Monday, March 31, 2014

Plastic Soup Of Ocean Garbage Obscures Search For Malaysia Plane Debris

By Ari Phillips on March 31, 2014

Since vanishing on March 8, authorities across the world have been searching for evidence of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. While a lack of information and bad weather have presented setbacks so far, as the search area narrows a new culprit is emerging — garbage.

“It isn’t like looking for a needle in a haystack,” Conservation International senior scientist M. Sanjayan told CNN. “It’s like looking for a needle in a needle factory. It is one piece of debris among billions floating in the ocean.”

Vast garbage patches enmeshed in giant ocean gyres have been a subject of dismayed fascination for over a decade. Ocean gyres are large, rotating ocean currents that accumulate floating debris in their calm centers. Charles Moore, a sailor and oceanographer in California, is often credited with discovering an enormous stretch of floating debris in the midst of the North Pacific Gyre in 2003, since deemed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Currents circulating between the west coast of North America and China and Russia’s east coast merge together trash of all varieties — plastic bottles, bags, fishing equipment, debris from fallen shipping containers, and other flotsam.

Across the world in the Indian Ocean Gyre, accumulated garbage is frustrating search efforts for debris from the Boeing 777 that mysteriously disappeared in early March. After more than a week of bad weather delayed efforts to the region hundreds of miles off Australia’s east coast, search teams have not yet been able to confirm plane debris, but they have confirmed something else: even the remotest parts of the ocean are plagued by human detritus.

Denise Hardesty, a research scientist for Australian science agency CSIRO, told the AP that there are between 12,500 and 17,500 pieces of plastic per square mile in waters around Australia.

“It takes 400 or 500 years for lots of types of plastics to completely break down,” Hardesty said. “It just goes into smaller and smaller bits. You even find plastics in plankton — that’s how small it gets.”

With billions of people living near coastlines around the world, human waste inevitably migrates into oceans via waterways or is rushed out during storm events. “The world does use the ocean as its toilet, and then expects that toilet to feed it,” Sanjayan told CNN.


With sea level rise of several feet expected by 2100 due to climate change’s impact on melting glaciers and polar ice sheets, the thin line between landlocked trash disposal and oceans lined with human-generated waste will become further obscured.

Dhaka, Bangladesh, one of the fastest growing cities in the world, is an example of the confluence of developmental impact, environmental degradation and climate change that far exceeds the capacity of the region to effectively confront. “All that waste in countries like that — low-lying, prone to flooding — periodically flushes into the ocean,” Sanjayan told CNN.

Conservative Climate Panel Warns World Faces ‘Breakdown Of Food Systems’ And More Violent Conflict

This has also been predicted by the U.S. military.

I looked at the main pages of CBS, NBC, & ABC and saw nothing of this. They did have room for things like reporting on some movie star's home being for sale.

By Joe Romm on March 30, 2014

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued its second of four planned reports examining the state of climate science. This one summarizes what the scientific literature says about “Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability” (big PDF here). As with every recent IPCC report, it is super-cautious to a fault and yet still incredibly alarming


It warns of the dreaded RFCs (“reasons for concern” — I’m not making this acronym up), such as “breakdown of food systems linked to warming, drought, flooding, and precipitation variability and extremes.” You might call them RFAs (“reasons for alarm” or “reasons for action”). Indeed, in recent years, “several periods of rapid food and cereal price increases following climate extremes in key producing regions indicate a sensitivity of current markets to climate extremes among other factors.” So warming-driven drought and extreme weather have already begun to reduce food security. Now imagine adding another 2 billion people to feed while we are experiencing five times as much warming this century as we did last century!


No surprise, then, that climate change will “prolong existing, and create new, poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger.” And it will “increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and inter-group violence” — though for some reason that doesn’t make the list of RFCs.

In short, “We’re all sitting ducks,” as IPCC author and Princeton Prof. Michael Oppenheimer put it to the AP.

As grim as the Working Group 2 report on impacts is, it explicitly has very little to say about the catastrophic impacts and vulnerability in the business as usual case where the Earth warms 4°C to 5°C [7°F-9°F] — and it has nothing to say about even higher warming, which the latest science suggests we are headed toward.


D’oh! You may wonder why hundreds of the world leading climate experts spend years and years doing climate science and climate projections, but don’t bother actually looking at the impacts of merely staying on our current carbon pollution emissions path — let alone looking at the plausible worst-case scenario (which is typically the basis for risk-reducing public policy, such as military spending).

Partly it’s because, until recently, climate scientists had naively expected the world to act with a modicum of sanity and avoid at all costs catastrophic warming of 7°F let alone the unimaginable 10°F (or higher) warming we are headed toward. Partly it’s because, as a recent paper explained, “climate scientists are biased toward overly cautious estimates, erring on the side of less rather than more alarming predictions.”

On top of the overly cautious nature of most climate scientists, we have the overly cautious nature of the IPCC.


“The I.P.C.C. is far from alarmist — on the contrary, it is a highly conservative organization,” said Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, whose papers on sea level were among those that got discarded. “That is not a problem as long as the users of the I.P.C.C. reports are well aware of this. The conservatism is built into its consensus structure, which tends to produce a lowest common denominator on which a large number of scientists can agree.”


It would have been nice if the IPCC had mentioned at this point that keeping additional temperature increases to ~2°C requires very aggressive efforts to slash carbon pollution starting now. As it is, the deniers, confusionists, and easily confused can (incorrectly) assert that this first sentence means global economic losses from climate change will be low. Again, that’s only if we act now.


Portable ‘Fresh Air’ Bags Come To Rescue Of Smog-Ridden Chinese City

Republican/libertarian paradise.

By Emily Atkin on March 31, 2014

Chinese citizens who aren’t wealthy enough to join the “It’s-too-polluted-so-I’m-moving-away” bandwagon just got another opportunity for fresh air — and this one comes in a convenient plastic bag.

An unnamed Chinese travel company this weekend reportedly brought large, bright blue bags of fresh air from a nearby mountain to city dwellers in Zhengzhou, one of the 10 most polluted cities in the country. According to reports and photos in both the Wall Street Journal and Daily Mail, residents clamored for a chance at the bags, which hooked up to people’s faces like oxygen masks.

