reach out to others in times of chaos, study suggests
18.  Coconut oil could combat tooth decay
19.  Heavy drinking rewires brain, increasing susceptibility to anxiety problems
20.  Even in normal range, high blood sugar linked to brain shrinkage
21.  High doses of Vitamin D help tuberculosis patients recover more quickly
22.  High levels of DDT in breast milk
23.  Large Review Finds Some Evidence for “Chemo Brain” in Breast Cancer Survivors, Moffitt Cancer Center Says
24.  Are restrictions to scientific research costing lives?
25.  Toddlers increasingly swallowing liquid detergent capsules
26.  Brainy beverage: Study reveals how green tea boosts brain cell production to aid memory
27.  Children exposed to 2 phthalates have elevated risk of asthma-related airway inflammation
28.  Prenatal exposure to pesticide additive linked with childhood cough
29.  Nutritional supplement offers promise in treatment of unique form of autism
30.  Diagnostic chest radiation before 30 may increase breast cancer risk
31.  Report: Strategies to prevent noise-induced hearing loss, tinnitus in soldiers
32.  Childhood virus RSV shows promise against adult cancer
33.  Stress prompts some to retain as much salt as eating fries
34.  Study Finds How BPA Affects Gene Expression, Anxiety; Soy Mitigates Effects

Vitamin B3 may offer new tool in fight against ‘superbugs’

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study suggests that nicotinamide, more commonly known as vitamin B3, may be able to combat some of the antibiotic-resistance staph infections that are increasingly common around the world, have killed thousands and can pose a significant threat to public health.

The research found that high doses of this vitamin increased by 1,000 times the ability of immune cells to kill staph bacteria. The work was done both in laboratory animals and with human blood.

The findings were published today in the Journal of Clinical Investigation by researchers from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, UCLA, and other institutions. The research was supported by several grants from the National Institutes of Health.

The work may offer a new avenue of attack against the growing number of “superbugs.”

“This is potentially very significant, although we still need to do human studies,” said Adrian Gombart, an associate professor in OSU’s Linus Pauling Institute. “Antibiotics are wonder drugs, but they face increasing problems with resistance by various types of bacteria, especially Staphylococcus aureus.

“This could give us a new way to treat staph infections that can be deadly, and might be used in combination with current antibiotics,” Gombart said. “It’s a way to tap into the power of the innate immune system and stimulate it to provide a more powerful and natural immune response.”

The scientists found that clinical doses of nicotinamide increased the numbers and efficacy of “neutrophils,” a specialized type of white blood cell that can kill and eat harmful bacteria.

The nicotinamide was given at megadose, or therapeutic levels, far beyond what any normal diet would provide – but nonetheless in amounts that have already been used safely in humans, as a drug, for other medical purposes.

However, there is no evidence yet that normal diets or conventional-strength supplements of vitamin B3 would have any beneficial effect in preventing or treating bacterial infection, Gombart said, and people should not start taking high doses of the vitamin.

Gombart has been studying some of these issues for more than a decade, and discovered 10 years ago a human genetic mutation that makes people more vulnerable to bacterial infections. In continued work on the genetic underpinnings of this problem, researchers found that nicotinamide had the ability to “turn on” certain antimicrobial genes that greatly increase the ability of immune cells to kill bacteria.

One of the most common and serious of the staph infections, called methicillin-resistant S. aureus, or MRSA, was part of this study. It can cause serious and life-threatening illness, and researchers say the widespread use of antibiotics has helped increase the emergence and spread of this bacterial pathogen.

Dr. George Liu, an infectious disease expert at Cedars-Sinai and co-senior author on the study, said that “this vitamin is surprisingly effective in fighting off and protecting against one of today’s most concerning public health threats.” Such approaches could help reduce dependence on antibiotics, he said.

Co-first authors Pierre Kyme and Nils Thoennissen found that when used in human blood, clinical doses of vitamin B3 appeared to wipe out the staph infection in only a few hours.

Serious staph infections, such as those caused by MRSA, are increasingly prevalent in hospitals and nursing homes, but are also on the rise in prisons, the military, among athletes, and in other settings where many people come into close contact

Contact: Hilary Glover
hilary.glover@biomedcentral.com
44-020-319-22370
BioMed Central

How a virus might make you diabetic later in life

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is one of the viruses that most infected people carry without ill effects. Once infected you are infected for life and, although it normally is dormant, it can become active again at any point in time. New research published in BioMed Central’s open access journal Immunity and Ageing shows that CMV infection is a significant risk factor for the type 2 diabetes in the elderly.

Obesity, inactivity and aging are known to be associated with insulin resistance, one of the first signs of incipient diabetes. However only a third of those with insulin resistance go on the develop type 2 diabetes. So what marks these people as different? Why do their pancreas’ fail? Genetic and environmental factors are thought to play a part but so also does inflammation. People with type 2 diabetes usually have raised levels of biological markers for inflammation such as elevated CRP and larger numbers of active white blood cells.

Chronic infections including CMV can ‘stress’ the immune system and when researchers from Leiden University Medical Centre and University of Tubingen Medical School compared glucose regulation with antibodies to CMV (or CMV seropositivity) in over 500 participants of the Leiden 85-plus Study they found that having CMV was associated with type 2 diabetes.

The researchers suggest that CMV could be either acting directly on pancreatic cells or indirectly by causing the immune system attacking the pancreas. Dr Andrea Maier, who led the investigation explained, ” In our study we realised that although CMV seropositivity was associated with type 2 diabetes, higher levels of HnA1c and high non-fasting glucose the actual level of antibodies against CMV was not. ”

This study is looking at the effect of CMV on the very old. By their very nature these people have had longer to become infected with CMV and have low risks for other factors which are linked to diabetes or to cardiovascular disease. While it may not be possible to extrapolate these findings to the general population it seems likely that finding a way to overcome CMV infections may reduce diseases, such as diabetes, later in life

Adolescent pot use leaves lasting mental deficits

DURHAM, N.C. — The persistent, dependent use of marijuana before age 18 has been shown to cause lasting harm to a person’s intelligence, attention and memory, according to an international research team.

Among a long-range study cohort of more than 1,000 New Zealanders, individuals who started using cannabis in adolescence and used it for years afterward showed an average decline in IQ of 8 points when their age 13 and age 38 IQ tests were compared. Quitting pot did not appear to reverse the loss either, said lead researcher Madeline Meier, a post-doctoral researcher at Duke University. The results appear online Aug. 27 in PNAS.

The key variable in this is the age of onset for marijuana use and the brain’s development, Meier said. Study subjects who didn’t take up pot until they were adults with fully-formed brains did not show similar mental declines. Before age 18, however, the brain is still being organized and remodeled to become more efficient, she said, and may be more vulnerable to damage from drugs.

“Marijuana is not harmless, particularly for adolescents,” said Meier, who produced this finding from the long term Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study. The study has followed a group of 1,037 children born in 1972-73 in Dunedin, New Zealand from birth to age 38 and is led by Terrie Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi, psychologists who hold dual appointments at Duke and the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London.

About 5 percent of the study group were considered marijuana-dependent, or were using more than once a week before age 18. A dependent user is one who keeps using despite significant health, social or family problems.

At age 38, all of the study participants were given a battery of psychological tests to assess memory, processing speed, reasoning and visual processing. The people who used pot persistently as teens scored significantly worse on most of the tests. Friends and relatives routinely interviewed as part of the study were more likely to report that the persistent cannabis users had attention and memory problems such as losing focus and forgetting to do tasks.

The decline in IQ among persistent cannabis users could not be explained by alcohol or other drug use or by having less education, Moffitt said.

While 8 IQ points may not sound like a lot on a scale where 100 is the mean, a loss from an IQ of 100 to 92 represents a drop from being in the 50th percentile to being in the 29th, Meier said. Higher IQ correlates with higher education and income, better health and a longer life, she said. “Somebody who loses 8 IQ points as an adolescent may be disadvantaged compared to their same-age peers for years to come,” Meier said.

Laurence Steinberg, a Temple University psychologist who was not involved in the research, said this study is among the first to distinguish between cognitive problems the person might have had before taking up marijuana, and those that were apparently caused by the drug. This is consistent with what has been found in animal studies, Steinberg added, but it has been difficult to measure in humans.

Animal studies involving nicotine, alcohol and cocaine have shown that chronic exposures before the brain is fully developed can lead to more dependence and long-term changes in the brain. “This study points to adolescence as a time of heightened vulnerability,” Steinberg said. “The findings are pretty clear that it is not simply chronic use that causes deficits, but chronic use with adolescent onset.”

What isn’t possible to know from this study is what a safer age for persistent use might be, or what dosage level causes the damage, Meier said. After many years of decline among US teens, daily marijuana use has been seen to increase slightly in the last few years, she added. Last year, for the first time, US teens were more likely to be smoking pot than tobacco.

“The simple message is that substance use is not healthy for kids,” Avshalom Caspi said via email from London. “That’s true for tobacco, alcohol, and apparently for cannabis.”

Nutrition tied to improved sperm DNA quality in older men

Berkeley Lab study links healthy micronutrient intake with reduced DNA fragmentation

A new study led by scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) found that a healthy intake of micronutrients is strongly associated with improved sperm DNA quality in older men. In younger men, however, a higher intake of micronutrients didn’t improve their sperm DNA.

In an analysis of 80 healthy male volunteers between 22 and 80 years of age, the scientists found that men older than 44 who consumed the most vitamin C had 20 percent less sperm DNA damage compared to men older than 44 who consumed the least vitamin C. The same was true for vitamin E, zinc, and folate.

“It appears that consuming more micronutrients such as vitamin C, E, folate and zinc helps turn back the clock for older men. We found that men 44 and older who consumed at least the recommended dietary allowance of certain micronutrients had sperm with a similar amount of DNA damage as the sperm of younger men,” says Andy Wyrobek of Berkeley Lab’s Life Sciences Division.

“This means that men who are at increased risk of sperm DNA damage because of advancing age can do something about it. They can make sure they get enough vitamins and micronutrients in their diets or through supplements,” adds Wyrobek.

Wyrobek conducted the research with a team of researchers that includes Brenda Eskenazi of the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Public Health and scientists from the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom. They report their findings in the August 27 online issue of the journal Fertility and Sterility.

Their research comes as more men over 35 have children, which raises public health concerns. Previous research conducted in Wyrobek’s lab found that the older a man is, the more he’s likely to have increased sperm DNA fragmentation, chromosomal rearrangements, and DNA strand damage. Older men are also more likely to have increased frequencies of sperm carrying certain gene mutations, such as those leading to dwarfism. These findings help explain why aging men are less fertile and are predicted to have more chromosomally defective pregnancies and a higher proportion of offspring with genetic defects.

But until now, researchers haven’t understood whether diet can protect against the detrimental effects of aging on the sperm genome.

The scientists studied a group of about 80 men between 20 and 80 years old with an average age of 44. They were recruited several years ago as part of the California Age and Genetic Effects on Sperm Study when Wyrobek was at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Each man who participated in the study filled out a 100-item questionnaire that estimated their average daily vitamin intake, both from food and supplements.

In addition, their sperm DNA quality was assessed via a lab analysis in which a voltage gradient pulls broken DNA strands from intact strands within the sperm nucleus.

Each volunteer’s intake of a micronutrient was classified as low, moderate, or high based on how they compared to other participants. The median daily intake, both from diet and supplements, was 162 milligrams for vitamin C, 23.7 milligrams for vitamin E, 2,586 micrograms for β-carotene, 475 grams for folate, and 12.3 milligrams for zinc. Many participants, even those who reported to be healthy, consumed much less than the recommended dietary allowance for many of the micronutrients.

The scientists analyzed the data several ways and came up with the same result each time: A diet high in antioxidants and micronutrients may decrease the risk of producing sperm with DNA damage, especially in older men.

Why this is so isn’t a mystery. Antioxidants scavenge reactive molecules that cause oxidative damage to cells. Studies have shown that dietary supplementation with antioxidants and increased consumption of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables can decrease the amount of oxidative DNA damage.

Based on their results, the scientists believe this same protective mechanism may also be at work in the reproductive tract of older men.

“The different response of the old and young men presents new opportunities for health care, especially for older men planning families,” says Wyrobek.

More research is needed, however. Although the scientists found a clear link between higher vitamin intake and improved sperm DNA quality in older men, they don’t know whether this link extends to male fertility and the health of offspring.

