037 Health Research Report 19 AUG 2008
Health Technology Research Synopsis
37th Issue Date 19 AUG 2008
Compiled By Ralph Turchiano
Editors Top Five:
- UNC researchers find MSG use linked to obesity
- Pathogen that causes disease in cattle also associated with Crohn’s disease
- Anemia of chronic disease: an adaptive response?
- Running slows the aging clock, Stanford researchers find
- Dying frogs sign of a biodiversity crisis
In this Issue:
1. Study: Spices may protect against consequences of high blood sugar
2. Invest in your family’s health by budgeting for nutrient-rich foods
3. Hot peppers really do bring the heat
4. New survey: 82 percent of Americans think health care system needs major overhaul
5. Medical doctors who do research could be a dying breed
6. Pathogen that causes disease in cattle also associated with Crohn’s disease
7. Researchers find cancer-inhibiting compound under the sea
8. Eat oily fish at least once a week to protect your eyesight in old age
9. Anemia of chronic disease: an adaptive response?
10. New evidence on benefits of breast feeding
11. Low vitamin D levels pose large threat to health 1
2. Running slows the aging clock, Stanford researchers find
13. Adverse reactions to antibiotics send thousands of patients to the ER
14. Dying frogs sign of a biodiversity crisis
15. The pandemic potential of H9N2 avian influenza viruses
16. UNC researchers find MSG use linked to obesity
17. New mushroom study shows the power of energy density
18. Potatoes may hold key to Alzheimer’s treatment
19. Antidepressants may impair driving ability, new research finds
20. Playing video games offers learning across life span, say studies
21. Survivors of 1918 flu pandemic protected with a lifetime immunity to virus
22. Documentary Evidence Reveals Motives of Pharmaceutical “Seeding” Trials
23. Researchers link cocoa flavanols to improved brain blood flow
24. Chronic lead poisoning from urban soils
25. Infection Blocks Lung’s Protective Response Against Tobacco Smoke
Public release date: 6-Aug-2008
Study: Spices may protect against consequences of high blood sugar
Athens, Ga. – Herbs and spices are rich in antioxidants, and a new University of Georgia study suggests they are also potent inhibitors of tissue damage and inflammation caused by high levels of blood sugar.
Researchers, whose results appear in the current issue of the Journal of Medicinal Food, tested extracts from 24 common herbs and spices. In addition to finding high levels of antioxidant-rich compounds known as phenols, they revealed a direct correlation between phenol content and the ability of the extracts to block the formation of compounds that contribute to damage caused by diabetes and aging.
“Because herbs and spices have a very low calorie content and are relatively inexpensive, they’re a great way to get a lot of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory power into your diet,” said study co-author James Hargrove, associate professor of foods and nutrition in the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences.
Hargrove explained that when blood sugar levels are high, a process known as protein glycation occurs in which the sugar bonds with proteins to eventually form what are known as advanced glycation end products, also known as AGE compounds. The acronym is fitting because these compounds activate the immune system, resulting in the inflammation and tissue damage associated with aging and diabetes.
The researchers found a strong and direct correlation between the phenol content of common herbs and spices and their ability to inhibit the formation of AGE compounds. Spices such as cloves and cinnamon had phenol levels that were 30 percent and 18 percent of dry weight, respectively, while herbs such as oregano and sage were eight and six percent phenol by dry weight, respectively. For comparison, blueberries – which are widely touted for their antioxidant capabilities – contain roughly five percent phenol by dry weight.
Study co-author Diane Hartle, associate professor in the UGA College of Pharmacy, said various phenols are absorbed differently by the body and have different mechanisms of action, so it’s likely that a variety of spices will provide maximum benefit.
“If you set up a good herb and spice cabinet and season your food liberally, you could double or even triple the medicinal value of your meal without increasing the caloric content,” she said.
She added that controlling blood sugar and the formation of AGE compounds can also decrease the risk of cardiovascular damage associated with diabetes and aging. She explained that high blood sugar accelerates heart disease partly because AGE compounds form in the blood and in the walls of blood vessels. The AGE compounds aggravate atherosclerosis, which produces cholesterol plaques.
The UGA researchers tested for the ability to block AGE compounds in a test tube, but animal studies conducted on the health benefits of spices lend support to their argument. Cinnamon and cinnamon extracts, for example, have been shown to lower blood sugar in mice. Interestingly, cinnamon lowers blood sugar by acting on several different levels, Hargrove said. It slows the emptying of the stomach to reduce sharp rises in blood sugar following meals and improves the effectiveness, or sensitivity, of insulin. It also enhances antioxidant defenses.
Hargrove said their findings suggest it’s likely that the herbs and spices they studied will provide similar benefits in animal tests. He points out that because humans have been consuming herbs and spices for thousands of years, they come without the risk of possible side effects that accompany medications.
“Culinary herbs and spices are all generally recognized as safe and have been time-tested in the diet,” he said. “Indeed, some of spices and herbals are now sold as food supplements because of their recognized health benefits.”
Study co-author Phillip Greenspan, associate professor in the College of Pharmacy, noted that most people don’t get their recommended five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Rather than seasoning their food with salt – which provides no beneficial phenols and has been linked to high blood pressure – he recommends that people use a variety of herbs and spices to help boost the nutritional quality of their meals.
“When you add herbs and spices to food, you definitely provide yourself with additional benefits besides taste,” Greenspan said.
Public release date: 6-Aug-2008
Invest in your family’s health by budgeting for nutrient-rich foods
Rosemont, Ill. – August 5, 2008 – Times are tough for many families and schools – so those food dollars need to work hard by providing plenty of nutrition. Many nutrient-rich foods such as milk, are a good economic and nutritional value because they pack in many essential nutrients at a low cost per serving.
A new report released today from Action for Healthy Kids (AFHK), a national non-profit group that addresses childhood obesity, stresses the importance of improving nutritional quality of school programs by encouraging foods that provide important nutrients for children, rather than focusing on foods and beverages to avoid. The report states that, children consume too many calories and not enough nutrients. Only two percent of youth consume the recommended number of servings from all food groups.(1)
Making progress to improve these alarming statistics may seem more difficult than ever. With rising food prices, parents can find meal-planning a challenge. Many schools across the country are also struggling with tight budgets to put nutritious kid-appealing meals in the cafeteria as kids head back to school this fall. So, considering the nutrient-richness of a food can be a key to deciding whether to add it to the shopping cart or the lunch line.
Nutrition researchers at the National Dairy Council (NDC) support the AFHK’s position that schools follow the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which includes recommendations for nutrient-rich foods like low-fat and fat-free dairy products.
Penny for penny, dairy is one of the best nutritional values of any food group. The Dietary Guidelines identify the milk group as a “food group to encourage” because milk products provide key nutrients including calcium, potassium, phosphorous, protein, vitamins A, D and B12, riboflavin and niacin especially important for growing children and teens. That’s a powerful nutritional package delivered in a cost-efficient way.
Milk also provides three of the five nutrients that the Dietary Guidelines say are lacking in most children’s diets – calcium, magnesium and potassium. Since the overwhelming majority of children do not consume the Dietary Guidelines’ recommended three servings of low-fat or fat-free milk per day, increasing children’s consumption of milk to recommended levels can be a key to improving diet quality.(2)
“The effects of today’s rough economy can certainly be felt on most everyone’s pocketbook,” noted Mary Martin Nordness, M.A., R.D., L.D., CHES, an NDC spokesperson. “When trimming grocery lists or school meal plans to save money, it’s important to remember the nutritional and economic value that nutrient-rich foods like milk provide for our children. Milk, cheese and yogurt are especially critical for growing children as they contain a unique combination of nine essential nutrients critical for bone health and development.”
NDC is committed to improving children’s health by working with the dairy industry to develop milk and milk products that best meet kids’ needs for both nutrition and taste. The dairy industry has increased milk’s appeal to children by making specific and straightforward improvements, including plastic packaging, one or more additional flavors, and better refrigeration and merchandising, resulting in a 37 percent increase in school milk consumption in a pilot test.(3,4)
According to the 2005 Dietary Guidelines, small amounts of sugars added to nutrient-rich foods, such as low-fat and fat-free dairy foods, may increase consumption of such foods by enhancing the taste, so overall nutrient intake is improved without contributing excessive calories. In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that children who drink flavored or plain milk consume more nutrients and have a lower or comparable body mass index (BMI) than children who don’t drink milk.(5)
To best understand how low the calorie count can be for flavored milk while still pleasing children’s tastes, the dairy industry conducts ongoing research. From this research, many milk processors have been proactively working on great tasting, lower-calorie flavored milk formulations for the ’08-09 school year.