Because of demand, locals were only allowed to breathe in the air — which came from Laojun Mountain — for a few minutes each, according to news reports.


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Too many diet drinks may spell heart trouble for older women


Contact: Beth Casteel
American College of Cardiology

Too many diet drinks may spell heart trouble for older women

Largest study of its kind looks at diet drinks and cardiovascular outcomes, mortality

It appears healthy postmenopausal women who drink two or more diet drinks a day may be more likely to have a heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular problems, according to research to be presented at the American College of Cardiology's 63rd Annual Scientific Session.

In fact, compared to women who never or only rarely consume diet drinks, those who consumed two or more a day were 30 percent more likely to suffer a cardiovascular event and 50 percent more likely to die from related disease. Researchers analyzed diet drink intake and cardiovascular risk factors from 59,614 participants in the Women's Health Initiative Observational Study, making this the largest study to look at the relationship between diet drink consumption, cardiac events and death.

"Our findings are in line with and extend data from previous studies showing an association between diet drinks and metabolic syndrome," said Ankur Vyas, M.D., fellow, Cardiovascular Diseases, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, and the lead investigator of the study. "We were interested in this research because there was a relative lack of data about diet drinks and cardiovascular outcomes and mortality."


Saturday, March 29, 2014

American Schools vs. the World: Expensive, Unequal, Bad at Math

Julia RyanDec 3 2013

The U.S. education system is mediocre compared to the rest of the world, according to an international ranking of OECD countries.

More than half a million 15-year-olds around the world took the Programme for International Student Assessment in 2012. The test, which is administered every three years and focuses largely on math, but includes minor sections in science and reading, is often used as a snapshot of the global state of education. The results, published today, show the U.S. trailing behind educational powerhouses like Korea and Finland.

Not much has changed since 2000, when the U.S. scored along the OECD average in every subject: This year, the U.S. scores below average in math and ranks 17th among the 34 OECD countries. It scores close to the OECD average in science and reading and ranks 21st in science and 17th in reading.


On average, 13 percent of students scored at the highest or second highest level on the PISA test, making them “top performers.” Fifty-five percent of students in Shanghai-China were considered top performers, while only nine percent of American students were.

One in four U.S. students did not reach the PISA baseline level 2 of mathematics proficiency. At this level, “students begin to demonstrate the skills that will enable them to participate effectively and productively in life,” according to the PISA report.


Nevertheless, this year’s report—and the United States’ poor math results—may be worth paying attention to for at least one reason. A 2011 study found that PISA scores are an economic indicator: rising scores are a good sign that a country’s economy will grow as well.

Religion, spirituality influence health in different but complementary ways

Of course, these are averages and trends, and would not hold for everybody.


CORVALLIS, Ore. – Religion and spirituality have distinct but complementary influences on health, new research from Oregon State University indicates.

“Religion helps regulate behavior and health habits, while spirituality regulates your emotions, how you feel,” said Carolyn Aldwin, a gerontology professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU.


Religiousness, including formal religious affiliation and service attendance, is associated with better health habits, such as lower smoking rates and reduced alcohol consumption. Spirituality, including meditation and private prayer, helps regulate emotions, which aids physiological effects such as blood pressure.


Brain scans link concern for justice with reason, not emotion

Injustice can evoke both reason and emotion at the same time.
And why would caring about justice out of a sense of empathy be considered negative in the first place?

By Jann Ingmire
March 27, 2014

People who care about justice are swayed more by reason than emotion, according to new brain scan research from the Department of Psychology and Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience.

Psychologists have found that some individuals react more strongly than others to situations that invoke a sense of justice—for example, seeing a person being treated unfairly or mercifully. The new study used brain scans to analyze the thought processes of people with high “justice sensitivity.”


As expected, study participants who scored high on the justice sensitivity questionnaire assigned significantly more blame when they were evaluating scenes of harm, Decety said. They also registered more praise for scenes showing a person helping another individual.

But the brain imaging also yielded surprises. During the behavior-evaluation exercise, people with high justice sensitivity showed more activity than average participants in parts of the brain associated with higher-order cognition. Brain areas commonly linked with emotional processing were not affected.

The conclusion was clear, Decety said: “Individuals who are sensitive to justice and fairness do not seem to be emotionally driven. Rather, they are cognitively driven.”

According to Decety, one implication is that the search for justice and the moral missions of human rights organizations and others do not come primarily from sentimental motivations, as they are often portrayed. Instead, that drive may have more to do with sophisticated analysis and mental calculation.


Alcohol and breast feeding

Mayo Clinic
Elizabeth LaFleur, R.N.

Breast-feeding and alcohol don't mix well. There's no level of alcohol in breast milk that's considered safe for a baby to drink.

When you drink alcohol, it passes into your breast milk at concentrations similar to those found in your bloodstream. Although a breast-fed baby is exposed to just a fraction of the alcohol his or her mother drinks, a newborn eliminates alcohol from his or her body at only half the rate of an adult.

Research suggests that breast-fed babies who are exposed to one drink a day might have impaired motor development and that alcohol can cause changes in sleep patterns. Also, while folklore says that drinking alcohol improves milk production, studies show that alcohol actually decreases milk production and that the presence of alcohol in breast milk causes babies to drink about 20 percent less.

If you choose to drink, avoid breast-feeding until alcohol has completely cleared your breast milk. This typically takes two to three hours for 12 ounces (355 milliliters) of 5 percent beer, 5 ounces (148 milliliters) of 11 percent wine or 1.5 ounces (44 milliliters) of 40 percent liquor, depending on your body weight. If you plan to drink alcohol, consider having a drink just after breast-feeding so that the alcohol begins to clear your breast milk during the natural interval between breast-feeding sessions.

Pumping and dumping breast milk doesn't speed the elimination of alcohol from your body. However, if you'll be missing a breast-feeding session, pumping and dumping will help you maintain your milk supply and avoid engorgement.

Remember, breast-feeding is the optimal way to feed a newborn and is recommended until a baby is at least age 1. If you choose to drink, plan carefully to avoid exposing your baby to alcohol.