“Our research points to a need for future studies to determine whether increased antioxidant intake in older fathers will improve fertility, reduce risks of genetically defective pregnancies, and result in healthier children,” says Wyrobek. “The research also raises a broader question beyond sperm DNA: How might lifestyle factors, including higher intakes of antioxidants and micronutrients, protect somatic as well as germ cells against age-related genomic damage?”

Energy drinks improve heart function

Munich, Germany – Consuming energy drinks can exert acute positive benefits on myocardial performance, according to research presented today at the ESC Congress by Dr Matteo Cameli from University of Siena.

“In recent years the energy drink market has exploded, with more people than ever before turning to these products as quick ‘pick me ups’, whether to stay awake during all night study vigils or gain the edge in sport,” said Dr Cameli. “With energy drinks containing both caffeine and taurine concerns have been raised of adverse effects on the heart. While caffeine increases blood pressure, studies suggest that taurine may stimulate the release of calcium from the sarcoplasmic reticulum.”

In the current study the researchers used speckle-tracking echocardiography, the avant-garde technique in echocardiography, and echo Doppler analysis to explore the influence of energy drinks on heart function.

For the study 35 healthy subjects (mean age 25 years), drank a body surface area indexed amount of an energy drink (168 ml/m2) containing caffeine and taurine.

Assessments of heart rate, blood pressure, left ventricular function and right ventricular function were undertaken at baseline and one hour after consumption.

Figure 1 shows the relative changes from baseline in heart rate, blood pressure and left and right ventricular parameters one hour after consuming the energy drink. Heart rate increased by 1.2% (p=ns [not significant]), systolic blood pressure increased by 2.6% (p=ns) and diastolic blood pressure increased by 6% (p=0.02). Dr Cameli said: “This confirms that a standard energy drink consumption induces a light increase in diastolic blood pressure.”

Left ventricular function improved in comparison to baseline. Ejection fraction increased by 5% (p=0.01), mitral annular plane systolic excursion (MAPSE) (which evaluates longitudinal ventricular function) increased by 11% (p<0.001), global longitudinal strain increased by 10% (p=0.004), and torsion (left ventricular twisting) increased by 22% (p<0.0001).

Right ventricular function was also improved one hour after consuming energy drinks. Right ventricular fractional area change (RVFAC) increased by 2% (p=0.09), tricuspid annular plane systolic excursion (TAPSE) increased by 15% (p<0.0001), and global and free wall right ventricular longitudinal strain (RVLS), (a measurement of longitudinal strain of the right ventricle), increased by 8% (p=0.001) and 5% (p=0.1) respectively.

MAPSE: mitral annular plane systolic excursion; RVFAC: right ventricular fractional area change; TAPSE: tricuspid annular plane systolic excursion; RVLS: right ventricular longitudinal strain.

“Taken together these results show that energy drinks enhance contractions of both the left and right ventricles, thereby delivering a positive effect on myocardial function,” said Dr Cameli. “This could be explained by the inotropic effect of taurine that, as previously demonstrated, stimulates the release of calcium from the sarcoplasmic reticulum.”

He continued: “Our study was performed in young healthy individuals at rest. Future studies need to focus on whether such benefits persist after long term consumption of energy drinks, and what the effects are of consuming these drinks during physical activity. It will also be important to determine which of the effects are induced in patients with cardiac disease to further our understanding of the potential benefits or risks of energy drink consumption

Breast milk promotes a different gut flora growth than infant formulas

DURHAM, N.C. – The benefits of breast milk have long been appreciated, but now scientists at Duke University Medical Center have described a unique property that makes mother’s milk better than infant formula in protecting infants from infections and illnesses.

The finding, published in the August issue of the journal Current Nutrition & Food Science, explains how breast milk, but not infant formula, fosters colonies of microbiotic flora in a newborn’s intestinal tract that aid nutrient absorption and immune system development.

“This study is the first we know of that examines the effects of infant nutrition on the way that bacteria grow, providing insight to the mechanisms underlying the benefits of breast feeding over formula feeding for newborns,” said William Parker, PhD, associate professor of surgery at Duke and senior author of the study. “Only breast milk appears to promote a healthy colonization of beneficial biofilms, and these insights suggest there may be potential approaches for developing substitutes that more closely mimic those benefits in cases where breast milk cannot be provided.”

Earlier studies have shown that breast milk lowers the incidence of diarrhea, influenza and respiratory infections during infancy, while protecting against the later development of allergies, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and other illnesses. As scientists have learned more about the role intestinal flora plays in health, they have gained appreciation for how an infant’s early diet can affect this beneficial microbial universe.

In their study, the Duke researchers grew bacteria in samples of infant formulas, cow’s milk and breast milk. For the infant formula, the researchers used three brands each of popular milk- and soy-based products, and they purchased whole milk from the grocery store. Breast milk was donated and processed to separate different components, including proteins, fats and carbohydrates. They also tested a purified form of an antibody called secretory immunoglobulin A (SIgA), which is abundant in breast milk and helps establish an infant’s immune system.

The infant formulas, the milk products and the SIgA were incubated with two strains of E. coli bacteria – necessary early inhabitants of the gut that are helpful cousins to the dangerous organisms associated with food poisoning.

Within minutes, the bacteria began multiplying in all of the specimens, but there was an immediate difference in the way the bacteria grew. In the breast milk, bacteria stuck together to form biofilms — thin, adherent layers of bacteria that serve as a shield against pathogens and infections. Bacteria in the infant formula and cow’s milk proliferated wildly, but it grew as individual organisms that did not aggregate to form a protective barrier. The bacteria in SIgA had mixed results, suggesting that this antibody by itself isn’t enough to trigger the beneficial biofilm formation.

“Knowing how breast milk conveys its benefits could help in the development of infant formulas that better mimic nature,” Parker said. “This could have a long-lasting effect on the health of infants who, for many reasons, may not get mother’s milk.”

Parker said additional studies should explore why human whey has the clumping effect on the bacteria, and whether it has a similar effect on strains of bacteria other than E. coli.

“This study adds even more weight to an already large body of evidence that breast milk is the most nutritious way to feed a baby whenever possible,” said Gabriela M. Maradiaga Panayotti, M.D., co-director of the newborn nursery for Duke Children’s and Duke Primary Care. “We know that babies who receive breast milk have better outcomes in many ways, and mother who breast feed also have improved health outcomes, including decreased risks of cancer. Whenever possible, promoting breast feeding is the absolute best option for mom and baby.”

Johns Hopkins team finds ICU misdiagnoses may account for as many annual deaths as breast cancer

Armstrong Institute researchers discover missed medical conditions in more than 1 in 4 critically ill adults

Each year as many as 40,500 critically ill U.S. hospital patients die with an unknown medical condition that may have caused or contributed to their death, Johns Hopkins patient safety experts report in a recent study.

In a discussion of their findings, described online in BMJ Quality & Safety, researchers say that although diagnostic errors in the intensive care unit (ICU) may claim as many lives each year as breast cancer, they remain an underappreciated cause of preventable patient harm.

“Our study shows that misdiagnosis is alarmingly common in the acute care setting,” says Bradford Winters, M.D., Ph.D., lead author and associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine and neurology and surgery in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “To date, there’s been very little research to determine root causes or effective interventions,” Winters says, noting that less lethal patient safety risks have received greater attention.

By reviewing studies that used autopsy to detect diagnostic errors in adult ICU patients, the experts in the Johns Hopkins Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality discovered that 28 percent of patients — more than one in four — had at least one missed diagnosis at death. In 8 percent of patients, the diagnostic error was serious enough that it may either have caused or directly contributed to the individual’s death and, if known, likely would have changed treatment, researchers say. Infections and vascular maladies, such as heart attack and stroke, accounted for more than three-quarters of those fatal flaws.

Overall, the medical conditions most commonly missed by diagnosticians included heart attack; pulmonary embolism, an artery blockage in the lungs; pneumonia; and aspergillosis, a fungal infection that most commonly affects individuals with a weakened immune system. Cumulatively, these four conditions accounted for about one-third of all illnesses that doctors failed to detect.

Their review of 31 studies included 5,863 autopsies from a wide range of ICU types. The prevalence of autopsy-detected misdiagnoses, which were stratified by severity, ranged from 5.5 to 100 percent by study. Winters and his team categorized misdiagnoses based on four categories: vascular, which included conditions involving vessel blockages and bleeding, such as heart attack and stroke; all bacterial, viral and fungal infections; mechanical pathophysiological, a broad range of organ malfunction such as congestive heart failure and bowel obstruction; and cancer/other.

After collecting and classifying all error data, the researchers calculated how frequently misdiagnoses would be discovered if every patient who died in the ICU underwent an autopsy. Although autopsy is more frequently performed in complex patient cases in which the clinician may have a lower level of diagnostic certainty, the authors took this potential bias into account. Based on those adjustments, they say their calculations are conservative estimates.

Winters and his colleagues also found that, when compared with adult hospital patients overall, individuals in the ICU face up to a twofold risk of suffering a potentially fatal diagnostic mistake.

“It may be counterintuitive to think that the patients who are the most closely monitored and frequently tested are more commonly misdiagnosed, but the ICU is a very complex environment,” Winters says. Clinicians face a deluge of information in a distracting environment in which the sickest patients compete for attention, most without being able to communicate with their medical team. “We need to develop better cognitive tools that can take into account the 7,000 or more pieces of information that critical care physicians are bombarded with each day to ensure we’re not ruling out potential diagnoses,” Winters says.

Although two-thirds of discovered misdiagnoses did not directly contribute to the patient’s death, Winters says they’re an important indicator of accuracy and aren’t without costs. Patients may endure lengthened hospital stays, unnecessary surgical procedures and reduced quality of life because of non-fatal diagnostic mistakes, Winters adds.

The Armstrong Institute patient safety experts say the study points to the need for additional research to pinpoint the causes of misdiagnosis and identify tools to help diagnosticians more accurately assess patients

[Journals]: Why some fats are worse than others

All dietary fats are not created equal. Some types of fats have been linked to ailments like heart disease and diabetes, while others, like those often found in plants and fish, have well documented health benefits.

So why do our bodies respond so destructively to some fats but not others?

A new hypothesis described in latest issue of The Quarterly Review of Biology suggests the answer may lie in how different fats interact with the microbes in our guts. According to researchers from the University of New Mexico and Northwestern University, some fats may encourage the growth of harmful bacteria in the digestive system. Our bodies have evolved to recognize those fats and launch an immune response to preempt the impeding changes in harmful bacteria. The result is low-level inflammation that, over the long term, causes chronic disease.

“Although the inflammatory effects of [fats] are well documented, it is less well appreciated that they also influence bacterial survival and proliferation in the gastrointestinal tract,” write the researchers, led by Joe Alcock, of the University of New Mexico Department of Emergency Medicine and VA Medical Center.

Some fats—mostly unsaturated fats—actually have strong antimicrobial properties. They react chemically with bacterial cell membranes, weakening them. “If you expose unsaturated fats on bacteria, the bacteria have a tendency to lyse. The combination of long chain unsaturated fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids, and innate host defenses like gastric acid and antimicrobial peptides, is particularly lethal to pathogenic bacteria,” Alcock said. Saturated fats on the other hand generally lack those antimicrobial properties, and in fact can provide a carbon source that bacteria need to grow and flourish.

And it’s these differing microbial effects, Alcock believes, that are at the root of why some fats are inflammatory and some aren’t. To test that notion, the researchers poured through years of research on both the microbial effects of fats and their inflammatory effects.

“We found a highly significant relationship between those fats that had antimicrobial properties and those that had anti-inflammatory properties,” Alcock said. “Fats that lack antimicrobial properties tended to be pro-inflammatory. It was a very, very strong relationship.”

In a sense, the researchers say, the presence of saturated fats sets off an “early warning system” in the body. When fats that encourage bacterial growth are present, the body prepares for unwelcome microbial guests with an inflammatory immune response. And while that response may help fend off infection in the short term, the constant presence of such fats could cause the body to spiral into diseases related to inflammation, like heart disease.

The researchers caution that while this hypothesis is well supported by current data, there’s much more research to be done.

“We have a pretty good idea that eating fatty foods encourages the growth and invasiveness of harmful microbiota and we know that certain fats kill off these potentially harmful species,” Alcock said. “But we’re making a bit of a leap from the Petri dish to the whole organism.”