Public release date: 6-Aug-2008
Hot peppers really do bring the heat
Chili peppers can do more than just make you feel hot, reports a study in the August 1 Journal of Biological Chemistry; the active chemical in peppers can directly induce thermogenesis, the process by which cells convert energy into heat.
Capsaicin is the chemical in chili peppers that contributes to their spiciness; CPS stimulates a receptor found in sensory neurons, creating the heat sensation and subsequent reactions like redness and sweating.
Now, Yasser Mahmoud has found that capsaicin can create “heat” in a more direct manner by altering the activity of a muscle protein called SERCA. Normally, muscle contraction initiates following the release of a wave of calcium ions from a compartment called the sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR); SERCA then actively pumps the calcium back into the SR (using ATP energy), causing muscle relaxation and renewing the cycle.
Capsaicin, however, can attach to SERCA and “uncouple” this pumping activity; that is, the protein still burns ATP energy but doesn’t use it to pump calcium. Instead, all the ATP energy is given off as heat. This uncoupling, known as thermogenesis, is one important method of staying warm and is most often seen in hibernating animals.
Mahmoud notes that capsaicin is the first natural compound known to augment the thermogenesis process .
These findings further explain how capsaicin intake can increase metabolism and body temperature. And although these studies required relatively high amounts of capsaicin (probably more than someone could eat), the structure of capsaicin could be used as a model to design more potent compounds that might have clinical use such as treating hypothermia.
Public release date: 7-Aug-2008
New survey: 82 percent of Americans think health care system needs major overhaul
Survey of public views of health care system finds 1 in 3 patients experience unnecessary or inefficient care; want presidential candidates to address health care costs, quality and the uninsured
August 7, 2008, New York, NY—Americans are dissatisfied with the U.S. health care system and 82 percent think it should be fundamentally changed or completely rebuilt, according to a new survey released today by The Commonwealth Fund. Also today, The Commonwealth Fund Commission on A High Performance Health System released a report outlining what an ideally organized U.S. health care system would look like, and detailing strategies that could create that organized, efficient health care system while simultaneously improving care and cutting costs.
The survey of more than 1,000 adults was conducted by Harris Interactive in May 2008; and the vast majority of those surveyed – nine out of ten — felt it was important that the two leading presidential candidates propose reform plans that would improve health care quality, ensure that all Americans can afford health care and insurance, and decrease the number of uninsured. One in three adults report their doctors ordered a test that had already been done or recommended unnecessary treatment or care in the past two years. Adults across all income groups reported experiencing inefficient care. And, eight in ten adults across income groups supported efforts to improve the health system’s performance with respect to access, quality and cost.
“It is clear that our health care system isn’t giving Americans the health care they need and deserve,” said Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis. “The disorganization and inefficiency are affecting Americans in their everyday lives, and it’s obvious that people are looking for reform. With the upcoming election, there is great opportunity for our leaders to hear what the American people are saying they want from a health care system, and to respond with meaningful proposals.”
The survey, Public Views on U.S. Health Care System Organization: A Call for New Directions, found that, in addition to respondents’ overall dissatisfaction with the health care system, people are frustrated with the way they currently get health care. In fact, 47 percent of patients experienced poorly coordinated medical care in the past two years — meaning that they were not informed about medical test results or had to call repeatedly to get them, important medical information wasn’t shared between doctors and nurses, or communication between primary care doctors and specialists was poor.
Respondents pointed out the need for a more cohesive care system. Nine of 10 surveyed believe that it is very important or important to have one place or doctor responsible for their primary care and for coordinating all of their care. Similarly, there was substantial public support for wider adoption of health information technology, like computerized medical records and sharing information electronically with other doctors as a means of improving patient care. Nine of 10 adults wanted easy access to their own medical records, and thought it was important that all their doctors have such access as well.
Those surveyed also reported problems with access to health care—nearly three out of four (73%) had a difficult time getting timely doctors’ appointments, phone advice, or after-hours care without having to go to the emergency room. Although the uninsured were the most likely to report problems getting timely care without going to the emergency room, 26 percent of adults with health insurance also said it was difficult to get same- or next- day appointments when they were sick. And 39 percent of insured adults said it was hard to get through to their doctors on the phone when they needed them.
The Commission report, Organizing The U.S. Health Care Delivery System For High Performance, outlines strategies that could help lead to a better health care system with higher quality and better efficiency:
Payment Reform: Report authors recommend moving away from traditional fee-for-service payments to a system in which providers and hospitals are paid for high quality, patient-centered, coordinated health care.
Patient Incentives: Patients should be given incentives to go to the health care professionals and institutions that provide the most efficient, highest quality health care. However, in order for this to work, health care providers and health care systems would need to be evaluated to determine if they are providing high quality, efficient health care and information on performance would need to be publicly available.
Regulatory Changes: Regulations should remove barriers that prevent physicians from sharing information that is essential to coordinate care and ensure safe and effective transitions for patients.
Accreditation: Providers and health systems should be accredited based on six attributes of an ideal health care system:
Patient information is available to all providers and to patients at the point of care;
Patient care is coordinated among multiple providers and transitions from one provider to another or from a hospital stay are actively managed;
All health care providers involved in a patient’s care have accountability to each other, review each other’s work and collaborate to deliver good care;
Patients can get the care and information they need when and how they need it, including after hours, and providers are culturally competent and responsive to patients’ need;
There is clear accountability for patient care;
The health care system is continuously working to improve quality, value, and patients’ experiences.
Provider Training: Physicians and health care professionals should be trained to work in the type of team-based environment required for an organized health care system.
Government Infrastructure Support: As appropriate, the government should support the infrastructure necessary for a well-organized health care system. For example, aiding with the adoption of health information technology or performance improvement activities.
Health Information Technology: Providers should be required to implement and use electronic health records within five years.
Report authors analyzed health care systems around the country that are successfully employing these strategies and examined how positive gains could be achieved for the entire U.S. health care system. The report concludes that in order for the U.S. health care system to truly be higher-performing, reorganization will be needed at the practice, community, state and national levels.
“There is no one policy, or practice that will make our health care system run like an efficient, well-oiled machine,” says Commission on A High Performance Health System Chair and Partners Health System CEO James J. Mongan, M.D. “This is going to take strong national leadership and a commitment from all of the players in our health care system, but with that and the strategies outlined in this report, real progress could be made.”
Public release date: 7-Aug-2008
Medical doctors who do research could be a dying breed
Britain’s training programs may be contributing to the ‘lost tribe’ of clinician-scientists — medical doctors who also perform laboratory research on disease
The road from disease research to disease cure isn’t usually a smooth one. One role which bridges the laboratory and the clinic is that of the “clinician-scientist” – a doctor who understands disease both in the patient and in the Petri dish. Yet an editorial published in Disease Models & Mechanisms (DMM), http://dmm.biologists.org, contends that clinician-scientists in the UK and elsewhere are not prospering, but rather are “under threat in a hostile environment”.
The editorial author, Dr Nick Lemoine, Director of the Cancer Research UK Clinical Centre and a clinician-scientist himself, believes that a lack of career support is partially to blame. Contrasting UK training programs to similar programs in the United States, he discusses how Britain’s prospective doctors have fewer research training opportunities than their American counterparts. US dual-degree programs for a combined MD/PhD are comparatively well-funded. Additionally, follow-up studies show that graduates from US Medical Scientist Training Programs are successful in developing well-funded research careers. Clinician-scientists in the UK, however, lack a clear career structure, and are at a disadvantage compared to doctors who opt for traditional specialist training and seek out National Health Service posts.
Lemoine also calls attention to the major financial disadvantage of medical scientists in both countries. Pursuing an untraditional academic route adds a risk which is exacerbated by significant medical school debts. “Setting out on an academic path at qualification with a cloud of debt overhead is a brave move,” Lemoine wrote, “and one that a diminishing proportion of graduates have been prepared to make.”
However, the clinician-scientist environment might be changing in the UK, Lemoine observes. New funding is being allocated from both public organizations and private charities, and these sponsors are also developing mentorship programs to track participants in clinician-scientist training and monitor quality of their research.