Who owns America?

Robert Reich

[Coppying the text in case the post disappears from Facebook:]

Social movements are fueled by the gap between a society’s ideals and reality. When the gap grows too large, people are moved to action.

What about the reality of who controls the nation’s wealth? The richest fifth of Americans now own almost 90 percent. The top 1 percent owns over 35 percent. The bottom fifth owns almost nothing.

Yet the American ideal is starkly different. According to polls, most would prefer that the top fifth own about a third, and the bottom fifth about 10 percent.

One reason there’s not more ruckus is Americans don’t know the reality. Most believe that the richest fifth own about 60 percent, and the bottom fifth owns about 4 percent.

chronic stress in early life causes anxiety, aggression in adulthood


Contact: Peter Tarr
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Neurobiologists find chronic stress in early life causes anxiety, aggression in adulthood

Cold Spring Harbor, NY -- In recent years, behavioral neuroscientists have debated the meaning and significance of a plethora of independently conducted experiments seeking to establish the impact of chronic, early-life stress upon behavior – both at the time that stress is experienced, and upon the same individuals later in life, during adulthood.

These experiments, typically conducted in rodents, have on the one hand clearly indicated a link between certain kinds of early stress and dysfunction in the neuroendocrine system, particularly in the so-called HPA axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal), which regulates the endocrine glands and stress hormones including corticotropin and glucocorticoid.

Yet the evidence is by no means unequivocal. Stress studies in rodents have also clearly identified a native capacity, stronger in some individuals than others, and seemingly weak or absent in still others, to bounce back from chronic early-life stress. Some rodents subjected to early life stress have no apparent behavioral consequences in adulthood – they are disposed neither to anxiety nor depression, the classic pathologies understood to be induced by stress in certain individuals.

Today, a research team led by Associate Professor Grigori Enikolopov of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) reports online in the journal PlOS One the results of experiments designed to assess the impacts of social stress upon adolescent mice, both at the time they are experienced and during adulthood. Involving many different kinds of stress tests and means of measuring their impacts, the research indicates that a "hostile environment in adolescence disturbs psychoemotional state and social behaviors of animals in adult life," the team says.

The tests began with 1-month-old male mice – the equivalent, in human terms of adolescents -- each placed for 2 weeks in a cage shared with an aggressive adult male. The animals were separated by a transparent perforated partition, but the young males were exposed daily to short attacks by the adult males. This kind of chronic activity produces what neurobiologists call social-defeat stress in the young mice. These mice were then studied in a range of behavioral tests.

"The tests assessed levels of anxiety, depression, and capacity to socialize and communicate with an unfamiliar partner," explains Enikolopov. These experiments showed that in young mice chronic social defeat induced high levels of anxiety helplessness, diminished social interaction, and diminished ability to communicate with other young animals. Stressed mice also had less new nerve-cell growth (neurogenesis) in a portion of the hippocampus known to be affected in depression: the subgranular zone of the dentate gyrus.

Another group of young mice was also exposed to social stress, but was then placed for several weeks in an unstressful environment. Following this "rest" period, these mice, now old enough to be considered adults, were tested in the same manner as the other cohort.

In this second, now-adult group, most of the behaviors impacted by social defeat returned to normal, as did neurogenesis, which retuned to a level seen in healthy controls. "This shows that young mice, exposed to adult aggressors, were largely resilient biologically and behaviorally," says Dr. Enikolopov.

However, in these resilient mice, the team measured two latent impacts on behavior. As adults they were abnormally anxious, and were observed to be more aggressive in their social interactions. "The exposure to a hostile environment during their adolescence had profound consequences in terms of emotional state and the ability to interact with peers," Dr. Enikolopov observes.

Natural history dying of neglect

March 26, 2014
Simon Fraser University, Canada
Contact: Anne Salomon
Carol Thorbes


Natural history provides essential knowledge for human wellbeing, yet its research, use and instruction in academia, government agencies and non-government organizations is declining drastically.

Simon Fraser University ecologist Anne Salomon is among 17 authors of a new paper that claims this decline in the developed world could seriously undermine the world’s progress in research, conservation and management.

The paper, Natural History’s Place in Science and Society, evaluates the state of natural history research and use today. The journal BioScience has just published the paper online.

Natural history is the study of the fundamental nature of organisms, and how and where they live and interact with their environment.


The authors say 75 per cent of emerging infectious human diseases, including avian influenza, Lyme disease, cholera and rabies, are linked to other animals at some point in their life cycle. Control strategies rely on knowledge of the hosts’ natural history.

The authors note there are all kinds of examples throughout history of how the world could have avoided natural resource-based calamities, had it paid attention to natural history’s fundamentals.


For example, opossum shrimp were introduced into British Columbia’s Kootenay Lake and other lakes in the western United States in the 1960s as food to boost the production of salmon.

But instead of acting as food, the shrimp migrated to deep water to avoid being eaten by fish during the day and returned to lake surfaces at night to feed on the same food eaten by juvenile salmon.

Salmon numbers ended up declining, triggering declines in bald eagles and tourists. Ironically, scientists already knew the vertical migration pattern of these introduced shrimp. So had the details of the shrimp’s natural history been acknowledged, the authors write, their introduction’s outcome could have been predicted.


Four in 10 infants lack strong parental attachments

Sad, but not surprising. I have seen parents ignoring an infant crying in the stroller beside them. I often see parents on a cell phone, ignoring their child who is trying to get their attention. Some parents talk to their children in a hateful tone of voice, constantly criticizing them.


Contact: B. Rose Huber
Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs

Four in 10 infants lack strong parental attachments

PRINCETON, N.J.—In a study of 14,000 U.S. children, 40 percent lack strong emotional bonds — what psychologists call "secure attachment" — with their parents that are crucial to success later in life, according to a new report. The researchers found that these children are more likely to face educational and behavioral problems.

In a report published by Sutton Trust, a London-based institute that has published more than 140 research papers on education and social mobility, researchers from Princeton University, Columbia University, the London School of Economics and Political Science and the University of Bristol found that infants under the age of three who do not form strong bonds with their mothers or fathers are more likely to be aggressive, defiant and hyperactive as adults. These bonds, or secure attachments, are formed through early parental care, such as picking up a child when he or she cries or holding and reassuring a child.