“We don’t intend this to be the final word. Rather it’s a tool to generate additional hypotheses that can be tested.”

WSU researcher documents links between nutrients, genes and cancer spread

More than 40 compounds turn on genes slowing metastasis

PULLMAN, Wash.—More than 40 plant-based compounds can turn on genes that slow the spread of cancer, according to a first-of-its-kind study by a Washington State University researcher.

Gary Meadows, WSU professor and associate dean for graduate education and scholarship in the College of Pharmacy, says he is encouraged by his findings because the spread of cancer is most often what makes the disease fatal. Moreover, says Meadows, diet, nutrients and plant-based chemicals appear to be opening many avenues of attack.

“We’re always looking for a magic bullet,” he says. “Well, there are lots of magic bullets out there in what we eat and associated with our lifestyle. We just need to take advantage of those. And they can work together.”

Meadows started the study, recently published online in the journal Cancer and Metastasis Reviews, with some simple logic: Most research focuses on the prevention of cancer or the treatment of the original cancer tumor, but it’s usually the cancer’s spread to nearby organs that kills you. So rather than attack the tumor, said Meadows, let’s control its spread, or metastasis.

He focused in particular on genes that suppress metastasis. As search engine terms go, it took him down many a wormhole in the PubMed research database, as the concept of nutrients and metastasis suppressor genes is rarely identified by journals. It’s even an afterthought of some of the researchers who find the genes.

“People for the most part did not set out in their research goals to study metastasis suppressor genes,” says Meadows. “It was just a gene that was among many other genes that they had looked at in their study.”

But Meadows took the studies and looked to see when metastasis suppressor genes were on or off, even if original authors didn’t make the connection. In the end, he documented dozens of substances affecting the metastasis suppressor genes of numerous cancers.

He saw substances like amino acids, vitamin D, ethanol, ginseng extract, the tomato carotenoid lycopene, the turmeric component curcumin, pomegranate juice, fish oil and others affecting gene expression in breast, colorectal, prostate, skin, lung and other cancers.

Typically, the substances acted epigenetically, which is to say they turned metastasis suppressor genes on or off.

“So these epigenetic mechanisms are influenced by what you eat,” he says. “That may also be related to how the metastasis suppressor genes are being regulated. That’s a very new area of research that has largely not been very well explored in terms of diet and nutrition.” Meadows says his study reinforces two concepts.

For one, he has a greater appreciation of the role of natural compounds in helping our bodies slow or stop the spread of cancer. The number of studies connecting nutrients and metastasis suppressor genes by accident suggests a need for more deliberate research into the genes.

“And many of these effects have not been followed up on,” he says. “There’s likely to be more compounds out there, more constituents, that people haven’t even evaluated yet.”

Meadows also sees these studies playing an important role in the shift from preventing cancer to living with it and keeping it from spreading.

“We’ve kind of focused on the cancer for a long time,” he says. “More recently we’ve started to focus on the cancer in its environment. And the environment, your whole body as an environment, is really important in whether or not that cancer will spread.”

Antibiotic residues in sausage meat may promote pathogen survival

Antibiotic residues in uncured pepperoni or salami meat are potent enough to weaken helpful bacteria that processors add to acidify the sausage to make it safe for consumption, according to a study to be published in mBio®, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology, on August 28.

Sausage manufacturers commonly inoculate sausage meat with lactic-acid-producing bacteria in an effort to control the fermentation process so that the final product is acidic enough to kill pathogens that might have existed in the raw meat. By killing the bacteria that produce lactic acid, antibiotic residues can allow pathogenic bacteria to proliferate.

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and University College Cork, Ireland, found that antibiotic concentrations within limits set by US and European Union (EU) regulators are high enough to slow fermentation, the process that acidifies the sausages and helps destroy foodborne pathogens like Salmonella or E. coli.

“At low concentrations and at regulatory levels set by authorities, we could see that the lactic acid bacteria are more susceptible to the antibiotics than the pathogens are,” says Hanne Ingmer, of the University of Copenhagen, a researcher on the study. “So basically, we can have a situation where residual antibiotics in the meat can prevent or reduce fermentation by the lactic acid bacteria, but these concentrations do not effect survival or even multiplication of pathogens.”

Antibiotics used as growth promoters or to treat disease in livestock can eventually end up in meat, and regulators in the US and EU have set limits on the concentrations of antibiotics in meat for consumption by humans. Ingmer and her colleagues set out to determine whether antibiotics falling within statutory limits might interfere with the process of fermentation in products like pepperoni, salami, or chorizo – sausages that are fermented using lactic- acid-producing bacteria in a curing process many cultures have employed for hundreds of years. She says fermented sausages occasionally cause serious bacterial infections, but it’s never been understood why that might be.

In small-scale experiments in the lab, Ingmer and her colleagues added the antibiotics oxytetracycline or erythromycin to meat inoculated with lactic-acid-producing bacteria and pathogens Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Salmonella enterica. They followed the progress of the fermentation and tracked the survival of the pathogens. Ingmer says several different starter cultures of lactic-acid-producing bacteria were sensitive to these antibiotics and hence did not acidify the sausage meat effectively – results that could explain why people sometimes get sick from eating fermented sausage.

Ingmer says the results show antibiotics can potentially have a paradoxical effect that would increase the risk of foodborne illness: antibiotic residues reduce the effectiveness of bacteria that should make the sausages safe but don’t affect the bacteria that can cause illness.

Although the results raise an alarm for the manufacture of processed meats, Ingmer stresses that it is important to conduct similar tests in manufacturing facilities. “The majority of sausages are manufactured at a commercial scale. It has to be addressed whether this is a problem in a real life facility,” Ingmer says.

Manufacturers with good quality control systems can catch problems in fermentation, Ingmer says, preventing large-scale outbreaks of foodborne illness by testing the final product before it’s distributed, but random batch testing could well miss a batch that didn’t ferment properly, putting the public at risk.

How can we be sure antibiotic residues don’t interfere with the safety of these products? Ingmer sees two possible solutions. If antibiotics are present in meat, boosting the survival and activity of the lactic-acid-producing bacteria is important. In the future, Ingmer hopes to work with manufacturers to develop cultures of lactic-acid-producing bacteria that tolerate low levels of antibiotics.

But the ultimate solution to the problem of antibiotics in meat may be harder to achieve. “The obvious solution is to eliminate the use of antibiotics as growth promoters and closely monitor the use of antibiotics in treating farm animal diseases,” Ingmer says. The European Union and other countries have banned the use of antibiotics in livestock as growth promoters, Ingmer points out, a move the US is unlikely to follow very soon.

Smoking after stroke increases death risk by 3-fold

Munich, Germany – August 28 2012: Patients who resume smoking after a stroke increase their risk of death by three-fold, according to research presented at ESC Congress 2012 by Professor Furio Colivicchi from San Filippo Neri Hospital. The researchers also found that the earlier patients resume smoking, the greater their risk of death with one year.

“It is well established that smoking increases the risk of having a stroke,” said Professor Colivicchi. “Quitting smoking after an acute ischemic stroke may be more effective than any medication in reducing the risk of further adverse events. However, on the other hand, our study shows that stroke patients resuming active smoking after leaving the hospital can raise their risk of dying by as much as three-fold.”

The purpose of the study was to gauge the effects of resuming smoking after a stroke, and to see how many patients are likely to relapse. Cardiologists from S. Filippo Neri Hospital in Rome, in collaboration with neurologists from the Santa Lucia Foundation of Rome, tracked 921 patients (584 men and 337 women, mean age 67 ± 16 years) who reported being regular smokers before they were hospitalized with acute ischemic stroke.

All patients ceased smoking while in the hospital and declared themselves motivated to continue abstaining once they were discharged. In addition, all patients attended brief smoking cessation counseling sessions while in the hospital, but no nicotine replacement or other smoking cessation help was provided after they left the hospital.

Patients were interviewed about their smoking status at one, six, and 12 months after their release from the hospital and by the end of the first year 493 (53%) had resumed regular smoking. Older patients and women were more likely to relapse.

Within a year 89 patients died, which equates to a one-year probability of death of 9.6%. After adjusting for patient ages and other clinical variables such as stroke severity, presence of diabetes, hypertension or coronary artery disease, the researchers found that resuming smoking raised a person’s risk of death by about three-fold compared to patients who didn’t relapse. Moreover, the earlier a patient relapsed, the more likely he or she was to die within a year. “In fact, those who resumed smoking within 10 days of leaving the hospital were five times more likely to die within a year than those who continued to abstain,” said Professor Colivicchi.

He added: “The results of this study suggest that healthcare providers should take smoking cessation interventions more seriously, as recommended treatments are not making their way into practice. A successful programme to help stroke patients quit smoking should take a comprehensive long-term approach, including individual counseling, post-discharge support and pharmacological treatment.”

The raccoon spreads dangerous diseases as it invades Europe

Furry, agile, intelligent and voracious: the raccoon is far from being a cuddly toy, which is what many people believe when they get one as a pet. It is more like an invader that escapes and is able to adapt and survive in new habitats. According to a study, its expansion across Spain and Europe is bringing infectious and parasitic diseases like rabies. This puts the health of native species and people at risk.

Originating in North America, the raccoon (Procyon lotor) is an invasive species that has established itself in Europe due to hunting and the fur trade along with its acquisition as a pet. In Spain, its presence in the wild is already commonplace in Madrid and Guadalajara and is sporadic in other regions such as the island of Mallorca. Its presence is however far from welcomed.

“Due to its rapid expansion and the long list of illnesses that it may carry, it poses a health risk that we must bear in mind,” as outlined to SINC Beatriz Beltrán-Beck, the lead author of the study published in the ‘European Journal of Wildlife Research’ and researcher at the Research Institute of Hunting Resources (IREC, joint centre of the University of Castilla-La Mancha, the CSIC, and Castilla-La Mancha Council).

Bearing in mind that its population density could exceed 100 raccoons per km2, the success of the expansion of this small opportunistic carnivore is down to its ability to quickly adapt to different surroundings and omnivorous food habitats, its high reproductive potential and the absence of natural predators.

However, as Beltrán-Beck points out, “the impact that their expansion and invasion could have on the environment and the health of native species and humans is unknown.” The researcher adds that the increase in population numbers and expansion to other countries and/or urban environments could increase the transmission of dangerous parasites and illnesses to domestic animals and humans.

The guest that nobody wants in their home

The research team gathered all types of information on the infectious and parasitic diseases that raccoons can transmit. The aim was to assess the propagation risk of infections along with possible control methods. But, according to the author, “there is little data in Europe on this species”.

Rabies and a very pathogenic parasite to man (Baylisascaris procyonis), which was found in Germany, are some of the most significant illnesses found in the raccoon. But, along with bacterial illnesses, these are added to the West Nile virus which affects human, birds, horses and sheep.

Although in Western Europe rabies have been eliminated thanks to the oral vaccination for foxes (Vulpes vulpes), there is still concern that the raccoon could complicate the situation in some areas of Eastern Europe that are still home to rabies. In recent years 142 cases of rabies in raccoons have been identified, above all in Ukraine, Estonia, Germany and Lithuania.

This small American carnivore has been confirmed to be the host of the nematode worm Baylisascaris procyonis, which is responsible for Larva migrans, an illness caused by larval migration and parasite persistence under the skin, in the brain and in other organs. In the past this disease could only be found in America but is now emerging and on the rise in Europe.

“The infected raccoons can scatter millions of nematode B. procyonis eggs, which cause significant environmental contamination,” warn the scientists. In the USA, between 68% and 82% of mammals have this parasite. Prevalence is also high in Germany although in Japan, for example, the parasite was not detected in any of the 1,688 raccoons captured for the purposes of other studies.

According to Beltrán-Beck, “more epidemiological studies are necessary on the current health situation and the implementation of measures that limit the possible impact of invading raccoons.”

An unpleasant “pet”

Given its exotic origin and its rapid expansion since the 1970’s, the raccoon is considered an invasive species in Europe. However, the majority of European countries, like Spain, do not control the trade of this animal, which is introduced onto the market as a pet.

“The case of Spain is a good example. The origin of its expansion is probably due to it escaping from the home where it was kept as a pet and due to the owners releasing it into the countryside when it reaches adulthood and becomes aggressive,” adds the researcher.

According to the researcher, “this is mainly the case because there is a complete lack of knowledge of the biology, ecology, distribution and population density of the raccoon in Europe.”