Public release date: 7-Aug-2008
Pathogen that causes disease in cattle also associated with Crohn’s disease
Research urgently needed to evaluate potential risks to humans
People with Crohn’s disease (CD) are seven-fold more likely to have in their gut tissues the bacterium that causes a digestive-tract disease in cattle called Johne’s disease. The role this bacterium may or may not play in causing CD is a top research priority, according to a new report released by the American Academy of Microbiology. The reports points out that the cause of CD is unknown, and the possible role of this bacterium—which could conceivably be passed up the food chain to people—has received too little attention from the research community.
The report, Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis: Incidental Human Pathogen or Public Health Threat?, summarizes conclusions and recommendations from a colloquium convened by the American Academy of Microbiology in June 2007 that brought together experts in microbiology, medicine, veterinary pathology, epidemiology, infectious diseases, and food safety. Colloquium participants described the state of knowledge about the relationship between Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (MAP) and CD and developed a research agenda to move the field forward.
Scientists largely agree that multiple factors cause CD, including an environmental stimulus, a genetic propensity, and an overactive inflammatory and immune system triggered by an unknown event. There is mounting evidence that the unknown trigger may be infectious in origin, with several bacteria currently under consideration. “This complicated network of causation has confounded efforts to understand CD, says Carol Nacy, Ph.D., CEO of Sequella, Inc., who chaired the colloquium and is the report’s co-author. “MAP may be one of the causes of CD,” Nacy adds, “since, among other things, multiple studies identified the pathogen in tissues of CD patients. Treating some of these patients with antibiotics that target Mycobacteria provided relief from symptoms.”
Johne’s disease is a severe and fatal bacterial infection that strikes cattle, sheep, and other livestock. MAP has long been identified as the cause of Johne’s disease. Despite efforts to limit the spread of MAP, roughly 68% of cattle herds in this country are infected, meaning one or more animals in the herd carry the bacterium and may develop Johne’s disease or spread the infection to other animals. MAP has been found in some dairy products—milk and cheese—and beef on supermarket shelves.
The critical steps for research now, according to the report, are to determine whether humans are exposed and infected with MAP by eating infected meat and dairy products and whether MAP causes or incites CD or whether it is only incidentally present in those afflicted with the disease. The prospect that MAP could play a role in the incitement or development of CD is a sobering one, and, once the situation becomes clearer through research, there could be important changes in store for agriculture, food safety, and public health. It is in the best interest of the public that the possible connection between MAP and CD be explored exhaustively, according to the report.
The research agenda, however, is seriously hampered by the lack of reliable methods for isolating and indentifying MAP and for diagnosing people with MAP infection. Public health laboratories and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention laboratories have made it clear they cannot grow MAP in the laboratory—an inability that hinders diagnosis and screening. The report recommends establishment of a task force to develop a specific road map for improved methods for MAP detection and diagnosis
Public release date: 7-Aug-2008
Researchers find cancer-inhibiting compound under the sea
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida College of Pharmacy researchers have discovered a marine compound off the coast of Key Largo that inhibits cancer cell growth in laboratory tests, a finding they hope will fuel the development of new drugs to better battle the disease.
The UF-patented compound, largazole, is derived from cyanobacteria that grow on coral reefs. Researchers, who described results from early studies today (Aug. 7) at an international natural products scientific meeting in Athens, Greece, say it is one of the most promising they’ve found since the college’s marine natural products laboratory was established three years ago.
An initial set of papers in the Journal of the American Chemical Society also has garnered the attention of other scientists, and the lab is racing to complete additional research. The molecule’s natural chemical structure and ability to inhibit cancer cell growth were first described in the journal in February and the laboratory synthesis and description of the molecular basis for its anticancer activity appeared July 2.
“It’s exciting because we’ve found a compound in nature that may one day surpass a currently marketed drug or could become the structural template for rationally designed drugs with improved selectivity,” said Hendrik Luesch, Ph.D., an assistant professor in UF’s department of medicinal chemistry and the study’s principal investigator.
Largazole, discovered and named by Luesch for its Florida location and structural features, seeks out a family of enzymes called histone deacetylase, or HDAC. Overactivity of certain HDACs has been associated with several cancers such as prostate and colon tumors, and inhibiting HDACs can activate tumor-suppressor genes that have been silenced in these cancers.
Although scientists have been probing the depths of the ocean for marine products since the early 1960s, many pharmaceutical companies lost interest before researchers could deliver useful compounds because natural products were considered too costly and time-consuming to research and develop.
Many common medications, from pain relievers to cholesterol-reducing statins, stem from natural products that grow on the earth, but there is literally an ocean of compounds yet to be discovered in our seas. Only 14 marine natural products developed are in clinical trials today, Luesch said, and one drug recently approved in Europe is the first-ever marine-derived anticancer agent.
“Marine study is in its infancy,” said William Fenical, Ph.D., a distinguished professor of oceanography and pharmaceutical sciences at the University of California, San Diego. “The ocean is a genetically distinct environment and the single, most diverse source of new molecules to be discovered.”
The history of pharmacy traces its roots back thousands of years to plants growing on Earth’s continents, used by ancient civilizations for medicinal purposes, Fenical added. Yet only in the past 30 years have scientists begun to explore the organisms in Earth’s oceans, he said. Fewer than 30 labs exist worldwide and research dollars have only become available in the past 15 years.
HDACs are already targeted by a drug approved for cutaneous T-cell lymphoma manufactured by the global pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. Inc. However, UF’s compound does not inhibit all HDACs equally, meaning a largazole-based drug might result in improved therapies and fewer side effects, Luesch said.
Since 2006, Luesch and his team of researchers have screened cyanobacteria provided by collaborator Valerie Paul, Ph.D., head scientist at the Smithsonian Marine Station in Fort Pierce. They check the samples for toxic activity against cancer cells and last year encountered one exceptionally potent extract — the one that ultimately yielded largazole.
To conduct further biological testing on the compound, Luesch and his team have been collaborating with Jiyong Hong, an assistant professor in the department of chemistry at Duke University, to replicate its natural structure and its actions in the laboratory.
Luesch said that within the next few months he plans to study whether largazole reduces or prevents tumor growth in mice.
Luesch has several other antitumor natural products from Atlantic and Pacific cyanobacteria in the pipeline.
“We have only scratched the surface of the chemical diversity in the ocean,” Luesch said. “The opportunities for marine drug discovery are spectacular.”
Public release date: 8-Aug-2008
Eat oily fish at least once a week to protect your eyesight in old age
Eating oily fish once a week may reduce age-related macular degeneration (AMD) which is the major cause of blindness and poor vision in adults in western countries and the third cause of global blindness, according to a study published today in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
There are two types of AMD, wet and dry. Of the two, wet AMD is the main cause of vision loss. A team of researchers across seven European countries and co-ordinated by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine sought to investigate the association between fish intake and omega 3 fatty acids with wet AMD, comparing people with wet AMD with controls. Participants were interviewed about their dietary habits including how much fish they ate and what type. Information on the main omega 3 fatty acids (docosahexaenoicacid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) was obtained by linking dietary data with food composition tables.
The findings show that people who habitually consume oily fish at least once a week compared with less than once a week are 50% less likely to have wet AMD. There was no benefit from consumption of non oily white fish. There was a strong inverse association between levels of DHA and EPA and wet AMD. People in the top 25% of DHA and EPA levels (300 mg per day and above) were 70% less likely to have wet AMD.
Astrid Fletcher, Professor of Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who led the study, commented: “This is the first study in Europeans to show a beneficial association on wet AMD from the consumption of oily fish and is consistent with results from studies in the USA and Australia. Two 3oz servings a week of oily fish, such as salmon, tuna or mackerel, provides about 500 mg of DHA and EPA per day”.
The research team is not, however, recommending omega 3 supplements as the study did not investigate whether supplements would have the same benefit as dietary sources.
Public release date: 11-Aug-2008
Anemia of chronic disease: an adaptive response?
The anemia of chronic disease may be a beneficial, adaptive response to the underlying disease, rather than a negative effect of the illness, postulates an analysis article in CMAJ, http://www.cmaj.ca/press/pg333.pdf.
The authors argue that anemia may be beneficial to patients with inflammatory disease, and advocate restraint in treating mild to moderate forms of anemia.