"When parents tune in to and respond to their children's needs and are a dependable source of comfort, those children learn how to manage their own feeling and behaviors," said Sophie Moullin, a joint doctoral candidate studying at Princeton's Department of Sociology and the Office of Population Research, which is based at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. "These secure attachments to their mothers and fathers provide these children with a base from which they can thrive."

Written by Moullin, Jane Waldfogel from Columbia University and the London School of Economics and Political Science and Elizabeth Washbrook from the University of Bristol, the report uses data collected by the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, a nationally representative U.S. study of 14,000 children born in 2001. The researchers also reviewed more than 100 academic studies.

Their analysis shows that about 60 percent of children develop strong attachments to their parents, which are formed through simple actions, such as holding a baby lovingly and responding to the baby's needs. Such actions support children's social and emotional development, which, in turn, strengthens their cognitive development, the researchers write. These children are more likely to be resilient to poverty, family instability, parental stress and depression. Additionally, if boys growing up in poverty have strong parental attachments, they are two and a half times less likely to display behavior problems at school.

The approximately 40 percent who lack secure attachments, on the other hand, are more likely to have poorer language and behavior before entering school. This effect continues throughout the children's lives, and such children are more likely to leave school without further education, employment or training, the researchers write. Among children growing up in poverty, poor parental care and insecure attachment before age four strongly predicted a failure to complete school. Of the 40 percent who lack secure attachments, 25 percent avoid their parents when they are upset (because their parents are ignoring their needs), and 15 percent resist their parents because their parents cause them distress.


Corporate layoff strategies are increasing workplace gender and racial inequality


Contact: George Hunka
American Friends of Tel Aviv University

Corporate layoff strategies are increasing workplace gender and racial inequality

Tel Aviv University research finds that current practices 'downsize diversity'

Research from Prof. Alexandra Kalev of Tel Aviv University's Department of Sociology and Anthropology reveals that current workplace downsizing policies are reducing managerial diversity and increasing racial and gender inequalities. According to the study, layoff practices focusing on positions and tenure, rather than worker performance, minimized the share of white women in management positions by 25 percent and of black men by 20 percent. Prof. Kalev found that a striking two-thirds of the companies surveyed used tenure or position as their core criteria for downsizing.


A more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, methane emissions will leap as Earth warms


Contact: Morgan Kelly
Princeton University

A more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, methane emissions will leap as Earth warms

While carbon dioxide is typically painted as the bad boy of greenhouse gases, methane is roughly 30 times more potent as a heat-trapping gas. New research in the journal Nature indicates that for each degree that the Earth's temperature rises, the amount of methane entering the atmosphere from microorganisms dwelling in lake sediment and freshwater wetlands — the primary sources of the gas — will increase several times. As temperatures rise, the relative increase of methane emissions will outpace that of carbon dioxide from these sources, the researchers report.


Sleep may stop chronic pain sufferers from becoming 'zombies'


Contact: Tom Frew
University of Warwick

Sleep may stop chronic pain sufferers from becoming 'zombies'

Chronic pain sufferers could be kept physically active by improving the quality of their sleep, new research suggests.

The study by the University of Warwick's Department of Psychology, published in PLoS One, found that sleep was a worthy target for treating chronic pain and not only as an answer to pain-related insomnia.

"Engaging in physical activity is a key treatment process in pain management. Very often, clinicians would prescribe exercise classes, physiotherapy, walking and cycling programmes as part of the treatment, but who would like to engage in these activities when they feel like a zombie?", argues study lead-author Dr Nicole Tang.

Dr Tang and study co-author Dr Adam Sanborn examined the day-to-day association between night-time sleep and daytime physical activity in chronic pain patients. "Many of the patients struggled to stay physically active after the onset of pain and we found that chronic pain patients spontaneously engaged in more physical activity following a better night of sleep".


Friday, March 28, 2014

Underweight people at as high risk of dying as obese people, new study finds


Contact: Leslie Shepherd
St. Michael's Hospital

Underweight people at as high risk of dying as obese people, new study finds

The connection between being underweight and the higher risk of dying is true for both adults and fetuses

TORONTO, March 28, 2014—Being underweight puts people at highest risk of dying, just as obesity does, new research has found.

The connection between being underweight and the higher risk of dying is true for both adults and fetuses. This is so even when factors such as smoking, alcohol use or lung disease are considered, or adults with a chronic or terminal illness are excluded, the study found.


He found that adults who are underweight – with a BMI under 18.5 or less – have a 1.8 times higher risk of dying than those with a "normal" BMI of 18.5 to 24.9.

The risk of dying is 1.2 times higher for people who are obese (BMI of 30-34.9) and 1.3 times higher for those who are severely obese (a BMI of 35 or higher).

The researchers required that studies follow people for five years or longer, to weed out those who were underweight simply because of cancer or chronic lung disease or heart failure. Common causes of being underweight include malnourishment, heavy alcohol or drug use, smoking, low-income status, mental health or poor self-care.

"BMI reflects not only body fat, but also muscle mass. If we want to continue to use BMI in health care and public health initiatives, we must realize that a robust and healthy individual is someone who has a reasonable amount of body fat and also sufficient bone and muscle," Dr. Ray said. "If our focus is more on the ills of excess body fat, then we need to replace BMI with a proper measure, like waist circumference."

Dr. Ray also said that as society aims to curb the obesity epidemic, "we have obligation to ensure that we avoid creating an epidemic of underweight adults and fetuses who are otherwise at the correct weight. We are, therefore, obliged to use the right measurement tool."

Number of babies mom has may play role in future cardiovascular health


Contact: Beth Casteel
American College of Cardiology

Number of babies mom has may play role in future cardiovascular health

Women who have 4 or more live births more likely to show early signs of heart disease

WASHINGTON (March 28, 2014) — Women who give birth to four or more children are much more likely to have evidence of plaque in their heart or thickening of their arteries – early signs of cardiovascular disease – compared with those having fewer pregnancies, according to research to be presented at the American College of Cardiology's 63rd Annual Scientific Session.