Chocolate: A sweet method for stroke prevention in men?

MINNEAPOLIS – Eating a moderate amount of chocolate each week may be associated with a lower risk of stroke in men, according to a new study published in the August 29, 2012, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

“While other studies have looked at how chocolate may help cardiovascular health, this is the first of its kind study to find that chocolate, may be beneficial for reducing stroke in men,” said study author Susanna C. Larsson, PhD, with the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.

For the study, 37,103 Swedish men ages 49 to 75 were given a food questionnaire that assessed how often they consumed various foods and drinks and were asked how often they had chocolate. Researchers then identified stroke cases through a hospital discharge registry. Over 10 years, there were 1,995 cases of first stroke.

Men in the study who ate the largest amount of chocolate, about one-third of a cup of chocolate chips (63 grams), had a lower risk of stroke compared to those who did not consume any chocolate. Those eating the highest amount of chocolate had a 17-percent lower risk of stroke, or 12 fewer strokes per 100,000 person-years compared to those who ate no chocolate. Person-years is the total number of years that each participant was under observation.

In a larger analysis of five studies that included 4,260 stroke cases, the risk of stroke for individuals in the highest category of chocolate consumption was 19 percent lower compared to non-chocolate consumers. For every increase in chocolate consumption of 50 grams per week, or about a quarter cup of chocolate chips, the risk of stroke decreased by about 14 percent.

“The beneficial effect of chocolate consumption on stroke may be related to the flavonoids in chocolate. Flavonoids appear to be protective against cardiovascular disease through antioxidant, anti-clotting and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s also possible that flavonoids in chocolate may decrease blood concentrations of bad cholesterol and reduce blood pressure,” said Larsson.

“Interestingly, dark chocolate has previously been associated with heart health benefits, but about 90 percent of the chocolate intake in Sweden, including what was consumed during our study, is milk chocolate,” Larsson added.

Bacterial cause found for skin condition rosacea

Scientists are closer to establishing a definitive bacterial cause for the skin condition rosacea. This will allow more targeted, effective treatments to be developed for sufferers, according to a review published in the Journal of Medical Microbiology.

Rosacea is a common dermatological condition that causes reddening and inflammation of the skin mostly around the cheeks, nose and chin. In severe cases skin lesions may form and lead to disfigurement. Rosacea affects around 3% of the population – usually fair-skinned females aged 30-50 and particularly those with weak immune systems. The condition is treated with a variety of antibiotics, even though there has never been a well-established bacterial cause.

A new review carried out by the National University of Ireland concludes that rosacea may be triggered by bacteria that live within tiny mites that reside in the skin.

The mite species Demodex folliculorum is worm-like in shape and usually lives harmlessly inside the pilosebaceous unit which surrounds hair follicles of the face. They are normal inhabitants of the face and increase in number with age and skin damage – for example, following exposure to sunlight. The numbers of Demodex mites living in the skin of rosacea patients is higher than in normal individuals, which has previously suggested a possible role for the mites in initiating the condition.

More recently, the bacterium Bacillus oleronius was isolated from inside a Demodex mite and was found to produce molecules provoking an immune reaction in rosacea patients. Other studies have shown patients with varying types of rosacea react to the molecules produced by this bacterium – exposing it as a likely trigger for the condition. What’s more, this bacterium is sensitive to the antibiotics used to treat rosacea.

Dr Kevin Kavanagh who conducted the review explained, “The bacteria live in the digestive tracts of Demodex mites found on the face, in a mutually beneficial relationship. When the mites die, the bacteria are released and leak into surrounding skin tissues – triggering tissue degradation and inflammation.”

“Once the numbers of mites increase, so does the number of bacteria, making rosacea more likely to occur. Targeting these bacteria may be a useful way of treating and preventing this condition,” said Dr Kavanagh. “Alternatively we could look at controlling the population of Demodex mites in the face. Some pharmaceutical companies are already developing therapies to do this, which represents a novel way of preventing and reversing rosacea, which can be painful and embarrassing for many people.”

WSU researchers discover mechanism leading from trichomoniasis to prostate cancer

Finding could lead to better diagnosis and treatment

PULLMAN, Wash.—Researchers have identified a way in which men can develop prostate cancer after contracting trichomoniasis, a curable but often overlooked sexually transmitted disease.

Previous studies have teased out a casual, epidemiological correlation between the two diseases, but this latest study suggests a more tangible biological mechanism.

John Alderete, a professor at Washington State University’s School of Molecular Biosciences, says the trichomoniasis parasite activates a suite of proteins, the last of which makes sure the proteins stay active.

“It’s like switching a light switch on,” he says. “Then, if you don’t control the brightness of that light, you can go blind. That’s the problem.”

Alderete and colleagues at WSU and Washington University in St. Louis report their findings in the recent PLoS Pathogens.

Caused by a protozoan parasite, trichomoniasis is often referred to as the most common curable sexually transmitted infection. However, most infected people have no symptoms, so it often goes untreated.

“Most women, it’s the Number One sexually transmitted infection,” says Alderete. “We’re going to have at least 10 million women infected this year and an equal number of men because they all get infected if they come into contact with an infected partner.”

Infected women have a greater risk of pregnancy complications and HIV. Infected men have a 40 percent greater chance of developing prostate cancer, according to a 2006 study led by Siobhan Sutcliffe, a Washington University epidemiologist and co-author of the recent PLoS Pathogens paper.

Sutcliffe cautions that the epidemiological link she found is not conclusive and compares the science to the early connections drawn between smoking and lung cancer.

“It’s still in a really exploratory phase,” she says.

A study after her 2006 research found no connection between trichomoniasis and prostate cancer, while a third out of Harvard found an even greater likelihood of cancer in infected men.

This latest study, she says, “is providing a molecular mechanism that might explain that association.”

Much of the study was done in a single building, WSU’s Biotechnology and Life Sciences Building, and involved two of the more accomplished researchers on the Pullman campus.

“This is just coincidence. I’ve only been here five years,” says Alderete. “And when I arrived here five years ago, I had no clue that we would be going in this kind of direction. But the more I read and the more we talked in the hallways, the more it became clear that, wait a minute, we may have something here between us.”

WSU cancer researcher Nancy Magnuson is an expert on the protein PIM1, a promoter of cancer cell growth, and identified the protein in the cascade of proteins leading from trichomoniasis to prostate cancer. WSU molecular biologist Ray Reeves brought to bear his expertise in HMGA1. The protein turns genes on and off and ended up being the actor making sure other proteins in the trichomoniasis-to-cancer sequence stay on.

Alderete hopes knowledge of the mechanism will lead to better diagnosis and treatment.

“What this is also doing is telling the world, ‘People, this is a latent infection,'” he says. “‘You guys out there, if you’ve been exposed to it, you’ve got it in there, and we need now a diagnostic for you.’

A new statistical review calls into question studies that have been taken as proof that antibiotic retreatment for chronic Lyme disease is futile. That misunderstanding has led to medical guidance that discourages retreatment and insurance coverage for it. Instead, the authors of the review suggest, the proper reading of the studies and their data is that they prove nothing.

Lyme retreatment guidance may be flawed

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Most doctors treat Lyme disease with antibiotics for two to four weeks after diagnosis, but if symptoms persist after that, medical guidelines recommend against antibiotic retreatment. That recommendation may not be warranted. A newly published statistical review of the four studies upon which those guidelines are based reports flaws in design, analysis, and interpretation that call into question the strength of the evidence against retreatment.

Allison DeLong, a biostatistician at Brown University’s Center for Statistical Sciences and lead author of the study published online Aug. 19, 2012, in Contemporary Clinical Trials, said the four studies do not prove that retreatment does not work. That questionable interpretation, however, has led doctors to forgo treatment and insurance companies to withhold reimbursement.

“The goal of the paper is to clarify what was actually found from these clinical trials and what could be said and what couldn’t be said,” DeLong said. “A lack of evidence should not be used to deny treatment when the studies have serious flaws.”

Evidence in the trials is most often inconclusive, she and three co-authors found. Two studies even found some statistically significant benefits from antibiotics.

DeLong has been curious about Lyme disease retreatment for more than a decade since a friend of hers seemed to benefit from therapy. Her friend paid for the treatment out-of-pocket. Statisticians would call that anecdote an “n of 1,” but the example stuck with DeLong as more people, including journalists, began to question whether retreatment really was ineffective.

In 2009 and 2010, DeLong and her colleagues decided to look into the matter with full statistical rigor. Their analysis started by scanning the medical literature for any randomized clinical trials offering evidence of the efficacy of antibiotic retreatment for Lyme disease. Careful review of more than 100 studies ultimately whittled the field down to the four studies on which the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the American Academy of Neurology are based their guidelines.

The most influential studies were conducted by Klempner et al., and published together in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2001. The multicenter trials enrolled chronic Lyme sufferers with positive or negative blood serum results for Immunoglobulin G, an antibody that might indicate active infection. In each of the IgG positive and negative groups, patients either received IV antibiotics followed by oral antibiotics or IV placebo followed by oral placebo. Their symptoms were measured along the way using a subjective set of health quality-of-life measures called the SF-36.

Although Klempner et al. found no significant benefit to retreatment, findings from subsequent SF-36 studies in chronic illnesses provide evidence that the Klempner study was looking for unrealistically large differences.

“The trials, as designed, called for treatment effects considerably larger than the minimum clinically important differences (MCID) identified in other chronic illnesses, suggesting that the sample sizes were inadequate and the trials were very likely underpowered to detect the true underlying MCIDs,” DeLong and her co-authors wrote in the journal.

Klempner’s statistics showed that treatment might or might not have been effective given the broad range of a statistical measure known as the confidence interval, DeLong said.

In another of the four trials conducted by Krupp et al., researchers found that retreatment produced a significant benefit for fatigue, but the authors of the study mistakenly discounted that result, DeLong said.

The authors became concerned that their results were tainted by too many subjects realizing that they were receiving real treatment instead of the placebo. The measure of fatigue is subjective and could be influenced by that realization. But DeLong found that the subjects weren’t likely to have realized anything. Here’s why: If the members of each group have a blindly optimistic seven in 10 chance of believing that they received real medicine, then the people who really were would be right seven out of 10 times and the people receiving the placebo would only be right 3 out of 10 times. The people receiving the medicine would seem like they had discovered their status, but in reality they were only making a lucky, optimistic guess.

While the Krupp study was adequately powered to measure a significant benefit from fatigue, it had less power to measure the two other treatment effects it considered: improvements in cognitive processing and clearance of a potential Lyme disease biomarker, DeLong said.

The last of the four studies, by Fallon et al., had a very small sample size. It found hints of some benefits from retreatment but nothing definitive either positively or negatively.

Ultimately, DeLong said, the best evidence to support or refute antibiotic retreatment will come when scientists develop a definitive test for active Lyme disease infection. In the interim, it is possible that chronic Lyme disease patients harbor an ongoing infection that antibiotics could treat.

“The interpretation of the trials goes too far,” she said. “You can’t say it’s been shown that retreatment is not beneficial. You can’t then jump to the conclusion that this shows there is no persistence of infection.”

In addition to DeLong, the paper’s other authors are statistics graduate student Barbara Blossom of Colorado State University, Dr. Elizabeth Maloney of Wyoming, Minn., and Dr. Steven Phillips of Greenwich Hospital in Connecticut

Chemical exposure in the womb from household items may contribute to obesity

Woodruff Health Sciences Center | Aug. 30, 2012

Contact

Jennifer Johnson
(media inquiries only)
404-727-5696
jennifer.johnson@emory.edu

“Previous animal and human research suggests prenatal exposures to PFCs may have harmful effects on fetal and postnatal growth,” says lead researcher Michele Marcus.

Print

More Sharing ServicesShare

Resources »

Biosketch: Michele Marcus

Environmental Health @ Emory

Tags »

journalists, health, research, science, school of public health, woodruff health sciences center, CDC, children’s healthcare, environment, health sciences research, pediatrics, public health

Pregnant women who are highly exposed to common environmental chemicals – polyfluoroalkyl compounds (PFCs) – have babies that are smaller at birth and larger at 20 months of age, according to a study from Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health published online in the August 30 edition of Environmental Health Perspectives.

PFCs are used in the production of fluoropolymers and are found widely in protective coatings of packaging products, clothes, furniture and non-stick cookware. They are persistent compounds found abundantly in the environment and human exposure is common. PFCs have been detected in human sera, breast milk and cord blood.