“The general assumption is that anemia is a disorder and that patients would be better off without it,” state the authors.
However, they suggest that anemia of chronic disease has the characteristics of an adaptive physiologic response, and their review of the literature shows that mortality appears to increase when treatment, given to raise hemoglobin levels, overrides mild to moderate anemia of chronic disease. They call for better characterization of the cause of individual patients’ anemia in future trials of anemia treatment, and careful monitoring of adverse outcomes, including mortality, if patients with anemia of chronic disease are included in such trials.
Public release date: 11-Aug-2008
New evidence on benefits of breast feeding
Researchers in Switzerland and Australia are reporting identification of proteins in human breast-milk — not present in cow’s milk — that may fight disease by helping remove bacteria, viruses and other dangerous pathogen’s from an infant’s gastrointestinal tract. Their study is scheduled for the September 5 issue of ACS’ Journal of Proteome Research, a monthly publication.
Niclas Karlsson and colleagues point out that researchers have known for years that breast milk appears to provide a variety of health benefits, including lower rates of diarrhea, rashes, allergies, and other medical problems in comparison to babies fed with cow’s milk. However, the biological reasons behind this association remain unclear.
To find out, the scientists collected human and cow’s milk samples and analyzed their content of milk fat. They found that fat particles in human milk are coated with particular variants of two sugar-based proteins, called MUC-1 and MUC-4. Previous studies by others have shown that these proteins can block certain receptors in the GI tract that are the main attachment sites for E. coli, Helicobacter pylori and other disease-causing microbes, thereby preventing infection. By contrast, since cow’s milk lacks these protein variants, it may not offer the same disease protection, the researchers say.
Public release date: 11-Aug-2008
Low vitamin D levels pose large threat to health
Overall 26 percent increased risk of death
Researchers at Johns Hopkins are reporting what is believed to be the most conclusive evidence to date that inadequate levels of vitamin D, obtained from milk, fortified cereals and exposure to sunlight, lead to substantially increased risk of death.
In a study set to appear in the Archives of Internal Medicine online Aug. 11, the Johns Hopkins team analyzed a diverse sample of 13,000 initially healthy men and women participating in an ongoing national health survey and compared the risk of death between those with the lowest blood levels of vitamin D to those with higher amounts. An unhealthy deficiency, experts say, is considered blood levels of 17.8 nanograms per milliliter or lower.
Of the 1,800 study participants known to have died by Dec. 31, 2000, nearly 700 died from some form of heart disease, with 400 of these being deficient in vitamin D. This translates overall to an estimated 26 percent increased risk of any death, though the number of deaths from heart disease alone was not large enough to meet scientific criteria to resolve that it was due to low vitamin D levels.
Yet, researchers say it does highlight a trend, with other studies linking shortages of vitamin D to increased rates of breast cancer and depression in the elderly. And earlier published findings by the team, from the same national study, have established a possible tie-in, showing an 80 percent increased risk of peripheral artery disease from vitamin D deficits.
Researchers note that other studies in the last year or so in animals and humans have identified a connection between low levels of vitamin D and heart disease. But these studies, they say, were weakened by small sample numbers, lack of diversity in the population studied and other factors that limited scientists’ ability to generalize the findings to the public at large.
“Our results make it much more clear that all men and women concerned about their overall health should more closely monitor their blood levels of vitamin D, and make sure they have enough,” says study co-lead investigator Erin Michos, M.D., M.H.S.
“We think we have additional evidence to consider adding vitamin D deficiency as a distinct and separate risk factor for death from cardiovascular disease, putting it alongside much better known and understood risk factors, such as age, gender, family history, smoking, high blood cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, lack of exercise, obesity and diabetes,” says Michos.
Vitamin D is well known to play an essential role in cell growth, in boosting the body’s immune system and in strengthening bones.
“Now that we know vitamin D deficiency is a risk factor, we can better assess how aggressively to treat people at risk of heart disease or those who are already ill and undergoing treatment,” says Michos, who adds that test screening for nutrient levels is relatively simple. It can, she says, be made part of routine blood work and done while monitoring other known risk factors, including blood pressure, glucose and lipid levels.
Heart disease remains the nation’s leading cause of death, killing more than a million Americans each year. Nearly 10 percent of those with the condition have not one identifiable, traditional risk factor, which the experts say is why a considerable extent of the disease goes unexplained.
Michos, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and its Heart and Vascular Institute, recommends that people boost their vitamin D levels by eating diets rich in such fish as sardines and mackerel, consuming fortified dairy products, taking cod-liver oil and vitamin supplements, and in warmer weather briefly exposing skin to the sun’s vitamin-D producing ultraviolet light.
Aware of the cancer risks linked to too much time spent in the sun, she says as little as 10 to 15 minutes of daily exposure to the sun can produce sufficient amounts of vitamin D to sustain health. The hormone-like nutrient controls blood levels of calcium and phosphorus, essential chemicals in the body.
If vitamin supplements are used, Michos says there is no evidence that more than 2,000 international units per day do any good. Study results show that heart disease death rates flattened out in participants with the highest vitamin D levels (above 50 nanograms per milliliter of blood), signaling a possible loss of the vitamin’s protective effects at too-high doses.
The U.S. Institute of Medicine suggests that an adequate daily intake of vitamin D is between 200 and 400 international units (or blood levels nearing 30 nanograms per milliliter). Previous results from the same nationwide survey showed that 41 percent of men and 53 percent of women are technically deficient in the nutrient, with vitamin D levels below 28 nanograms per milliliter.
Michal Melamed, M.D., M.H.S., study co-lead investigator who started the research as a clinical fellow at Johns Hopkins, says no one knows yet why or how vitamin D’s hormone-like properties may protect the heart, but she adds that there are plenty of leads in the better known links the vitamin has to problems with muscle overgrowth and high blood pressure, in addition to its control of inflammation, which scientists are showing plays a stronger role in all kinds of heart disease. But more research is needed to determine the nutrient’s precise biological action.
Researchers say their next steps are to test various high doses of vitamin D to find out if the nutritional supplementation results in fewer deaths and lower incidence of heart disease, including heart attack or moments of prolonged and severe chest pain.
The team also plans to investigate what biological triggers, such as obesity or hypertension, might offset or worsen the action of vitamin D on heart muscle, or whether vitamin D sets off some other reaction in the heart.
Melamed says that because vitamin D levels are known to fluctuate in direct proportion with daily physical activity, the growing epidemic of obesity and indoor sedentary lifestyles lend more urgency to act on the vitamin D factor.
Public release date: 11-Aug-2008
Running slows the aging clock, Stanford researchers find
STANFORD, Calif. – Regular running slows the effects of aging, according to a new study from Stanford University School of Medicine that has tracked 500 older runners for more than 20 years. Elderly runners have fewer disabilities, a longer span of active life and are half as likely as aging nonrunners to die early deaths, the research found.
“The study has a very pro-exercise message,” said James Fries, MD, an emeritus professor of medicine at the medical school and the study’s senior author. “If you had to pick one thing to make people healthier as they age, it would be aerobic exercise.” The new findings will appear in the Aug. 11 issue of the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.
When Fries and his team began this research in 1984, many scientists thought vigorous exercise would do older folks more harm than good. Some feared the long-term effect of the then-new jogging craze would be floods of orthopedic injuries, with older runners permanently hobbled by their exercise habit. Fries had a different hypothesis: he thought regular exercise would extend high-quality, disability-free life. Keeping the body moving, he speculated, wouldn’t necessarily extend longevity, but it would compress the period at the end of life when people couldn’t carry out daily tasks on their own. That idea came to be known as “the compression of morbidity theory.”
Fries’ team began tracking 538 runners over age 50, comparing them to a similar group of nonrunners. The subjects, now in their 70s and 80s, have answered yearly questionnaires about their ability to perform everyday activities such as walking, dressing and grooming, getting out of a chair and gripping objects. The researchers have used national death records to learn which participants died, and why. Nineteen years into the study, 34 percent of the nonrunners had died, compared to only 15 percent of the runners.
At the beginning of the study, the runners ran an average of about four hours a week. After 21 years, their running time declined to an average of 76 minutes per week, but they were still seeing health benefits from running.
On average both groups in the study became more disabled after 21 years of aging, but for runners the onset of disability started later.
“Runners’ initial disability was 16 years later than nonrunners,’” Fries said. “By and large, the runners have stayed healthy.”