More male fish ”feminized” by pollution on the Basque coast


Members of the Cell Biology in Environmental Toxicology group have discovered evidence of "feminization" of male fish in the estuaries of Gernika, Arriluze, Santurtzi, Plentzia, Ondarroa, Deba and Pasaia. The first cases (2007-2008) were detected in Urdaibai, and the most recent data confirm that they are also taking place in other estuaries. Pollutants acting as oestrogens are responsible for this phenomenon which, among other changes, is causing ovocytes —immature ova— to appear in male fish.


Some of the emerging pollutants detected are in fact responsible for the “feminization” of male fish on the Basque coast and belong to the group of endocrine disrupting chemicals. Chemically, they are very different from each other, but they all have similar effects: due to their interaction with hormones, they destroy the hormone balance and can lead to the feminization or masculinization of the organism. As they are pollutants that have appeared recently, little is known as yet about their effects on the environment and on ecosystems.


Despite the fact that they are new pollutants in terms of their effects, the “sources” of endocrine disrupting chemicals can be found in everyday products: plasticisers, pesticides, contraceptive pills, fragrances and detergents, among other things.

Some reach the waters after managing to get through the cleaning systems in wastewater treatment plants, and others as a result of industrial or farming activities. So, as far as the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve is concerned, for example, “our main hypothesis,” says Cajaraville, “is that they come from the water treatment plant. It was the first place we studied, and continues to be, by far, responsible for the highest percentage of recently appearing pollutants.”


Research suggests autumn is ending later in the northern hemisphere


Contact: Peter Franklin
University of Southampton

Research suggests autumn is ending later in the northern hemisphere

A study by the University of Southampton suggests that on average the end of Autumn is taking place later in the year and Spring is starting slightly earlier.

A team of researchers examined satellite imagery covering the northern hemisphere over a 25 year period (1982 - 2006), and looked for any seasonal changes in vegetation by making a measure of its 'greenness'. They examined in detail, at daily intervals, the growth cycle of the vegetation – identifying physical changes such as leaf cover, colour and growth.


The most pronounced change found by the researchers was in the broad-leaved deciduous and needleleaved deciduous forest groups, showing that Autumn is becoming significantly later. This delay in the signs of Autumn was generally more pronounced than any evidence for an earlier onset of Spring, although there is evidence across the groups that Spring is arriving slightly earlier.

Professor Peter Atkinson comments: "Previous studies have reported trends in the start of Spring and end of Autumn, but we have studied a longer time period and controlled for forest loss and vegetation type, making our study more rigorous and with a greater degree of accuracy.

"Our research shows that even when we control for land cover changes across the globe a changing climate is significantly altering the vegetation growth cycles for certain types of vegetation. Such changes may have consequences for the sustainability of the plants themselves, as well as species which depend on them, and ultimately the climate through changes to the carbon cycle."


Stigmas, once evolutionarily sound, are now bad health strategies


Contact: Matt Swayne
Penn State

Stigmas, once evolutionarily sound, are now bad health strategies

Stigmatization may have once served to protect early humans from infectious diseases, but that strategy may do more harm than good for modern humans, according to Penn State researchers.

"The things that made stigmas a more functional strategy thousands of years ago rarely exist," said Rachel Smith, associate professor of communication arts and sciences and human development and family studies. "Now, it won't promote positive health behavior and, in many cases, it could actually make the situation worse."

Stigmatizing and ostracizing members stricken with infectious diseases may have helped groups of early humans survive, said Smith, who worked with David Hughes, assistant professor of entomology and biology. Infectious agents thrive by spreading through populations, according to Smith and Hughes, who published an essay in the current issue of Communication Studies.

For early humans, a person who was stigmatized by the group typically suffered a quick death, often from a lack of food or from falling prey to a predator. Groups did not mix on a regular basis, so another group was unlikely to adopt an ostracized person. Infectious disease stigmas may have evolved as a social defense for group-living species, and had adaptive functions when early humans had these interaction patterns.

However, modern society is much larger, more mobile and safer from predators, eliminating the effectiveness of this strategy, according to Smith.


Stigmatization could actually make infectious disease management worse. The threat of ostracization may make people less likely to seek out medical treatment. If people refuse to seek treatment and go about their daily routines, they may cause the disease to spread farther and faster, according to the researchers, who are both investigators in the Center of Infectious Disease Dynamics in Penn State Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences.

Stigmatization may harm a person's ability to survive a disease. Ostracization may increase stress, lessening the body's ability to fight off diseases and infections.

"People are very sensitive to rejection and humans worry about being ostracized," said Smith. "These worries and experiences with rejection can cause problematic levels of stress and, unfortunately, stress can compromise the immune system's ability to fight off an infection, accelerating disease progression."

Once applied, a stigma is difficult to remove, even when there are obvious signs that the person was never infected or is cured. Health communicators should make sure they intentionally monitor if their public communication or intervention materials create or bolster stigmas before using them, Smith said.

Gulf War illness not in veterans' heads, but in their mitochondria


Contact: Scott LaFee
University of California - San Diego

Gulf War illness not in veterans' heads, but in their mitochondria

Researchers at the UC San Diego School of Medicine have demonstrated for the first time that veterans of the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War who suffer from "Gulf War illness" have impaired function of mitochondria – the energy powerhouses of cells.

The findings, published in the March 27, 2014 issue of PLOS ONE, could help lead to new treatments benefitting affected individuals – and to new ways of protecting servicepersons (and civilians) from similar problems in the future, said principal investigator Beatrice A. Golomb MD, PhD, professor of medicine.

Golomb, with associate Hayley Koslik and Gavin Hamilton, PhD, a research scientist and magnetic resonance physicist, used the imaging technology to compare Gulf War veterans with diagnosed Gulf War illness to healthy controls. Cases were matched by age, sex and ethnicity.


Smoking bans cut premature births and childhood asthma attacks


Contact: Jen Middleton
University of Edinburgh

Smoking bans cut premature births and childhood asthma attacks

Banning smoking in public places has helped to cut premature births by 10 per cent, new research shows.