The study, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, included 447 British girls and their mothers in the United Kingdom participating in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a large-scale health research project that has provided a vast amount of genetic and environmental information since it began in the early 1990s.

The researchers found that even though girls with higher exposure were smaller than average (43rd percentile) at birth, they were heavier than average (58th percentile) by 20 months of age. The authors say this path may lead to obesity at older ages.

“Previous animal and human research suggests prenatal exposures to PFCs may have harmful effects on fetal and postnatal growth,” says lead researcher Michele Marcus, MPH, PhD, a professor of epidemiology in Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health and the assistant program director at Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Health Research.

“Our findings are consistent with these studies and emerging evidence that chemicals in our environment are contributing to obesity and diabetes and demonstrate that this trajectory is set very early in life for those exposed.”

According to Marcus, a recent study in Denmark found that women exposed to PFCs in the womb were more likely to be overweight at age 20. And experimental studies with mice have shown that exposure in the womb led to higher levels of insulin and heavier body weight in adulthood.

Marcus and her colleagues focused on the three most studied PFCs: perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFS), perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) and perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS).

The researchers measured maternal serum concentrations of PFOS, PFOA and PFHxS during pregnancy and obtained data on the weight and length of the girls at birth, 2, 9 and 20 months. They explored associations between prenatal PFC concentrations and weight at birth as well as changes in weight-for-age scores between birth and 20 months

Affluent people less likely to reach out to others in times of chaos, study suggests

By Yasmin Anwar, Media Relations | August 30, 2012

BERKELEY —

Crises are said to bring people closer together. But a new study from UC Berkeley suggests that while the have-nots reach out to one another in times of trouble, the wealthy are more apt to find comfort in material possessions.

While chaos drives some to seek comfort in friends and family, others gravitate toward money and material possessions, new study finds

“In times of uncertainty, we see a dramatic polarization, with the rich more focused on holding onto and attaining wealth and the poor spending more time with friends and loved ones,” said Paul Piff, a post-doctoral scholar in psychology at UC Berkeley and lead author of the paper published online this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

These new findings add to a growing body of scholarship at UC Berkeley on socio-economic class — defined by both household income and education –- and social behavior.

Results from five separate experiments shed new light on how humans from varying socio-economic backgrounds may respond to both natural and man-made disasters, including economic recessions, political instability, earthquakes and hurricanes. They also help explain why, in times of turmoil, people can become more polarized in their responses to uncertainty and chaos.

For example, when asked if they would move across the country for a higher-paying job, study participants from the lower class responded that they would decline in favor of staying close to friends, family and colleagues. By contrast, upper class participants opted to take the job and cut ties with their community.

Although the study does not provide a definitive reason for why the upper class, when stressed, focuses more on worldly goods than relationships, it posits that “material wealth may be a particularly salient, accessible and preferred individual coping mechanism … when they are threatened by perceptions of chaos within the social environment.”

Each experiment was done with a different group of ethnically and socio-economically diverse participants, all of whom reported their social status (household income and education) as well as their level of community mindedness and/or preoccupation with money.

In a lab setting, researchers induced various psychological states in their subjects –- such as uncertainty, helplessness or anxiety –- so they could accurately assess how social class shapes the likelihood of people turning to others or to wealth in the face of perceived chaos.

Chaos is defined in the study as “the feeling that the world is unknown, unpredictable, seemingly random … a general sense that the world and one’s life have turned uncertain and topsy-turvy.” This uncertainty typically triggers either a fight-or-flight or a “tend-and-befriend” response, which researchers used to assess participants reactions to induced stress.

In the first experiment, a nationwide sample of 76 men and women ranging in age from 18 to 66 were tasked with selecting, online, a visual graph that best reflected the trajectory of economic ups and downs they believed they were likely to face in their lifetimes. The results showed that the upper class and, to a small degree, Caucasian participants, were less likely than the lower class and minorities to anticipate financial instability. Lower-class participants who expected more turmoil in their lives were more likely to turn to community to cope with perceived chaos, the study found.

In the second experiment, 72 college students were asked to write about positive and negative factors that could impact their educational experience. Potential threats that they cited included canceled classes, tuition hikes and academic failures. Again, worries about chaos and helplessness spurred lower class college students – but not the upper class ones – to say they would turn to their community for support. In the third experiment, 77 students were put through computerized tasks in which they rearranged into sentences words that either alluded to chaos or something negative. This exercise was designed to prime certain participants to see their environment as unpredictable and scary. When these participants were offered five minutes to take part in a community building task where they could develop friendships with a group of their peers, only lower class participants jumped at the opportunity.

The fourth experiment had 135 students unscramble similar words into sentences and then report on how much they agreed with such statements as “Money is the only thing I can really count on” and “Time spent not making money is time wasted.” When made to feel as if the world was chaotic, upper class participants consistently agreed more strongly with these statements.

In the fifth experiment, 115 students were given a hypothetical scenario in which an employer offered them a new job for a higher salary, with the caveat that they would need to move, and potentially lose touch with their current network of family, friends and colleagues. Again, when primed with feelings that the world was uncertain and chaotic, upper class participants were more amenable to cutting ties and taking the job, whereas lower class participants opted to stay close to their support networks.

“Given the very different forms of coping that we observe among the upper and lower classes, our research suggests that in times of economic uncertainty and social instability, disparities between the haves and the have-nots could grow ever wider,” Piff said.

Other coauthors of the study are UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner; Daniel Stancato, a psychologist in Seattle, Wash.; Andres Martinez of George Mason University and Michael Kraus of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The research was funded in part by the National Science Foundation

Contact: Lauren Anderson
lauren.anderson@europeanlung.org
0043-676-331-5356
European Lung Foundation

Asthma symptoms could be aggravated by imbalance problems

Vienna, Austria: Asthma patients could be at a higher risk of worsening symptoms due to problems with their balance, according to new research.

The study will be presented today (2 September 2012) at the European Respiratory Society’s Annual Congress in Vienna.

Researchers aimed to assess the link between asthma, anxiety and balance. Anxiety and imbalance are closely related. Muscles and joints are controlled by signals from the brain, which are, in turn, sent from stimuli from the eyes and inner ear. This function is also controlled by the limbic system in the brain, which is additionally responsible for emotions, such as anxiety.

It is well known that anxiety can exacerbate asthma symptoms, yet there has been little research into whether balance abnormalities also have a negative influence on asthmatics.

The researchers measured levels of anxiety in 30 people with persistent controlled asthma and a control group without asthma. They used an established questionnaire, the Spielberger State–Trait Anxiety Inventory for Adults to measure a person’s levels of anxiety. They also assessed balance control using dynamic posturography, which tests a person’s control of their posture in different positions.

The results confirmed previous findings showing that asthmatics regularly suffer with anxiety problems. 88% of people in the asthma group had a moderate or intense anxiety level, compared with 46% in the control group.

The findings also revealed that the asthmatic group frequently performed worse in the balance test, compared with the control group.

The researchers suggest that balance abnormalities should be investigated in patients with asthma, particularly those with already high levels of anxiety, to prevent the deterioration of their symptoms.

Lead author of the research, Dr Angelo Geraldo Jose Cunha, from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, said: “Our research has shed light on an area of asthma that has received little attention. The links we’ve seen between brain, lung and labyrinth suggest that asthma symptoms could be much worse in people with balance problems caused by anxiety or in people suffering from balance issues independent of anxiety problems.

“This study had confirmed that asthma has many clinical expressions that go beyond symptoms solely affecting the lung. In addition to healthcare professionals paying attention to balance disorders in asthmatics, this field of research requires further investigation to fully understand the link between balance, anxiety and asthma.”

Coconut oil could combat tooth decay

Digested coconut oil is able to attack the bacteria that cause tooth decay. It is a natural antibiotic that could be incorporated into commercial dental care products, say scientists presenting their work at the Society for General Microbiology’s Autumn Conference at the University of Warwick.

The team from the Athlone Institute of Technology in Ireland tested the antibacterial action of coconut oil in its natural state and coconut oil that had been treated with enzymes, in a process similar to digestion. The oils were tested against strains of Streptococcus bacteria which are common inhabitants of the mouth. They found that enzyme-modified coconut oil strongly inhibited the growth of most strains of Streptococcus bacteria including Streptococcus mutans – an acid-producing bacterium that is a major cause of tooth decay.

Many previous studies have shown that partially digested foodstuffs are active against micro-organisms. Earlier work on enzyme-modified milk showed that it was able to reduce the binding of S. mutans to tooth enamel, which prompted the group to investigate the effect of other enzyme-modified foods on bacteria.

Further work will examine how coconut oil interacts with Streptococcus bacteria at the molecular level and which other strains of harmful bacteria and yeasts it is active against. Additional testing by the group at the Athlone Institute of Technology found that enzyme-modified coconut oil was also harmful to the yeast Candida albicans that can cause thrush.

The researchers suggest that enzyme-modified coconut oil has potential as a marketable antimicrobial which could be of particular interest to the oral healthcare industry. Dr Damien Brady who is leading the research said, “Dental caries is a commonly overlooked health problem affecting 60-90% of children and the majority of adults in industrialized countries. Incorporating enzyme-modified coconut oil into dental hygiene products would be an attractive alternative to chemical additives, particularly as it works at relatively low concentrations. Also, with increasing antibiotic resistance, it is important that we turn our attention to new ways to combat microbial infection.”

The work also contributes to our understanding of antibacterial activity in the human gut. “Our data suggests that products of human digestion show antimicrobial activity. This could have implications for how bacteria colonize the cells lining the digestive tract and for overall gut health,” explained Dr Brady. “Our research has shown that digested milk protein not only reduced the adherence of harmful bacteria to human intestinal cells but also prevented some of them from gaining entrance into the cell. We are currently researching coconut oil and other enzyme-modified foodstuffs to identify how they interfere with the way bacteria cause illness and disease,” he said.

Heavy drinking rewires brain, increasing susceptibility to anxiety problems

IMAGE:Thomas Kash, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmacology at the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies in the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, is one of the study’s authors….

Click here for more information.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Doctors have long recognized a link between alcoholism and anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Those who drink heavily are at increased risk for traumatic events like car accidents and domestic violence, but that only partially explains the connection. New research using mice reveals heavy alcohol use actually rewires brain circuitry, making it harder for alcoholics to recover psychologically following a traumatic experience.

“There’s a whole spectrum to how people react to a traumatic event,” said study author Thomas Kash, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. “It’s the recovery that we’re looking at — the ability to say ‘this is not dangerous anymore.’ Basically, our research shows that chronic exposure to alcohol can cause a deficit with regard to how our cognitive brain centers control our emotional brain centers.”

The study, which was published online on Sept. 2, 2012 by the journal Nature Neuroscience, was conducted by scientists at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and UNC’s Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies.

“A history of heavy alcohol abuse could impair a critical mechanism for recovering from a trauma, and in doing so put people at greater risk for PTSD,” said NIAAA scientist Andrew Holmes, PhD, the study’s senior author. “The next step will be to test whether our preclinical findings translate to patients currently suffering from comorbid PTSD and alcohol abuse. If it does, then this could lead to new thinking about how we can better treat these serious medical conditions.”

Over the course of a month, the researchers gave one group of mice doses of alcohol equivalent to double the legal driving limit in humans. A second group of mice was given no alcohol. The team then used mild electric shocks to train all the mice to fear the sound of a brief tone.

When the tone was repeatedly played without the accompanying electric shock, the mice with no alcohol exposure gradually stopped fearing it. The mice with chronic alcohol exposure, on the other hand, froze in place each time the tone was played, even long after the electric shocks had stopped.

The pattern is similar to what is seen in patients with PTSD, who have trouble overcoming fear even when they are no longer in a dangerous situation.

The researchers traced the effect to differences in the neural circuitry of the alcohol-exposed mice. Comparing the brains of the mice, researchers noticed nerve cells in the prefrontal cortex of the alcohol-exposed mice actually had a different shape than those of the other mice. In addition, the activity of a key receptor, NMDA, was suppressed in the mice given heavy doses of alcohol.

Holmes said the findings are valuable because they pinpoint exactly where alcohol causes damage that leads to problems overcoming fear. “We’re not only seeing that alcohol has detrimental effects on a clinically important emotional process, but we’re able to offer some insight into how alcohol might do so by disrupting the functioning of some very specific brain circuits,” said Holmes.