Not only did running delay disability, but the gap between runners’ and nonrunners’ abilities got bigger with time.
“We did not expect this,” Fries said, noting that the increasing gap between the groups has been apparent for several years now. “The health benefits of exercise are greater than we thought.”
Fries was surprised the gap between runners and nonrunners continues to widen even as his subjects entered their ninth decade of life. The effect was probably due to runners’ greater lean body mass and healthier habits in general, he said. “We don’t think this effect can go on forever,” Fries added. “We know that deaths come one to a customer. Eventually we will have a 100 percent mortality rate in both groups.”
But so far, the effect of running on delaying death has also been more dramatic than the scientists expected. Not surprisingly, running has slowed cardiovascular deaths. However, it has also been associated with fewer early deaths from cancer, neurological disease, infections and other causes.
And the dire injury predictions other scientists made for runners have fallen completely flat. Fries and his colleagues published a companion paper in the August issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showing running was not associated with greater rates of osteoarthritis in their elderly runners. Runners also do not require more total knee replacements than nonrunners, Fries said.
“Running straight ahead without pain is not harmful,” he said, adding that running seems safer for the joints than high-impact sports such as football, or unnatural motions like standing en pointe in ballet.
“When we first began, there was skepticism about our ideas,” Fries said. “Now, many other findings go in the same direction.”
Fries, 69, takes his own advice on aging: he’s an accomplished runner, mountaineer and outdoor adventurer.
Hanging on his office wall is a photo he jokingly describes as “me, running around the world in two minutes.” In the dazzling image of blue sky and white ice, Fries makes a tiny lap around the North Pole.
Public release date: 12-Aug-2008
Adverse reactions to antibiotics send thousands of patients to the ER
Adverse events from antibiotics cause an estimated 142,000 emergency department visits per year in the United States, according to a study published in the September 15, 2008 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases.
“This number is an important reminder for physicians and patients that antibiotics can have serious side effects and should only be taken when necessary,” said study author Daniel Budnitz, M.D., at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Prior to this study, detailed data on the scope and burden of antibiotic adverse events in the U.S. were not available. This investigation is the first to use timely, nationally representative surveillance data to estimate and compare the numbers and rates of adverse events from systemic antibiotics by class, drug, and event type.
Half of the visits were for reactions to penicillins and the other half were from reactions to other antibiotics used to treat a wide variety of bacterial infections. After accounting for how often antibiotics were prescribed, children less than one year old were found to have the highest rate of adverse drug events.
Almost 80 percent of all antibiotic adverse events in the study were allergic reactions, ranging from rash to anaphylaxis, and the remaining 20 percent were caused by errors and overdoses. Unlike errors and overdoses from other drugs, allergic reactions to antibiotics typically can only be prevented by avoiding exposure to the drug in the first place.
The study draws from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System-Cooperative Adverse Drug Event Surveillance (NEISS-CADES) project, a sample of 63 hospitals in the United States and its territories. NEISS-CADES is a joint effort of the CDC, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Food and Drug Administration.
Previous studies have suggested that half of the estimated 100 million antibiotic prescriptions written in the community setting each year for respiratory tract infections may be unnecessary. “For conditions in which antibiotics have questionable benefit, such as many mild upper respiratory tract infections, weighing the benefits of antibiotics with the risks of a serious adverse event will be especially important,” said Budnitz. “Because antibiotics are frequently used, both appropriately and inappropriately, if doctors would reduce the number of antibiotics they prescribe to their patients by even a small percentage, we could significantly reduce the number of emergency visits for antibiotic adverse events. Physicians need to communicate to their patients that antibiotics are not harmless,” he added.
The researchers found that only 6 percent of the patients who experienced adverse events required hospitalization. The others were all treated and released. However, the study only reflected emergency department admissions. Unreported cases and visits to a physician’s office could not be taken into account.
Public release date: 12-Aug-2008
Dying frogs sign of a biodiversity crisis
BERKELEY – Devastating declines of amphibian species around the world are a sign of a biodiversity disaster larger than just frogs, salamanders and their ilk, according to researchers from the University of California, Berkeley.
Carcasses of Southern Yellow-legged Frogs in Sixty Lake Basin in Sierra Nevada, California. The frogs died of chytridiomycosis, an amphibian disease caused by a particularly virulent fungus. (Vance Vredenburg)
In an article published online this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers argue that substantial die-offs of amphibians and other plant and animal species add up to a new mass extinction facing the planet.
“There’s no question that we are in a mass extinction spasm right now,” said David Wake, professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley. “Amphibians have been around for about 250 million years. They made it through when the dinosaurs didn’t. The fact that they’re cutting out now should be a lesson for us.”
The study, co-authored by Wake and Vance Vredenburg, research associate at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at UC Berkeley and assistant professor of biology at San Francisco State University, will appear in a special supplement to the journal featuring papers based on presentations from the December 2007 Arthur M. Sackler Colloquium of the National Academy of Sciences, “In the Light of Evolution II: Biodiversity and Extinction.”
New species arise and old species die off all the time, but sometimes the extinction numbers far outweigh the emergence of new species. Extreme cases of this are called mass extinction events, and there have been only five in our planet’s history, until now.
The sixth mass extinction event, which Wake and others argue is happening currently, is different from the past events. “My feeling is that behind all this lies the heavy hand of Homo sapiens,” Wake said.
There is no consensus among the scientific community about when the current mass extinction started, Wake said. It may have been 10,000 years ago, when humans first came from Asia to the Americas and hunted many of the large mammals to extinction. It may have started after the Industrial Revolution, when the human population exploded. Or, we might be seeing the start of it right now, Wake said.
But no matter what the start date, empirical data clearly show that extinction rates have dramatically increased over the last few decades, Wake said.
The global amphibian extinction is a particularly bleak example of this drastic decline. In 2004, researchers found that nearly one-third of amphibian species are threatened, and many of the non-threatened species are on the wane.
Our own backyard provides a striking example, Wake said. He and his colleagues study amphibians in the Sierra Nevada, and the picture is grim there, as well.
“We have these great national parks here that are about as close as you can get to absolute preserves, and there have been really startling drops in amphibian populations there, too,” Wake said.
Of the seven amphibian species that inhabit the peaks of the Sierra Nevada, five are threatened. Wake and his colleagues observed that, for two of these species, the Sierra Nevada Yellow-legged Frog and the Southern Yellow-legged Frog, populations over the last few years declined by 95 to 98 percent, even in highly protected areas such as Yosemite National Park. This means that each local frog population has dwindled to 2 to 5 percent of its former size. Originally, frogs living atop the highest, most remote peaks seemed to thrive, but recently, they also succumbed.
There are several frog killers in the Sierra Nevada, Wake said. The first hint of frog decline in this area came in the 1990s, and researchers originally thought that rainbow trout introduced to this area were the culprits – they like to snack on tadpoles and frog eggs. The UC Berkeley team did experiments in which it physically removed trout from some areas, and the result was that frog populations started to recover.
“But then they disappeared again, and this time there were carcasses,” Wake said.
The culprit is a nasty pathogenic fungus that causes the disease chytridiomycosis. Researchers discovered the fungus in Sierra Nevada frogs in 2001. Scientists have documented over the last five years mass die-offs and population collapses due to the fungus in the mountain range.
But the fungus is not unique to California. It has been wiping out amphibians around the world, including in the tropics, where amphibian biodiversity is particularly high.
“It’s been called the most devastating wildlife disease ever recorded,” Wake said.
Global warming and habitat constriction are two other major killers of frogs around the world, Wake said. And the Sierra Nevada amphibians are also susceptible to poisonous winds carrying pesticides from Central Valley croplands. “The frogs have really been hit by a one-two punch,” Wake said, “although it’s more like a one-two-three-four punch.”
The frogs are not the only victims in this mass extinction, Wake emphasized. Scientists studying other organisms have seen similarly dramatic effects.
“Our work needs to be seen in the context of all this other work, and the news is very, very grim,” Wake said.
The National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health helped support this study.
Public release date: 12-Aug-2008
The pandemic potential of H9N2 avian influenza viruses
Since their introduction into land-based birds in 1988, H9N2 avian influenza A viruses have caused multiple human infections and become endemic in domestic poultry in Eurasia. This particular influenza subtype has been evolving and acquiring characteristics that raise concerns that it may become more transmissible among humans. Mechanisms that allow infection and subsequent human-to-human transmission of avian influenza viruses are not well understood.