The study of data from parts of North America and Europe where smoking bans have been introduced also showed a 10 per cent fall in hospital attendance for childhood asthma attacks.

The findings reveal that the impact of anti-smoking laws varies between countries but overall the effect on child health around the world is very positive.

Laws that prohibit smoking in public places, such as bars, restaurants and work places, are already proven to protect adults from the health threats associated with passive smoking.


Passive smoking can cause babies to be stillborn or born prematurely and is linked to birth defects, asthma and lung infections. Studies have also suggested that being exposed to second hand smoke during childhood may have long term health implications, contributing to the development of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes in later life.


Smoke-free air policies seem to protect the heart


Contact: Beth Casteel
American College of Cardiology

Smoke-free air policies seem to protect the heart

Cardiovascular disease, related deaths drop after Michigan implements public smoking ban

WASHINGTON (March 27, 2014) — A new study on the impact of Michigan's statewide smoking ban adds to mounting evidence that policies prohibiting tobacco smoking in workplaces and other public spaces may substantially improve public health by reducing heart disease and death, according to research to be presented at the American College of Cardiology's 63rd Annual Scientific Session.

Studies on previous indoor smoking bans have consistently shown a major decrease in hospital admissions for heart attacks after smoke-free laws went into effect. Secondhand smoke exposure is associated with an estimated 50,000 deaths among U.S. nonsmoking adults each year. Public health officials have warned that breathing even small amounts of secondhand smoke can cause heart damage to healthy nonsmoking adults and may trigger heart attacks in those who are already at risk. In response, many states have passed smoke-free air laws that prohibit smoking in all indoor areas of a venue, fully protecting nonsmokers from involuntary exposure to secondhand smoke. In 2010, Michigan became the 38th state to enact a smoke-free indoor air law, which bans smoking in all worksites, including bars and restaurants.


Clusters of 'broken hearts' may be linked to massive natural disasters


Contact: Beth Casteel
American College of Cardiology

Clusters of 'broken hearts' may be linked to massive natural disasters

Analysis of US Takotsubo cardiomyopathy cases shows pattern to cue emergency responders

WASHINGTON (March 27, 2014) — Dramatic spikes in cases of Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, also called broken heart syndrome, were found in two states after major natural disasters, suggesting the stress of disasters as a likely trigger, according to research to be presented at the American College of Cardiology's 63rd Annual Scientific Session. Authors call for greater awareness among emergency department physicians and other first responders.

Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, or broken heart syndrome, is a disorder characterized by a temporary enlargement and weakening of the heart muscle, which is often triggered by extreme physical or emotional stress – for example, being in a car accident or losing a child or spouse. Previous international studies have also linked broken heart syndrome to natural disasters, including the 2004 earthquake in Japan. This is the first U.S. study to examine the geographic distribution of the condition in relation to such catastrophes.


Episodes are thought to be driven by the sympathetic response and surges of adrenaline in the body, similar to the well-known fight-or-flight reaction. This leads to depressed function of the apex and middle segment of the heart and increased contractility of the base producing a balloon-like appearance.

"It's a perfect example of our brain-heart connection," Pant said. "The emotional stress we have in our brain can lead to responses in the heart, and not much is known about this condition."

Of course everyone's threshold for stress is different. There were other natural disasters in 2011. Pant said that because these events occur more frequently in some parts of the country, residents in these regions may have adapted to and experienced less stress during such occurrences; whereas in places like Vermont, where natural disasters are relatively rare, people may be more susceptible to extreme stress when a disaster hits particularly hard.


Quality early childhood programs help prevent chronic diseases in later life


Contact: Harry Dayantis
University College London

Quality early childhood programs help prevent chronic diseases in later life

Disadvantaged children attending early childhood development programs have significantly improved health as adults

Disadvantaged children who attend high-quality early childhood development programs including healthcare and nutrition have significantly improved health as adults, reports a new study.

The study was led by researchers from UCL (University College London), the University of Chicago and the University of North Carolina. These findings build upon existing evidence that high-quality early childhood programs produce better economic and social outcomes for disadvantaged children.

Based on more than three decades of studying children involved in the Abecedarian program in North Carolina, this new research shows that children who participated in the early childhood development program, which combined early education with early health screenings and nutrition, have a significantly lower prevalence of risk factors for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases in their mid-30s than children in the control group who did not participate in the program.


One size does not fit all: Dietary guidelines for choline may be insufficient

Choline is a B vitamin.


Contact: Cody Mooneyhan
Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

One size does not fit all: Dietary guidelines for choline may be insufficient

New research in the FASEB Journal suggests that genetic variations influence the risk of developing symptoms of choline deficiency and determine the propensity of liver or muscle damage outcomes

What is now considered to be the "right" amount of the essential nutrient, choline, might actually be "wrong," depending on who you are. That's because scientists have found that the "right" amount of choline needed by an individual is influenced by a wide range of factors, including gender, life stage, race and ethnicity of the individual. This means that using the current one-size-fits-all approach to determining a person's vitamin and mineral needs may leave them in less than optimal health. Choline is an essential nutrient used by the body to construct cell membranes and is necessary for the health of vital organs and muscles. This finding was published online in The FASEB Journal.

"Our study shows that gender, life stage and genetic makeup influence the requirement for choline in humans," said Kerry-Ann da Costa Ph.D., a researcher involved in the work from the Department of Nutrition at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. "We hope that it will focus attention on setting the dietary recommendations at a level that is high enough to meet the needs of those with the greatest requirements for choline."


Crows complete basic 'Aesop's fable' task


Contact: Kayla Graham

Crows complete basic 'Aesop's fable' task

Crows understand water displacement at the level of a small child

New Caledonian crows may understand how to displace water to receive a reward, with the causal understanding level of a 5-7 year-old child, according to results published March 26, 2014, in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Sarah Jelbert from University of Auckland and colleagues.