Understanding the relationship between alcohol and anxiety at the molecular level could offer new possibilities for developing drugs to help patients with anxiety disorders who also have a history of heavy alcohol use. “This study is exciting because it gives us a specific molecule to look at in a specific brain region, thus opening the door to discovering new methods to treat these disorders,” said Kash.

Even in normal range, high blood sugar linked to brain shrinkage

MINNEAPOLIS – People whose blood sugar is on the high end of the normal range may be at greater risk of brain shrinkage that occurs with aging and diseases such as dementia, according to new research published in the September 4, 2012, print issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

“Numerous studies have shown a link between type 2 diabetes and brain shrinkage and dementia, but we haven’t known much about whether people with blood sugar on the high end of normal experience these same effects,” said study author Nicolas Cherbuin, PhD, with Australian National University in Canberra.

The study involved 249 people age 60 to 64 who had blood sugar in the normal range as defined by the World Health Organization. The participants had brain scans at the start of the study and again an average of four years later.

Those with higher fasting blood sugar levels within the normal range and below 6.1 mmol/l (or 110 mg/dL) were more likely to have a loss of brain volume in the areas of the hippocampus and the amygdala, areas that are involved in memory and cognitive skills, than those with lower blood sugar levels. A fasting blood sugar level of 10.0 mmol/l (180 mg/dL) or higher was defined as diabetes and a level of 6.1 mmol/l (110 mg/dL) was considered impaired, or prediabetes.

After controlling for age, high blood pressure, smoking, alcohol use and other factors, the researchers found that blood sugar on the high end of normal accounted for six to 10 percent of the brain shrinkage.

“These findings suggest that even for people who do not have diabetes, blood sugar levels could have an impact on brain health,” Cherbuin said. “More research is needed, but these findings may lead us to re-evaluate the concept of normal blood sugar levels and the definition of diabetes.”

High doses of Vitamin D help tuberculosis patients recover more quickly

For decades before antibiotics became generally available, sunshine was used to treat tuberculosis, with patients often being sent to Swiss clinics to soak up the sun’s healing rays. Now, for the first time scientists have shown how and why heliotherapy might, indeed, have made a difference.

A study led by researchers at Queen Mary, University of London, conducted in collaboration with the Medical Research Council’s National Institute for Medical Research, has shown that high doses of vitamin D, given in addition to antibiotic treatment, appear to help patients with tuberculosis (TB) recover more quickly.

The research, which will be published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS), is the first to investigate the effect of vitamin D on the immune responses of patients receiving treatment for an infectious disease. The findings indicate that high doses of the vitamin can dampen down the body’s inflammatory response to infection, enabling patients to recover faster, with less damage to their lungs.

In addition to stimulating recovery in TB patients, the authors say their results suggest that vitamin D supplementation might help patients recover better from other diseases such as pneumonia.

Dr Adrian Martineau, senior lecturer in respiratory infection and immunity at the Blizard Institute, part of Queen Mary, University of London, who led the research, said: “These findings are very significant. They indicate that vitamin D may have a role in accelerating resolution of inflammatory responses in tuberculosis patients. This is important, because sometimes these inflammatory responses can cause tissue damage leading to the development of cavities in the lung. If we can help these cavities to heal more quickly, then patients should be infectious for a shorter period of time, and they may also suffer less lung damage.

“More broadly, the ability of vitamin D to dampen down inflammatory responses without compromising the actions of antibiotics raises the possibility that supplementation might also have benefits in patients receiving antimicrobial therapy for pneumonia, sepsis and other lung infections.”

Dr Martineau and his colleagues from a number of London hospitals and institutions randomised 95 TB patients receiving standard antibiotic treatment into two groups: for the first eight weeks of their treatment, 44 received additional high dose vitamin D, while 51 received a placebo. Dr Anna Coussens at the MRC’s National Institute for Medical Research measured levels of inflammatory markers in blood samples taken from these patients, and conducted statistical analyses to determine the effects that vitamin D had on the immune response.

“We found that a large number of these inflammatory markers fell further and faster in patients receiving vitamin D,” said Dr Coussens.

The researchers also found that Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes TB, was cleared from the patients’ sputum (the phlegm coughed up from deep in the lungs) faster in those who were taking vitamin D, taking an average of 23 days to become undetectable under the microscope compared to 36 days in the patients who were taking the placebo.

Dr Martineau said it was probably too early to be recommending that all TB patients should take high-dose vitamin D in addition to the standard antibiotic treatment for the disease; more research with more patients was needed before clinical recommendations could be made. “We are hoping to do more work to evaluate the effects of higher doses and different forms of vitamin D to see if they have a more dramatic effect,” he said.

High levels of DDT in breast milk

The highest levels ever of DDT in breast milk have been measured in mothers living in malaria-stricken villages in South Africa. The values lie well over the limits set by the World Health Organization. DDT has been used for many years in South Africa, sprayed indoors to fight malaria. It works, but it exposes the inhabitants to other risks not yet fully known.

“To our ears, spraying DDT inside people’s homes sounds absurd. But it is one of the most effective agents against malaria. And by only spraying adult mosquitoes in the vicinity of people, the risk of developing resistance in mosquitoes decreases, ” says Henrik Kylin, environmental chemist and professor at Water and Environmental Studies, Linköping. Together with South African researchers and doctors, he is collaborating on a project to map the effects of DDT on the population.

“We know a lot about how DDT affects nature and animals, but the effects on people’s health are not as well studied, especially concerning long-term exposure.”

“Based on the argument that “malaria is worse than DDT”, people accept this spray treatment programme. The purpose of our project is to study the side effects, thereby creating a better basis for decisions.”

In a newly published article, the researchers report on a study of DDT levels in breast milk from nursing mothers in four villages, of which three are afflicted by malaria. DDT has been used continuously in these three villages for more than 60 years. The spray treatment takes place a couple of times a year and is carried out by specially trained and equipped staff.

The levels proved to be unacceptably high in the villages sprayed. They were well over (100 times greater) the highest daily dosage recommended by WHO. In once case they measured the highest known level of DDT in breast milk ever, more than 300 times higher than the level allowed in cow’s milk.

DDT has been associated with diagnoses such as breast cancer, diabetes, impaired sperm quality, spontaneous abortions, and neurological disorders in children. In the region where the measurements were carried out, malformed genitalia among boys was significantly more common in areas treated with DDT compared with untreated areas.

“DDT contains oestrogen-like substances; we know that the breakdown products from DDT counteract male sexual development,” Kylin says.
Based on breast milk samples, it was estimated that boys ingest somewhat more DDT than girls, with the exception of first-born children. This could depend on the fact that the fat content of breast milk is higher if a boy is nursing. First-born children, however, get the highest levels, depending – as Kylin explains – on the mother’s higher stored levels of DDT at her first birth.

What surprised the researchers more was the large differences between the treated villages. Despite apparently similar conditions, the measured DDT levels were twice as high in one treated village compared with one of the others. A whole range of factors may come into play here, such as procedures in connection with treatment, the condition of the walls, ventilation, people’s behaviour and cleaning habits. Identifying these factors, the researchers write, could contribute to decreasing exposure, thereby also the risk for both mothers and children.

“Unfortunately the smallest children are exposed to the highest DDT levels; they are also extra sensitive to chemical influence,” Kylin says.

He also emphasizes the staff operating the spray treatments as an overlooked risk group requiring further study.

As things stand today, there is no real alternative to DDT in these malaria-stricken areas. “Mosquito-proof netting has successfully been tested in a few places, but doesn’t work everywhere,” Kylin says.

He is convinced that research could have come farther in finding alternatives for DDT if malaria were a widespread illness in rich countries

Large Review Finds Some Evidence for “Chemo Brain” in Breast Cancer Survivors, Moffitt Cancer Center Says

Sep, 04 2012

A large meta-analysis conducted by researchers at Moffitt Cancer Center has concluded that breast cancer patients treated with chemotherapy are at risk for mild cognitive deficits after treatment. The meta-analysis, or analytic review of previously published studies, found that study participants on average had mild impairments in verbal abilities (such as difficulty choosing words) and visuospatial abilities (such as getting lost more easily). The study noted that cognitive functioning varies across survivors, with some reporting no impairments and others reporting more severe or pervasive deficits.

The study was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology. The research was supported in part by the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, through grant number K07 CA138499.

“The objective of our analysis was to clarify existing research on cognitive functioning in patients who had received standard dose chemotherapy for breast cancer at least six months previously,” said study lead author Heather S.L. Jim, Ph.D., an assistant member at Moffitt whose research focuses on the psychosocial and behavioral aspects of cancer survivorship. “Earlier studies had reported conflicting evidence on the severity of cognitive deficits, especially over the long term.”

Although this is an active area of research, an overall analysis of the studies had not been performed since 2006, explained the researchers.

“Our analysis indicated that patients previously treated with chemotherapy performed significantly worse on tests of verbal ability than individuals without cancer,” noted co-author Paul B. Jacobsen, Moffitt senior member and associate center director of Population Sciences. “In addition, patients treated with chemotherapy performed significantly worse on tests of visuospatial ability than patients who had not had chemotherapy.”

“Breast cancer patients treated with chemotherapy who have subsequent cognitive deficits should be referred to a neuropsychologist for evaluation and management of the deficits,” Jim said. “Management usually involves developing an awareness of the situations in which their cognitive difficulties are likely to arise so that they can come up with strategies to compensate. Research shows that such strategies can make a big difference in daily life when cognitive difficulties do arise.”

Are restrictions to scientific research costing lives?

London, UK (05 September 2012) – In ‘Censors on Campus’, Index on Censorship asks whether lives might be saved by making vital research freely available. As malaria expert Bart Knols argues, in some parts of Asia and Africa the fight against malaria is severely hampered because doctors and researchers are denied full access to the 3,000 articles published on the disease each year. At the same time, scientists living and working in developing countries are prevented from becoming global players in the public health arena.

In this special issue looking at academic freedom around the world, Thomas Doherty argues that government cuts are endangering the pursuit of knowledge in UK universities and Heather L Weaver looks at new tactics to bring creationism into the classroom. Plus exclusive reports about protest on campus in Israel, Turkey and Thailand.

Also in this issue: As the Leveson Inquiry prepares to report on the culture and ethics of the press in the UK, Alan Rusbridger, Guido Fawkes, Trevor Kavanagh, Mark Lewis and Martin Moore outline their hopes, fears and expectations.

Toddlers increasingly swallowing liquid detergent capsules

‘Significant public health issue’ which requires rethink on packaging and safety warning

Doctors are calling for improved safety warnings and childproof packaging for laundry and dishwasher detergent liquitabs, following a cluster of incidents in which toddlers have inadvertently swallowed the capsules.

The five cases, all of which occurred within the space of 18 months, are reported online in the Archives of Disease in Childhood. The youngest child was just 10 months old, and all the children were under the age of 2.

All five children were admitted to one hospital in Glasgow as emergencies, emitting a high pitched wheeze (stridor) indicative of a blockage in the airway.

All liquitabs contain strong alkaline cleaning agents, which have a powerful solvent action that can destroy tissue and cause intense inflammation and swelling, say the authors.

This can rapidly progress to airway blockage and potentially lung damage as the gullet tissue is eroded, which can be fatal.

The eldest of the five children was treated with antibiotics and steroids, but the other four required intubation for several days to treat swelling and ulceration. In one child the swelling and ulceration was so extensive that surgery was required.

All the children recovered, but the authors point out that the incidents had “a catastrophic impact on the child and family” and wasted valuable intensive care resources.

These five cases are not isolated incidents, they point out. Last year the National Poisoning Information Service received 647 phone calls and almost 4000 online searches about the eating/swallowing of the contents of liquid detergent capsules, from healthcare professionals.

“This is an increase over the previous year’s total and more than double the number of enquiries made for these types of products 5 years ago,” they write.

They highlight other research showing the risk of severe eye injury as a result of young children getting hold of the contents of these capsules.

But most liquitabs do not come in childproof containers, and compliance with packaging safety standards is currently voluntary, say the authors.

“To help prevent future potentially life threatening injuries, improved safety warnings and childproof packaging are urgently required,” they argue, adding that they have written to the manufacturers, alerting them to the problem.

Parents also have their part to play in keeping these products out of the reach of children, they say.

“Dishwasher and washing machine liquitabs are now a common finding in most homes, but unfortunately, seem very attractive to young children due to their bright colouring and soft sweetie-like texture,” they write.