In a new study published August 13 in the journal PLoS ONE, Daniel Perez (of the University of Maryland) and colleagues used ferrets to characterize the mechanism of replication and transmission of recent avian H9N2 viruses. The researchers show that some currently circulating avian H9N2 viruses can transmit to naïve ferrets placed in direct contact with infected ferrets. However, aerosol transmission was not observed, a key factor in potentially pandemic strains.
More importantly, Perez and colleagues show that a single amino acid residue (Leu226) at the receptor-binding site (RBS) of the hemagglutinin (HA) surface protein plays a major role in the ability of these viruses to transmit. They also found that an avian-human H9N2 reassortant virus increases virulence, pathology and replication in ferrets. These results suggest that the establishment and prevalence of H9N2 viruses in poultry could pose a significant threat for humans.
Ralph’s Note – The reason for this posting, is to introduce the next possible rising star of the pandemic world. From SARS, West Nile Virus, Bird Flu, Spanish Flu, etc…the media popularity of infectious disease has declined. Waiting for the next rising star this can be the great Chicken Virus of 2009 could be it.
Public release date: 13-Aug-2008
UNC researchers find MSG use linked to obesity
CHAPEL HILL – People who use monosodium glutamate, or MSG, as a flavor enhancer in their food are more likely than people who don’t use it to be overweight or obese even though they have the same amount of physical activity and total calorie intake, according to a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Public Health study published this month in the journal Obesity.
Researchers at UNC and in China studied more than 750 Chinese men and women, aged between 40 and 59, in three rural villages in north and south China. The majority of study participants prepared their meals at home without commercially processed foods. About 82 percent of the participants used MSG in their food. Those users were divided into three groups, based on the amount of MSG they used. The third who used the most MSG were nearly three times more likely to be overweight than non-users.
“Animal studies have indicated for years that MSG might be associated with weight gain,” said Ka He, M.D., assistant professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the UNC School of Public Health. “Ours is the first study to show a link between MSG use and weight in humans.”
Because MSG is used as a flavor enhancer in many processed foods, studying its potential effect on humans has been difficult. He and his colleagues chose study participants living in rural Chinese villages because they used very little commercially processed food, but many regularly used MSG in food preparation.
“We found that prevalence of overweight was significantly higher in MSG users than in non-users,” He said. “We saw this risk even when we controlled for physical activity, total calorie intake and other possible explanations for the difference in body mass. The positive associations between MSG intake and overweight were consistent with data from animal studies.”
As the percentage of overweight and obese people around the world continues to increase, He said, finding clues to the cause could be very important.
“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other health organizations around the world have concluded that MSG is safe,” He said, “but the question remains – is it healthy?”
Public release date: 15-Aug-2008
New mushroom study shows the power of energy density
Preliminary research shows mushroom entrées as satiating and palatable as meat entrées
SAN JOSE, Calif. (August 14, 2008) – Preliminary research, led by Dr. Lawrence Cheskin, MD, Director of John Hopkins Weight Management Center, suggests increasing intake of low-energy density foods, specifically mushrooms, in place of high-energy-density foods, like lean ground beef, is a strategy for preventing or treating obesity. This is good news for the more than one-third of U.S. adults age 20 and older who are obese, according to the Center for Disease Control. Obesity is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
In the study led by Dr. Cheskin, and funded by the Mushroom Council, study participants were randomly chosen to receive either beef or mushroom lunch entrées over four days – lasagna, napoleon, sloppy Joe and chili. Subjects then switched entrées to consume the other ingredient (mushroom or beef) the following week.1
Energy (calorie) intakes were significantly higher during meat meals than mushroom meals, a difference that averaged 420 more calories and 30 more fat grams per day over the four-day test period. Subjects’ ratings for palatability (meal appeal), appetite, satiation (after meal fullness) and satiety (general fullness) did not differ between groups.
“The most intriguing finding was that subjects seemed to accept mushrooms as a palatable and suitable culinary substitute for meat,” said Dr. Cheskin. “They didn’t compensate for the lower calorie mushroom meal by eating more food later in the day.”
The preliminary findings of Cheskin’s team follow findings from other initial data that suggested if men substituted a 4-ounce Portabella mushroom for a 4-ounce grilled hamburger every time they ate a grilled hamburger over the course of a year, and didn’t change anything else, they could save more than 18,000 calories and nearly 3,000 grams of fat.3 That’s the equivalent of 5.3 pounds or 30 sticks of butter. More research is needed to further understand mushrooms’ role in weight management as a low-energy density food.
More Health Benefits of Mushrooms
In addition, mushrooms4 may be nature’s hidden treasure for vitamin D, a nutrient many Americans do not get enough of for the required daily intake. Mushrooms are the only fresh vegetable or fruit with 4 percent of the daily value of Vitamin D per serving and preliminary research suggests that a standard serving of mushrooms can provide up to 100 percent of the daily value of vitamin D after just five minutes of contact with sunlight.
A serving of four-five white button mushrooms has 20 calories and no fat, saturated fat or cholesterol but is nutrient-rich. In fact, mushrooms are also the leading source of the antioxidant selenium in the fruit and vegetable category and a good source of the B vitamins riboflavin, niacin and pantothenic acid, which help break down proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Toss in a handful of delicious, nutrient-dense mushrooms into your favorite dish.
Public release date: 15-Aug-2008
Potatoes may hold key to Alzheimer’s treatment
Article appears in August 15 JBC
A virus that commonly infects potatoes bears a striking resemblance to one of the key proteins implicated in Alzheimer’s disease (AD), and researchers have used that to develop antibodies that may slow or prevent the onset of AD.
Studies in mice have demonstrated that vaccinations with the amyloid beta protein (believed to be a major AD contributor) to produce AD antibodies can slow disease progression and improve cognitive function, possibly by promoting the destruction of amyloid plaques. Some early human trials have likewise been promising, but had to be halted due to the risk of autoimmune encephalitis.
One way to make Alzheimer’s vaccinations safer would be to use a closely-related, but not human, protein as the vaccine, much like cowpox virus is used for smallpox immunizations.
In the August 15 Journal of Biological Chemistry, Robert Friedland and colleagues used this concept on an amyloid-like protein found in potato virus (PVY). They injected PVY into mice followed by monthly boosters for four months. The researchers found that the mice produced strong levels of antibodies that could attach to amyloid beta protein both in both solution and in tissue samples of Alzheimer’s patients. And although the levels were lower, mice also developed Ab antibodies if given injections of PVY-infected potato leaf as opposed to purified PVY.
Friedland and colleagues note that potato virus is a fairly common infection that poses no risk to humans (many people have probably eaten PVY infected potatoes). While tests of PVY antibodies will ultimately determine how useful they can be, they may be a promising lead to treating this debilitating disease.
Public release date: 17-Aug-2008
Antidepressants may impair driving ability, new research finds
Depressed drivers on meds performed worst in driving simulation
BOSTON – People taking prescription antidepressants appear to drive worse than people who aren’t taking such drugs, and depressed people on antidepressants have even more trouble concentrating and reacting behind the wheel.
These were the conclusions of a study released Sunday at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.
University of North Dakota psychologists Holly Dannewitz. PhD, and Tom Petros, PhD, recruited 60 people to participate in a driving simulation in which participants had to make a series of common driving decisions, such as reacting to brake lights, stop signs or traffic signals while being distracted by speed limit signs, pylons, animals, other cars, helicopters or bicyclists. The simulation tested steering, concentration and scanning. Thirty-one of the participants were taking at least one type of antidepressant while 29 control group members were taking no medications with the exception of oral contraceptives in some cases.
The group taking antidepressants was further divided into those who scored higher and lower on a test of depression. The group taking antidepressants who reported a high number of symptoms of depression performed significantly worse than the control group on several of the driving performance tasks. But participants who were taking antidepressants and scored in the normal range on a test to measure depression performed no differently than the non-medicated individuals.
“Individuals taking antidepressants should be aware of the possible cognitive effects as [they] may affect performance in social, academic and work settings, as well as driving abilities,” the researchers wrote. “However, it appears that mood is correlated with cognitive performance, more so than medication use.”