Understanding causal relationships between actions is a key feature of human cognition. However, the extent to which non-human animals are capable of understanding causal relationships is not well understood. Scientists used the Aesop's fable riddle— in which subjects drop stones into water to raise the water level and obtain an out-of reach-reward—to assess New Caledonian crows' causal understanding of water displacement. These crows are known for their intelligence and innovation, as they are the only non-primate species able to make tools, such as prodding sticks and hooks. Six wild crows were tested after a brief training period for six experiments, during which the authors noted rapid learning (although not all the crows completed every experiment). The authors note that these tasks did not test insightful problem solving, but were directed at the birds' understanding of volume displacement.

Crows completed 4 of 6 water displacement tasks, including preferentially dropping stones into a water-filled tube instead of a sand-filled tube, dropping sinking objects rather than floating objects, using solid objects rather than hollow objects, and dropping objects into a tube with a high water level rather than a low one. However, they failed two more challenging tasks, one that required understanding of the width of the tube, and one that required understanding of counterintuitive cues for a U-shaped displacement task. According to the authors, results indicate crows may possess a sophisticated—but incomplete—understanding of the causal properties of volume displacement, rivalling that of 5-7 year old children.


Damned if you do, damned if you don't

Most people in this country are stuck at the toddler stage. They don't want "the government" telling them what to do, but they want it to rescue them when they need it.

Humans are so boring in their predictable contradictions. Some people are complaining because "the government" allowed building in the area in Washington state that was known to be unstable. But it is a certainty that if "the government" had restricted building there, the very same people would be complaining bitterly about attacks on their freedom, the "nanny state", etc. Many/most people can express such contradictory attitudes withing a couple of minutes.

Governments Find It Hard to Restrict Building in Risky Areas


After disasters like the Oso landslide in Washington State, a common question is why people are allowed to live in such dangerous places. On the website of Scientific American, for example, the blogger Dana Hunter wrote, “It infuriates me when officials know an area is unsafe, and allow people to build there anyway.”

But things are rarely simple when government power meets property rights. The government has broad authority to regulate safety in decisions about where and how to build, but it can count on trouble when it tries to restrict the right to build. “Often, it ends up in court,” said Lynn Highland, a geographer with the United States Geological Survey’s landslide program in Golden, Colo.


The government constantly struggles with the issue. After Hurricane Sandy, Gov. Chris Christie backed programs to help New Jersey’s coastal residents stay in their homes, while next door in New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo favored programs that would provide incentives for those along the shore to move. Congressional efforts to reduce incentives to rebuild in areas that flood repeatedly have been significantly weakened with a bill passed this month that delays cost increases for flood insurance.

After Hurricane Katrina, planners came up with sweeping proposals to rebuild a safer, stronger New Orleans, consolidating its smaller population into neighborhoods on higher ground, and transforming low-lying areas into parkland and drainage.

“I took a lot of fire on that,” said Joseph Canizaro, who headed the Bring New Orleans Back Commission. “We were trying to save lives,” he added, but people did not want to be told where to live and what to do with their homes. Edward Blakely, who led the New Orleans recovery effort, said that when he discussed some of the proposals, “people either laughed at me or were very upset.”

New Orleans is not unique, said Dr. Blakely, a professor at the United States Studies Center at the University of Sydney. “We have really overbuilt on really dangerous ground all over the country.”


Restricting the right to build is hard, said J. David Rogers, a professor of geological engineering at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla. “That’s Big Brother.”

Builders and developers rarely want to hear bad news, said Dr. Rogers, who has served as a consultant evaluating stability risks. Soil and slopes can often be shored up, he said, but “when you tell them what it’s really going to cost to stabilize, they go ballistic on you.” He said, “I was the most fired consultant in the western United States.”


He said that little had been done to prepare the East Coast for storms like Hurricane Sandy, and that coastal residents rationalize away problems like hurricanes and rising sea levels, telling themselves “I’ll sell the place before that” or “The scientists don’t know what they’re talking about” or “My neighbor will get hit, but not me.”


Another prominent libertarian legal thinker, Richard A. Epstein of the University of Chicago Law School, said that the case of Oso should be simple, however, because of its history of landslides. “The case is a no-brainer in favor of extensive government regulation in order to protect against imminent perils to life and health,” he said. “I’m a property guy, but I’m not a madman.”

The attraction of risky places can be strong; they can be as beautiful as they are deadly. Nicholas Pinter, a professor of geology at Southern Illinois University, said that he took his students to see the site of the former town of Valmeyer. As they drove along the rich floodplain, he recalled, “all my students could think of was that this would be a really good place to live.”

Mich. school flips traditional ideas on homework upside down

By/Elaine Quijano/CBS News/March 27, 2014

CLINTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- It's 7 p.m. on a school night and Larontay Welton is at home -- and in geometry class. He's part of a new way of learning called the flipped classroom. He listens to lectures at home, and when he goes to school, he does what's traditionally known as homework.


There are 525 students in the flipped school at Clintondale, where flipping made financial sense. It cost little or nothing to implement. Teachers either assign videos from free educational websites or record their own lessons.

"It's given me the opportunity to be aware of where my students are and how much I can better help them," says Thomas Fiore, who has been teaching at the school for 25 years.

"To me, it felt like the teachers were starting to care more, and it kind of made me break out of my shell, so to speak," Larontay says.


Graduation rates have gone from 80 to 90 percent in the past three years. The failure rate has dropped from 35 percent to 10 percent. College enrollment rates have jumped 17 percent.


The Pacific Ocean Is Turning Sour Much Faster Than Expected

By Emily Atkin on March 28, 2014

It’s common knowledge among the scientific community that climate change will eventually acidify the oceans and turn them sour. What’s less common knowledge is when exactly it will happen.

In the tropical Pacific Ocean, however, the answers are getting a little clearer — and they’re not pretty. According to a study released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and University of Washington scientists on Wednesday, the amount of carbon dioxide in the tropical Pacific has increased much faster than expected over the past 14 years, making that part of the ocean much more acidic than previously believed.


In other words, scientists say their results show that much of the increase in carbon dioxide concentrations can be attributed to human-caused climate change. This is because, while the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere increases at a rate of about 2 parts per million (ppm) per year, parts of the tropical Pacific saw an increase in CO2 concentrations of up to 3.3 ppm per year. NOAA’s study monitored CO2 levels at seven buoys in the tropical Pacific, starting in 1998.