“We feel that the increasing trend in liquid detergent capsule ingestion poses a significant public health issue,” they add.

Brainy beverage: Study reveals how green tea boosts brain cell production to aid memory

It has long been believed that drinking green tea is good for the memory. Now researchers have discovered how the chemical properties of China’s favorite drink affect the generation of brain cells, providing benefits for memory and spatial learning. The research is published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research.

“Green tea is a popular beverage across the world,” said Professor Yun Bai from the Third Military Medical University, Chongqing, China. “There has been plenty of scientific attention on its use in helping prevent cardiovascular diseases, but now there is emerging evidence that its chemical properties may impact cellular mechanisms in the brain.”

Professor Bai’s team focused on the organic chemical EGCG, (epigallocatechin-3 gallate) a key property of green tea. While EGCG is a known anti-oxidant, the team believed it can also have a beneficial effect against age-related degenerative diseases.

“We proposed that EGCG can improve cognitive function by impacting the generation of neuron cells, a process known as neurogenesis,” said Bai. “We focused our research on the hippocampus, the part of the brain which processes information from short-term to long-term memory.”

The team found that ECGC boosts the production of neural progenitor cells, which like stem cells can adapt, or differentiate, into various types of cells. The team then used laboratory mice to discover if this increased cell production gave an advantage to memory or spatial learning.

“We ran tests on two groups of mice, one which had imbibed ECGC and a control group,” said Bai. “First the mice were trained for three days to find a visible platform in their maze. Then they were trained for seven days to find a hidden platform.”

The team found that the ECGC treated mice required less time to find the hidden platform. Overall the results revealed that EGCG enhances learning and memory by improving object recognition and spatial memory.

“We have shown that the organic chemical EGCG acts directly to increase the production of neural progenitor cells, both in glass tests and in mice,” concluded Bai. “This helps us to understand the potential for EGCG, and green tea which contains it, to help combat degenerative diseases and memory loss.”

This paper is published as part of a collection of articles bringing together high quality research on the theme of food science and technology with particular relevance to China. Browse free articles from Wiley’s food science and technology publications including the Journal of Food Science, Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture and Molecular Nutrition & Food Research.

Children exposed to 2 phthalates have elevated risk of asthma-related airway inflammation

Children exposed to diethyl phthalate (DEP) and butylbenzyl phthalate (BBzP)—phthalate chemicals commonly found in personal care and plastic products—have elevated risk of asthma-related airway inflammation, according to researchers at Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) at the Mailman School of Public Health.

Of the 244 children aged 5 to 9 in the study, all had detectable levels of phthalates in their urine although these varied over a wide range. Higher levels of both phthalates were associated with higher levels of nitric oxide in exhaled breath, a biological marker of airway inflammation. The association between BBzP exposure and airway inflammation was especially strong among children who had recently reported wheeze, a common symptom of asthma. Results were recently published online in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

“While many factors contribute to childhood asthma, our study shows that exposure to phthalates may play a significant role,” says Allan Just, PhD, first author on the new CCCEH study and current postdoctoral researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Dr. Just and co-investigators looked at children enrolled in the CCCEH Mothers and Newborns study. All live in Northern Manhattan and the South Bronx where asthma prevalence is high. Exposure to phthalates was measured through a urine test, and the level of nitric oxide in the child’s exhaled breath was quantified as a marker of airway inflammation.

The study is the first to use exhaled nitric oxide in a study of phthalate exposure in children. By using the biomarker in exhaled breath, the researchers overcame a significant hurdle. “Many asthma patients only have asthma exacerbations a few times a year, making it difficult to discern short-term associations between environmental exposures and the disease,” explains Matthew Perzanowski, PhD, senior author and Associate Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the Mailman School. “To solve this problem, we used nitric oxide, which has been shown to be a reliable marker of airway inflammation in response to known asthma triggers like vehicle emissions.”

Phthalates are used widely in consumer products, including plastics, vinyl flooring, and personal care products, making exposure ubiquitous in the United States and other developed nations. Phthalates enter the body through ingestion, inhalation, and absorption through the skin. However, past research has suggested inhalation to be a particularly important route of exposure to the two phthalates associated with airway inflammation in this study. Several phthalates are known to disrupt the endocrine system and early-life exposure has been linked not only to asthma but also to adverse neurobehavioral and reproductive effects. A recent study by Dr. Just and other CCCEH investigators found that prenatal exposure to BBzP was linked with increased risk of childhood eczema.

Prenatal exposure to pesticide additive linked with childhood cough

Cough symptoms at age 5 and 6 appear to be unrelated to asthma or infection

Children exposed in the womb to the widely used pesticide additive piperonyl butoxide (PBO) have heightened risk of noninfectious cough at ages 5 and 6, according to researchers at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) at the Mailman School of Public Health and of Columbia University Medical Center.

The findings, which appear in the August 31 online edition of the journal Environment International, support the premise that the children’s respiratory system is susceptible to damage from toxic exposures during the prenatal period. A common symptom, childhood cough can disrupt normal daytime activities and interrupt sleep for both child and parent.

Piperonyl butoxide (PBO) is an organic compound used to bolster the effects of pyrethroid pesticides. Pyrethroids are the most commonly used pesticides for both professional pest control and non-professional residential use, according to a 2011 study by Mailman School researchers. Exposure to one pyrethroid, a variation of permethrin, was linked with increased risk for cough by age 5 in a 2009 study by Rachel Miller, MD. In the current study, Dr. Miller and colleagues sought to build on these findings by exploring the effects of subsequent exposure during childhood, looking specifically at the effects of PBO exposure.

Researchers looked at 224 mother-child pairs enrolled in the CCCEH birth cohort study of environmental exposures, examining measures of PBO and pyrethroid in personal air monitors worn by the mothers during pregnancy. Air samples also were collected from the home over the course of two weeks when children were between 5 and 6 years old. Questionnaires were used to evaluate respiratory outcomes.

Researchers found that children exposed to PBO during pregnancy had increased odds of reporting cough unrelated to cold or flu. Exposures to PBO during childhood were not a factor. There was no observed association between prenatal or childhood permethrin exposure and cough, something the researchers say may be explained by the fact that PBO is much easier to measure in air samples than permethrin. There was also no association with PBO or permethrin exposure and other respiratory outcomes like wheeze or asthma. While it is unclear whether the effect is due mainly to PBO itself or residential pyrethroids of which PBO is an indicator, it is important to remember, says Dr. Miller, that “these exposures may be a factor in a very common problem for children—cough.”

Nutritional supplement offers promise in treatment of unique form of autism

In mice, added amino acid reduced associated epilepsy, eased neurobehavioral symptom

An international team of researchers, led by scientists at the University of California, San Diego and Yale University schools of medicine, have identified a form of autism with epilepsy that may potentially be treatable with a common nutritional supplement.

The findings are published in the September 6, 2012 online issue of Science.

Roughly one-quarter of patients with autism also suffer from epilepsy, a brain disorder characterized by repeated seizures or convulsions over time. The causes of the epilepsy are multiple and largely unknown. Using a technique called exome sequencing, the UC San Diego and Yale scientists found that a gene mutation present in some patients with autism speeds up metabolism of certain amino acids. These patients also suffer from epileptic seizures. The discovery may help physicians diagnose this particular form of autism earlier and treat sooner.

The researchers focused on a specific type of amino acid known as branched chain amino acids or BCAAs. BCAAs are not produced naturally in the human body and must be acquired through diet. During periods of starvation, humans have evolved a means to turn off the metabolism of these amino acids. It is this ability to shut down that metabolic activity that researchers have found to be defective in some autism patients.

“It was very surprising to find mutations in a potentially treatable metabolic pathway specific for autism,” said senior author Joseph G. Gleeson, MD, professor in the UCSD Department of Neurosciences and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. “What was most exciting was that the potential treatment is obvious and simple: Just give affected patients the naturally occurring amino acids their bodies lack.”

Gleeson and colleagues used the emerging technology of exome sequencing to study two closely related families that have children with autism spectrum disorder. These children also had a history of seizures or abnormal electrical brain wave activity, as well as a mutation in the gene that regulates BCAAs. In exome sequencing, researchers analyze all of the elements in the genome involved in making proteins.

In addition, the scientists examined cultured neural stem cells from these patients and found they behaved normally in the presence of BCAAs, suggesting the condition might be treatable with nutritional supplementation. They also studied a line of mice engineered with a mutation in the same gene, which showed the condition was both inducible by lowering the dietary intake of the BCAAs and reversible by raising the dietary intake. Mice treated with BCAA supplementation displayed improved neurobehavioral symptoms, reinforcing the idea that the approach could work in humans as well.

“Studying the animals was key to our discovery,” said first author Gaia Novarino, PhD, a staff scientist in Gleeson’s lab. “We found that the mice displayed a condition very similar to our patients, and also had spontaneous epileptic seizures, just like our patients. Once we found that we could treat the condition in mice, the pressing question was whether we could effectively treat our patients.”

Using a nutritional supplement purchased at a health food store at a specific dose, the scientists reported that they could correct BCAA levels in the study patients with no ill effect. The next step, said Gleeson, is to determine if the supplement helps reduce the symptoms of epilepsy and/or autism in humans.

“We think this work will establish a basis for future screening of all patients with autism and/or epilepsy for this or related genetic mutations, which could be an early predictor of the disease,” he said. “What we don’t know is how many patients with autism and/or epilepsy have mutations in this gene and could benefit from treatment, but we think it is an extremely rare condition.”

Diagnostic chest radiation before 30 may increase breast cancer risk

Women advised to choose MRI scan over x-ray and mammogram

Women carrying a mutation in the BRCA1- or BRCA2- genes (which control the suppression of breast and ovarian cancer) who have undergone diagnostic radiation to the chest before the age of 30 are more likely to develop breast cancer than those who carry the gene mutation but who have not been exposed, a study published on bmj.com today reveals.

The BMJ published a commentary in August which argued that a breast cancer charity was using misleading statistics to persuade women to undergo mammography, concluding that charities should stop generating false hope and that women need and deserve the facts instead.

Exposure to radiation is an established risk factor for breast cancer in the general population. Some studies have suggested that women with a mutated BRCA1/2 gene may have increased radiation sensitivity because BRCA1 and BRCA2 are the genes involved in the repair of DNA breaks, which can be caused by radiation. The benefit from mammographic screening in young BRCA1/2 mutation carriers may therefore not outweigh the radiation risk. Some countries have even gone as far as recommending that women avoid mammographic screening before the age of 30 but results of studies have been inconsistent.

Authors from the Netherlands Cancer Institute therefore looked at 1993 female BRCA1/2 mutation carriers in the Netherlands, France and the UK between 2006 and 2009 to see whether variations in DNA increase the chances of radiation-induced breast cancer risk. Follow-up ended with diagnosis of first breast cancer. All patients were aged 18 or over.

Women were questioned on exposure via x-ray or mammogram, age at first exposure, number of exposures before age 20, at ages 20-29, 30-39 and age at last exposure.

Results showed that 43% (848) of the 1993 women were diagnosed with breast cancer. 48% (926) reported ever having an x-ray and 33% (637) a mammogram. The average age at first mammogram was 29 years. A history of any exposure to diagnostic or screening radiation to the chest at ages 20 to 29 increased breast cancer risk by 43% and any exposure before the age of 20 increased breast cancer risk by 62%. No association with breast cancer was apparent for exposures at ages 30-39.

For every 100 BRCA1/2 mutation carriers aged 30, nine will have developed breast cancer by the age of 40 and the number of cases would increase by five if all had had one mammogram before age 30. The authors do say however that this estimate “should be interpreted with caution because there were few women with breast cancer who had had a mammogram before age 30 in the study”.

The authors conclude that “exposure to diagnostic radiation before age 30 was associated with an increased breast cancer risk in BRCA1/2 mutation carriers”. They say however due to “puzzling” findings in the differences between breast cancer risk for BRCA1 and BRCA2 carriers, larger studies are needed to determine whether a difference does in fact exist. The authors recommend non-ionizing radiation imaging techniques, such as MRI, for mutation carriers.

Report: Strategies to prevent noise-induced hearing loss, tinnitus in soldiers

DETROIT – Antioxidants, dietary supplements and high-tech brain imaging are among some of the novel strategies that may help detect, treat and even prevent noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus among American troops, according to researchers at Henry Ford Hospital.