This research is important in light of the rapid increase in the number of Americans taking antidepressants. Americans’ use of antidepressant drugs such as Prozac, Paxil or Zoloft, nearly tripled in a decade, according to the 2004 Health United States report, issued by the National Center for Health Statistics. Among women, one in 10 takes an antidepressant drug, according to the government.
Public release date: 17-Aug-2008
Playing video games offers learning across life span, say studies
Skills transfer to classroom, surgical procedures, scientific thinking
BOSTON – Certain types of video games can have beneficial effects, improving gamers’ dexterity as well as their ability to problem-solve – attributes that have proven useful not only to students but to surgeons, according to research discussed Sunday at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.
In one paper, Fordham University psychologist Fran C. Blumberg, PhD, and Sabrina S. Ismailer, MSED, examined 122 fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders’ problem-solving behavior while playing a video game that they had never seen before to show that playing video games can improve cognitive and perceptual skills.
As the children played the game, they were asked to think aloud for 20 minutes. Researchers assessed their problem-solving ability by examining the types of cognitive, goal-oriented, game-oriented, emotional and contextual statements they made.
“Younger children seem more interested in setting short-term goals for their learning in the game compared to older children who are more interested in simply playing and the actions of playing,” said Blumberg. “Thus, younger children may show a greater need for focusing on small aspects of a given problem than older children, even in a leisure-based situation such as playing video games.”
In a second paper, Iowa State University psychologist Douglas Gentile, PhD, and William Stone, BS, described several studies involving high school and college students and laparoscopic surgeons that looked at their video game usage and its effects.
Findings from the student studies confirmed previous research on effects of playing violent games: Those playing violent games were more hostile, less forgiving and believed violence to be normal compared to those who played nonviolent games. Players of “prosocial” games got into fewer fights in school and were more helpful to other students.
Other studies involving students showed that those who played more entertainment games did poorer in school and were at greater risk for obesity.
A study of 33 laparoscopic surgeons found that those who played video games were 27 percent faster at advanced surgical procedures and made 37 percent fewer errors compared to those who did not play video games, said Gentile.
Advanced video game skill and experience are significant predictors of suturing capabilities, the researchers found, even after controlling for sex, years of medical training and number of laparoscopic surgeries performed.
A second study of 303 laparoscopic surgeons (82 percent men; 18 percent women) also showed that surgeons who played video games requiring spatial skills and hand dexterity and then performed a drill testing these skills were significantly faster at their first attempt and across all 10 trials than the surgeons who did not the play video games first.
“The big picture is that there are several dimensions on which games have effects, including the amount they are played, the content of each game, what you have to pay attention to on the screen, and how you control the motions,” said Gentile. “This means that games are not ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ but are powerful educational tools and have many effects we might not have expected they could.”
In another paper, researchers Constance Steinkuehler, PhD, and Sean Duncan, MA, of the University of Wisconsin at Madison looked at how game-based learning can supplement textbooks and science labs in fostering scientific thinking. They analyzed a random sample of nearly 2,000 discussion posts in November 2006 where participants talked about various game-related topics.
Using codes based on national benchmarks for scientific literacy, discussions of the multiplayer online game World of Warcraft were examined to see what types of conversations took place, such as social bantering versus problem-solving, that classified as scientific reasoning. The game set in a fantasy world had players of various classes hunt, gather, battle and craft in order to strengthen or move their character up in “levels.” Characters move faster when they work together.
The codes addressed a different aspect of scientific thinking, including reasoning using systems and models, understanding feedback, predicting and testing and using math to investigate a problem.
Scientific thinking can be learned in virtual worlds, said Duncan. The majority of participants (86 percent) shared their knowledge to solve problems and more than half the participants (58 percent) used systematic and evaluative processes indicative of scientific reasoning.
“These forums illustrate how sophisticated intellectual practices to improve game play mimic actual scientific reasoning,” said Duncan. “Gamers are openly discussing their strategies and thinking, creating an environment in which informal scientific reasoning practices are being learned by playing these online video games.”
Ralph’s Note – You are what you Play,,,
Public release date: 17-Aug-2008
Survivors of 1918 flu pandemic protected with a lifetime immunity to virus
New research has discovered that infection and natural exposure to the 1918 influenza virus made survivors immune to the disease for the remaining of their lives. Antibodies produced by cells isolated from these survivors served as an effective therapy to protect mice from the highly lethal 1918 infection. The study entitled “Neutralizing antibodies derived from the B cells of 1918 influenza pandemic survivors,” was released for advanced online publication by the journal Nature. Researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s Department of Microbiology contributed to the research findings. An estimated 50 million people were killed by the 1918 flu pandemic worldwide.
“Ninety years after survivors encountered the 1918 pandemic influenza virus, we collected antibody-producing B cells from them, and successfully isolated B cells that produce antibodies that block the viral infection,” said contributing author Dr. Christopher Basler, PhD, Associate Professor of Microbiology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “The antibodies produced by these cells demonstrated remarkable power to block 1918 flu virus infection in mice, proving that, even nine decades after infection with this virus, survivors retain protection from it.”
“The fact that you can isolate these anti-1918 memory B cells so long after infection will hopefully provide the impetus to further study the mechanisms behind long lived immunity,” said Dr. Osvaldo Martinez, post-doctoral fellow at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
For this study, 32 individuals who were born before 1918 and lived through the influenza pandemic were recruited by Dr. Eric Altschuler at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey to donate blood which was tested by Dr. Basler’s lab for the presence of antibodies that recognize the 1918 virus. Dr. James Crowe and colleagues at Vanderbilt University produced antibodies from these individuals’ blood cells and provided these to Dr. Basler’s lab where the potent neutralizing activity against 1918 virus was demonstrated. Antibodies were also provided to Dr. Terrence Tumpey at the CDC to test in mice the strength of the antibodies derived from the 1918 survivors.
“Our findings show that survivors of the pandemic have highly effective, virus neutralizing antibodies to this powerful virus, and humans can sustain circulating B memory cells to viruses for up to 9 decades after exposure,” said Dr. Tshidi Tsibane, post-doctoral fellow, Department of Microbiology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “These findings could serve as potential therapy for another 1918-like virus.”
Ralph’s Note – Would it have not made sense to test for antibodies in their descendants, and the general population. Maybe we don’t need a vaccine, in we are already protected.
Public release date: 17-Aug-2008
Documentary Evidence Reveals Motives of Pharmaceutical “Seeding” Trials
Clinical studies that are designed by pharmaceutical companies to promote use of their drugs are called “seeding” trials. While much has been written about the marketing tactics of the pharmaceutical industry, seeding trials have not been characterized in depth. A new study finds strong documentary evidence of how a pharmaceutical company framed a marketing effort as a clinical trial. Researchers reviewed internal documents that became public during litigation against the drug manufacturer. The company’s marketing division designed the trial, and handled all collection, analysis, and dissemination of data. The company hid their motive for the trial from participants, investigators, and institutional review board members. Researchers concluded that seeding trials are harmful for three reasons:
First, because the company disguises its motives, informed consent is impossible;
second, good quality research is at risk when marketers – rather than scientists – design a study;
and third, the scientific question posed by a seeding trial often has little merit. An accompanying editorial warns institutional research review boards to avoid approving seeding trials and physicians to avoid enrolling their patients in them.
Ralph’s Note – Simple fix. If Anyone that dies or is injured from the medication. Charge those responsible with either Assault, or Manslaughter.
Public release date: 18-Aug-2008
Researchers link cocoa flavanols to improved brain blood flow
New study suggests cocoa compounds could hold promise for
McLEAN, VA (August 18, 2008) – Cocoa flavanols, the unique compounds found naturally in cocoa, may increase blood flow to the brain, according to new research published in the Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment journal. The researchers suggest that long-term improvements in brain blood flow could impact cognitive behavior, offering future potential for debilitating brain conditions including dementia and stroke.
In a scientific study of healthy, older adults ages 59 to 83, Harvard medical scientists found that study participants who regularly drank a cocoa flavanol-rich beverage made using the Mars, Incorporated Cocoapro® process had an eight percent increase in brain blood flow after one week, and 10 percent increase after two weeks.
In this first-of-its-kind study, the researchers found both short and long-term benefits of cocoa flavanols for brain blood flow, offering future potential for the one in seven older Americans currently living with dementia. When the flow of blood to the brain slows over time, the result may be structural damage and dementia. Scientists speculate that maintaining an increased blood flow to the brain could slow this cognitive decline.
“The totality of the research on cocoa flavanols is impressive. This is just one more study adding to an increasing body of literature connecting regular cocoa flavanol consumption to blood flow and vascular health improvements throughout the body,” said Harold Schmitz, Ph.D., chief science officer at Mars, Incorporated, which has supported research on cocoa flavanols for more than 15 years. “Though more research is needed, these findings raise the possibility that flavanol-rich cocoa products could be developed to help slow brain decline in older age.”
The Body of Evidence
Contrary to statements often made in the popular media, the collective research demonstrates that the vascular effects of cocoa flavanols are independent of general “antioxidant” effects that cocoa flavanols exhibit in a test tube, outside of the body. While research aimed at studying the potential role of cocoa flavanols in the context of blood vessel and circulatory function continues, a number of previously published studies already suggest that the consumption of cocoa flavanols can have important beneficial effects on the function of the body’s network of blood vessels. The body of research not only suggests that cocoa flavanols may provide a dietary approach to maintaining cardiovascular function and health, but also points at new possibilities for cocoa flavanol-based interventions for vascular complications associated with cognitive performance, skin health and age-related blood vessel dysfunction.
Source: Sorond FA, Lipsitz LA, Hollenberg NK, Fisher NDL. Cerebral blood flow response to flavanol-rich cocoa in healthy elderly humans. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. 2008;4:433-440.
Public release date: 19-Aug-2008
Chronic lead poisoning from urban soils
INDIANAPOLIS — Chronic lead poisoning, caused in part by the ingestion of contaminated dirt, affects hundreds of thousands more children in the United States than the acute lead poisoning associated with imported toys or jewelry. Could treating contaminated soil with water prevent this public health scourge?
In a study appearing in the August issue of the journal Applied Geochemistry, Gabriel M. Filippelli, Ph.D., professor of earth sciences and department chair at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, conducted a literature review of studies of urban soils as a persistent source of lead poisoning and also investigated the lead burden in the soils from a number of cities, including Indianapolis. His findings reveal that older cities like Indianapolis have a very high lead burden resulting in a lead poisoning epidemic among their youngest citizens.
Filippelli suggests two possible remedies, one of which he believes to be feasible from both the practical and monetary perspectives and doable almost immediately.
According to 2007 U.S. Census Bureau data, there are approximately 20 million children below the age of five in the United States, the age range of greatest susceptibility to the harmful affects of lead poisoning. Filippelli notes that about 2 percent of these children (approximately 400,000) have lead poisoning, many in epidemic proportions.
While acute lead poisoning from toys and direct ingestion of interior paint has received more publicity, these cases account for only a portion of children with lead poisoning. Many health officials are increasingly concerned with chronic lead poisoning, which occurs at lower levels of lead in the blood and are harder to diagnose. Babies and young children may develop chronic lead poisoning when playing in dirt yards or playgrounds or in areas with blowing dry soil tainted with the lead, which is ubiquitous in older urban areas.
“These national numbers for chronic lead poisoning are staggering but the percentage of affected children in older urban areas is much much higher than in rural areas or newer cities. The blowing soil and dust young children ingest contains large amount of lead from lead paint and leaded gasoline deposited decades ago, and from industrial contamination. In Indianapolis, we found high levels of soil contamination. Many older urban centers, have lead poisoning rates that are 5 to10 times the national average.” said Filippelli, who is a biogeochemist studying environmental contamination of heavy metals and its effects on children’s health.
Going into neighborhoods where yards are dirt rather than grass-covered and spraying clean water with high power shower systems when tests show that soil moisture is low (usually mid-July to mid-September in Indianapolis, for example), would significantly decrease the chronic lead poisoning in children, according to Filippelli. Since contaminated dirt blows from one property to another, this cannot be done on a house by house basis but must be carried out on a regional basis.
A better but less feasible remedy would be to put a layer of clean soil on top of the contaminated soil and to hydroseed the fresh dirt with grass. While preferable it is less practical as the grass has to be maintained, more costly and probably unrealistic to expect money-strapped municipalities to attempt. The high end remedy, removal of all contaminated dirt, perhaps two feet deep, is unattainable, except in small areas around industrial sites such as lead smelters.
Lead levels in the dirt in which children play are a public health hazard. “Our review plus the new directions we suggest for remoisturizing soil to prevent blowing of contaminants, confirm that our approach to estimating lead burden and its remediation can be done anywhere in the U.S. where there is a lead concern. The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban have focused their attention on indoor contamination as the direct source of lead to children. It is now time to open the door and solve the contaminated soil problem. We hope our study will raise awareness, and ultimately funding, to stop the poisoning of America’s children, especially those living in older urban areas,” said Filippelli, who is associate director of the Indiana University Center for Environmental Health.
Young children, especially those who crawl, put objects in their mouth, eat dirt, or are exposed to blowing dirt, and can consume a significant amount of lead. Children’s developing digestive systems are very susceptible to lead poisoning. To a child’s body, lead looks like calcium because they both have same ionic charge and size. As their neurons develop, the nervous system tries to use lead in place of calcium and the child’s neural systems fail to form correctly. This impairs neural function leading to irreversibly decreased IQ and increased attention deficient issues.
Chelation, which purges lead from the body, is used to treat acute lead poisoning but is much less effective in chronic lead poisoning.
Public release date: 19-Aug-2008
Infection Blocks Lung’s Protective Response Against Tobacco Smoke
An infection that often goes undetected can block the lung’s natural protective response against tobacco smoke, according to researchers at National Jewish Health. The findings, recently published online and scheduled to appear in the October issue of Infection and Immunity, suggest one mechanism that may cause smokers to develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
“Although smoking is the overwhelming cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), only 20 percent of smokers develop the disease,” said Brian Day, senior author on the study and Professor of Medicine at National Jewish Health. “Our findings suggest that Mycoplasma pneumoniae (Mp) infection may be one of the co-factors that lead to COPD and other diseases among smokers.”
Tobacco smoke contains more than 4,700 chemicals, which generate approximately 100 trillion reactive molecules per puff. Those molecules, known as reactive species, can damage lung tissue by chemically reacting with DNA, cell membranes and other molecules in the lung.
It has long been known that the lungs mount a strong protective response against tobacco smoke, which the National Jewish researchers confirmed in their studies in mice and cell cultures. They found that mice exposed to tobacco smoke for 16 weeks doubled the amount of the antioxidant glutathione in the fluid bathing the airways. The antioxidant reacts with the reactive species in tobacco smoke, thus preventing damaging reactions with lung tissue.
“This natural protective response actually allows people to smoke,” said Day. “Without it, all smokers would suffer significantly more lung damage.”
Previous work in Dr. Day’s lab had suggested that lung infections might affect the lung’s protective response. And work in Dr. Richard Martin’s lab at National Jewish has implicated the organism Mycoplasma pneumoniae (Mp) in worsening asthma. Mp is a common lung pathogen and the most common cause of pneumonia, but can be difficult to detect because it is challenging to grow in culture. Recent tests to detect Mp DNA in the lungs have indicated that it may be more prevalent than generally recognized and can exist as a low-level chronic infection.
When Dr. Day and his colleagues infected mice with Mp it had a mild effect, slightly lowering glutathione levels in the lungs of mice breathing fresh air. When mice were exposed to tobacco smoke then infected with Mp, glutathione levels dropped even lower.
“The Mycoplasma infection completely blocked the protective response mice normally mount against tobacco smoke, reducing antioxidant levels well below even those of mice breathing fresh air,” said Dr. Day.
After glutathione reacts and neutralizes reactive species in the lungs, it becomes oxidized. Under normal conditions mice and humans produce an enzyme, called glutathione reductase (GR), which recycles the oxidized glutathione into its protective, reduced state. The researchers found that mice exposed to tobacco smoke and Mp had much higher levels of oxidized glutathione along with the low levels of reduced glutathione. The researchers also found that the Mp infection significantly lowered levels of GR in mice lungs.
“The Mycoplasma infection blocked the lungs’ protective response to tobacco smoke by lowering levels of the enzyme that normally recycles oxidized glutathione back into its protective, reduced form,” said Dr. Day. “This resulted in severe oxidative stress and increased tissue damage as measured by oxidized DNA.
“These higher levels of oxidative stress and damage are likely to predispose smokers with Mycoplasma infections to lung disease, such as COPD or cancer.”