A culmination of nearly 25 years of research on noise-induced hearing loss – a growing medical issue that affects more than 12 percent of American troops returning from conflicts around the globe – will be presented Sept. 9 at the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

Led by Michael Seidman, M.D., the research team is the first to identify how acoustic trauma from machinery and explosive devices damages the inner ear cells and breaks down cell growth, much like age-related hearing loss.

“Improvised explosive devices, aircraft and other weaponry being used by the military are frankly deafening our troops,” says Dr. Seidman, director of the Division of Otologic/Neurotologic Surgery in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery at Henry Ford Hospital.

“Noise-induced hearing loss doesn’t just impact a person’s ability to hear; it can cause balance issues, make it difficult to sleep and communicate, and even raise the risk for heart disease by increasing a person’s blood pressure, lipids and blood sugar.”

As part of his presentation, Dr. Seidman will explain how noise-induced hearing loss, as well as tinnitus-related traumatic brain injury, occurs based on research from Wayne State University’s Jinsheng Zhang, Ph.D.

Dr. Zhang has developed a model of blast-induced tinnitus and hearing loss using a shock tube that generates a 194 decibel shock wave similar to many of the explosive devices being deployed against troops.

Further, Dr. Seidman will discuss the use of nutraceuticals, such as acetyl-l-carnitine, alpha lipoic acid and resveratrol – a substance found in red wine and red grapes – to mitigate hearing-related issues.

Based on initial results, Dr. Seidman says a nutraceutical with a resveratrol-based component may possibly hold the potential to not only prevent, but reverse hearing loss in certain circumstances for soldiers. This research is based on animal models, but will soon be tested with humans, to see if a pill could soon be developed to prevent acoustic trauma in troops.

In addition, Dr. Seidman will highlight new research on tinnitus, a chronic ringing of the head or ears that affects more than 50 million patients.

A study co-authored by Susan Bowyer, Ph.D., senior bioscientific researcher at Henry Ford Hospital, found that an imaging technique called magnetoencephalography (MEG) can determine the site of perception of tinnitus in the brain, which could in turn allow physicians to target the area with electrical or chemical therapies to lessen symptoms.

Although is no cure for tinnitus, several interventions are available, including dietary modification, the use of specific herbs and supplements, sound therapies, centrally acting medications and electrical stimulation of the cochlea and brain using implantable electrodes and an implantable pulse generator.

To date, Dr. Seidman has treated six patients with direct electrical stimulation to the brain, reducing the tinnitus in four of those patients.

In all, the team’s work on noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus has led to more than 50 peer-reviewed publications and several patents.

According to Dr. Seidman, more research and funding are needed in order to generate critical data to facilitate an understanding of the damage caused by acoustic trauma and develop strategies to mitigate that damage.

Childhood virus RSV shows promise against adult cancer

School of Medicine discovery is proving effective in overseas trials

SAN ANTONIO (Sept. 6, 2012) — RSV, a virus that causes respiratory infections in infants and young children, selectively kills cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone, researchers from the School of Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio said.

Santanu Bose, Ph.D., of the School of Medicine, is the inventor on a pending U.S. patent of RSV as an oncolytic therapy. This represents a new use for the virus. Bandana Chatterjee, Ph.D., of the School of Medicine and the South Texas Veterans Health Care System, is the co-inventor. Oncolytic viruses preferentially infect and damage cancer cells.

Dr. Bose, associate professor of microbiology and immunology, studied the immune response of normal and cancerous cells to RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). During these studies he discovered RSV’s oncolytic properties. Dr. Bose next worked with Dr. Chatterjee, professor of molecular medicine, to test RSV in her mouse model of prostate cancer. Those results again showed a robust anti-cancer effect of RSV.

In July, CZ BioMed Corp. of Tampa, Fla., licensed the oncolytic use of RSV in an agreement with South Texas Technology Management (STTM), a regional University of Texas technology-transfer office managed by the Health Science Center. RSV is already showing effectiveness in human trials abroad, according to a company statement.

Dr. Bose, whose work is funded by the National Institutes of Health, said, “This is an exciting development because this is a homegrown invention that is being tested in humans, and therefore this scientific discovery has direct clinical, translational relevance.”

“We are pleased that CZ BioMed has agreed to work with us to commercialize Dr. Bose’s and Dr. Chatterjee’s exciting discovery to efficiently target and treat different forms of cancer,” said STTM Executive Director Arjun Sanga, J.D., assistant vice president for technology transfer at the UT Health Science Center.

Dr. Chatterjee said it is important that the virus killed tumors even in mice with competent immune systems. This mirrors human patients who have functioning immune defenses. RSV also worked whether it was injected directly into the tumor or systemically through the abdomen. “This is important because there are some tumors to which you can inject the drug directly, whereas others you can’t and a drug must work systemically,” Dr. Chatterjee said.

Her work on the RSV project is funded by a Merit-Review grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), a VA Senior Research Career Scientist Award, and a grant to Drs. Bose and Chatterjee from the National Cancer Institute.

RSV is expected to be safe because it is a children’s virus — it does not infect adults. It also only infects the lungs. Dr. Bose explained why RSV grows only in tumors, not healthy cells: “It is because of the immune response. Normal cells have weapons to shoot down viruses, but cancer cells have lost their anti-viral arsenal. For this reason viruses can establish themselves in a tumor, grow and induce cell death.”

A press release from CZ BioMed notes: “Ultimately, the results from human trials overseas have been extremely successful and exciting to date, with minimal side effects as compared to traditional chemo or radiation therapies.” The company’s statement also indicates its plan to conduct a clinical trial with oncolytic RSV in the U.S.

In a series of papers between 2009 and 2011, Drs. Bose, Chatterjee and colleagues advanced the RSV anti-cancer construct. The animal results were particularly exciting — mice with prostate tumors were treated with the virus and within a week the tumors were gone. “We kept the mice for four months, and the tumors never came back,” Dr. Bose said.

Ralph’s Note – To think, they may be working on a vaccine for RSV

Stress prompts some to retain as much salt as eating fries

AUGUSTA, Ga. – When stressed, about 30 percent of blacks hold onto too much sodium, the equivalent of eating a small order of fast food French fries or a small bag of potato chips, researchers say.

“This response pattern puts you under a greater blood pressure load over the course of the day and probably throughout the night as well, increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease,” said Dr. Gregory Harshfield, hypertension researcher at the Institute of Public and Preventive Health at Georgia Health Sciences University.

In response to stress, they hold onto about 160 milligrams of salt, and the top number of their blood pressure – indicating the pressure inside blood vessels each time the heart beats – goes up about seven points more than normal and stays elevated about an hour longer, said Harshfield, who is presenting his findings Sept. 7 during the Behavioural Economics, Hypertension Session of the Psychogenic Cardiovascular Disease Conference in Prato, Italy.

Over the course of the day, this response adds a daily sodium load of about 500 milligrams on top of typically salt-heavy diets. The Institute of Medicine recommends a daily sodium intake of less than 2,300 milligrams – preferably under 1,500 milligrams – while average consumption is about 3,700.

“Everybody knows stress is bad for you and everybody has the perception that a high-salt diet is bad for you, and both are particularly bad for these individuals,” said Harshfield who is trying to find an easy way to identify them. “Every time they are stressed, they hold onto as much salt as you get eating a small order of French fries and this can occur many times over the course of even a good day.”

The worse news is this increased retention likely causes blood pressures to stay elevated even during sleep, which should be a recuperative time for the body, Harshfield said. Nighttime blood pressures often are considered the truest reading since they should not be impacted by stress.

In a handful of young blacks identified as sodium retainers through a complex research protocol, Harshfield has shown that the dangerous sodium load can be lifted with angiotensin receptor blockers, a common blood pressure treatment. Ironically these drugs are rarely used in blacks who tend not to have high levels of the powerful blood vessel constrictor angiotensin. However, Harshfield’s group has evidence that sodium retainers would definitely benefit because they have a version of the angiotensin receptor gene that exacerbates problems with sodium handling. A truly low-salt diet likely would be beneficial as well.

Angiotensin increases blood pressure by directing the kidneys to hold onto more salt and by increasing levels of the hormone aldosterone, which also directs the kidneys to retain salt. The normal response to stress is to temporarily increase blood vessel constriction, which actually increases sodium excretion, Harshfield said.

His studies have long focused on the kidney and years ago found that about 30 percent of blacks and about 10 percent of whites tend to hold onto more sodium for longer periods in response to stress. Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, which drives the – hopefully temporary – increase in blood pressure.

The latest findings come from a $10.6 million Program Project grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute focused on how the body regulates blood pressure in response to stress. Part of that grant includes a study in which half of 140 young adult sodium retainers take an angiotensin receptor blocker for about a week while the remainder take a placebo. Harshfield “un-blinded” a small number of study participants to collect data for a grant renewal proposal.

In the ongoing search for an easy way to identify sodium retainers, Evan Mulloy, a first-year student at the Medical College of Georgia, is working with Harshfield to collect urine samples from 7- to 21-year-old GHS Children’s Medical Center patients being seen for hypertension. Using the doctor’s visit as the stressor, they are looking at sodium levels in the urine before and after a visit. Harshfield also is working with MCG Molecular Geneticist Haidong Zhu to develop a genetic profile that could be used for screening.

One in three Americans is hypertensive, according to the NHLBI. The majority of sodium consumed is from processed and restaurant foods.

Study Finds How BPA Affects Gene Expression, Anxiety; Soy Mitigates Effects

For Immediate Release

Matt Shipman | News Services | 919.515.6386

Dr. Heather Patisaul | 919.513.7567

Release Date: 09.07.2012
Filed under Releases

New research led by researchers at North Carolina State University shows that exposure to the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) early in life results in high levels of anxiety by causing significant gene expression changes in a specific region of the brain called the amygdala. The researchers also found that a soy-rich diet can mitigate these effects.

“We knew that BPA could cause anxiety in a variety of species, and wanted to begin to understand why and how that happens,” says Dr. Heather Patisaul, an associate professor of biology at NC State and lead author of a paper describing the work. BPA is a chemical used in a wide variety of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, and is used in consumer products such as some food containers.

In the study, rats were exposed to low doses of BPA during gestation, lactation (nursing) and through puberty. One group of animals was fed only soy; one group was fed a soy-free diet; one group was fed only soy and exposed to BPA; and one group was fed no soy and exposed to BPA. Blood tests showed that the animals exposed to BPA had BPA levels well within the range found in humans. Similarly, blood tests of animals fed soy showed levels of genistein, an estrogen-like chemical found in soy, were at levels within the human range for vegetarians and others who regularly consume soy foods.

Among adolescent rats on the soy-free diet, both males and females that had been exposed to BPA exhibited significantly higher levels of anxiety. The researchers also found, for the first time, gene changes within the brain associated with this elevated anxiety.

Specifically, the study reveals that gene expression changes in the amygdala, a brain region known to play a role in mediating responses to fear and stress, are associated with the behavioral changes. Two of the affected genes were estrogen receptor beta and the melanocortin receptor 4. Both are required for oxytocin release, thus changes in oxytocin/vasopressin signaling pathways may underpin the behavioral changes. Oxytocin is a hormone and neurotransmitter that has been linked to social behavior.

However, the researchers also found that adolescent rats on the soy-rich diet did not exhibit anxiety – suggesting that the soy-rich diet may mitigate the effects of BPA. But a soy-rich diet raises questions of its own.

“Soy contains phytoestrogens that can also affect the endocrine system, which regulates hormones,” Patisaul says. “It is not clear whether these phytoestrogens are what mitigate the effect of BPA, or if it is something else entirely. That’s a question we’re hoping to address in future research.”

The paper, “Anxiogenic effects of developmental Bisphenol A exposure 1 are associated with gene expression changes in the juvenile rat amygdala and mitigated by soy,” was published Sept. 5 in the journal PLOS ONE. The paper was co-authored by Patisaul; NC State Ph.D. student Alana Sullivan; NC State master’s student Meghan Radford; former NC State student Dr. Heather Adewale; Deena Walker and Dr. Andrea Gore of the University of Texas at Austin; and Bozena Winnik, Janis Coughlin and Dr. Brian Buckley of Rutgers University. The research was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

These reports are done with the appreciation of all the Doctors, Scientist, and other Medical Researchers who sacrificed their time and effort. In order to give people the ability to empower themselves. Without the base aspirations for fame, or fortune. Just honorable people, doing honorable things.