“It was a big surprise. We were not expecting to see rates that strong,” Sutton told E&E.

Though the phrase “global warming” generally evokes images of a warmer atmosphere, the phenomenon arguably has an equally large impact on our oceans. When large concentrations of CO2 are released into the atmosphere, the ocean winds up absorbing about a quarter of it, according to NOAA. The CO2, in turn, makes the ocean more acidic.

Some scientists argue that our emissions of CO2 change the chemistry of the ocean faster than it’s changed for millions of years. This, according to a Wednesday report in BBC News, promises to have a detrimental effect on coral — a vital part of the ocean ecosystem.

“We are very concerned because the baby corals find it very hard to survive in high CO2 so reefs won’t be able to repair themselves,” Katharina Fabricius from the Australian Institute of Marine Science told the BBC. “It’s very, very serious.”

Acidification also harms fish, making some lose their sense of smell and “behave recklessly in the presence of predators,” the BBC reported.

The most recent report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC) said there was high confidence that climate change will exacerbate the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere, thereby causing the oceans to absorb more and become acidic.

There is also emerging evidence that the process of ocean acidification may be coming full circle, actually contributing to climate change in itself. According to an article in the journal Nature, seawater soaking in carbon dioxide will actually cause plankton to release some of its compounds back into atmosphere.

Human silliness

I saw some really brainless action Wed. A young man was idling his vehicle in front of a health food store, presumbably waiting for a customer to come out. So he was creating pollution that has immediate harmful health effects, as well as adding to global warming/climate change, which is causing harmful effects on people's health not only now but also far into the future.

When Health Care Providers Compete

When I didn't have health insurance & needed cataract surgery, which I had to pay for myself, I asked my surgeon how much it would cost. He gave me an estimate, but the actual price was a good bit higher because of costs that he did not control, such as hospital & anaesthetic charges.

by Stephanie Stephens, AARP Bulletin, March 2014


Then Vicki's husband, Jim, a retired chiropractor, found, an online service where doctors and facilities can bid for a patient's business. Patients pay $25 for one medical "request" or can make unlimited requests for $4.95 per month during a 12-month period.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Getting what we pay for

A major part of the problem is that people want the government to protect them, but don't want to pay for it.

[I copied the text in case the Facebook post is no longer available]

From Robert Reich on Facebook Mar. 26, 2014

So why exactly did GM fail to order a recall earlier of 1.6 million cars linked to at least a dozen deaths? You can chalk it up to greed and irresponsibility, certainly, but there’s another reason, too. The staff of the government office responsible for monitoring safety defects in cars – the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration -- was cut by one-fifth from its level more than a decade ago, and its budget has stagnated even as the number of registered cars in the U.S. has risen. So investigators just don’t have the resources to keep up.

It’s another example of how fiscal austerity has led to the silent deregulation of America. Legislation enacted in 2000 after the infamous Ford Explorer SUV tire recall was supposed to have boosted the agency’s investigation team. Just the opposite has occurred.

Welfare for the rich

MARCH 26, 2014
Nicholas Kristof


Here are five public welfare programs that are wasteful and turning us into a nation of “takers.”

First, welfare subsidies for private planes.


Second, welfare subsidies for yachts. The mortgage-interest deduction was meant to encourage a home-owning middle class. But it has been extended to provide subsidies for beach homes and even yachts.

In the meantime, money was slashed last year from the public housing program for America’s neediest.


Third, welfare subsidies for hedge funds and private equity.


Fourth, welfare subsidies for America’s biggest banks. The too-big-to-fail banks in the United States borrow money unusually cheaply because of an implicit government promise to rescue them.

----- [At the same time charging us a lot to borrow money from them.]

Fifth, large welfare subsidies for American corporations from cities, counties and states.


We’re cutting one kind of subsidized food — food stamps — at a time when Gallup finds that almost one-fifth of American families struggled in 2013 to afford food. Meanwhile, we ignore more than $12 billion annually in tax subsidies for corporate meals and entertainment.

Sure, food stamps are occasionally misused, but anyone familiar with business knows that the abuse of food subsidies is far greater in the corporate suite. Every time an executive wines and dines a hot date on the corporate dime, the average taxpayer helps foot the bill.


Economic growth no cure for child undernutrition


Contact: Marge Dwyer
Harvard School of Public Health

Economic growth no cure for child undernutrition

Boston, MA —A large study of child growth patterns in 36 developing countries finds that, contrary to widely held beliefs, economic growth has little to no effect on the nutritional status of the world's poorest children. The study, from researchers at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), the University of Göttingen, Germany, ETH Zürich, Switzerland, and the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar, found that economic growth was associated with small or no declines in stunting, underweight, and wasting—all signs of undernutrition.


"Our study does not imply that economic development is not important in a general sense but cautions policymakers about relying solely on the trickle-down effects of economic growth on child nutrition," said Sebastian Vollmer, assistant professor of development economics at the University of Göttingen, adjunct assistant professor of global health at HSPH, and lead author of the study.


Medicare's quiet 'sea change' on therapy for the elderly

March 26, 2014

Medicare has "quietly" expanded its coverage policy to pay for physical therapy, nursing care, and other services that aim to prevent the decline of patients with chronic conditions like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, or Alzheimer's disease—even if they show no signs of improvement.

In January, Medicare officials updated the agency's policy manual to remove any indication that improvement is necessary to receive payment for skilled care. "Coverage depends not on the beneficiary's restoration potential, but on whether skilled care is necessary," the policy states.


Though coverage cannot be denied for lack of improvement or stalled progression, it can still be denied or coverage can be limited for other reasons:

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Brain degeneration in Huntington's disease caused by amino acid deficiency

I usually don't put the results of animal testing in this blog unless there is good reason to think it might apply to humans. In this case, the dietary changes are not likely to hurt most people, and are ones that many include for other health purposes.


Contact: Vanessa McMains
Johns Hopkins Medicine

Brain degeneration in Huntington's disease caused by amino acid deficiency

In mice, dietary changes slow down progression of the disease

Working with genetically engineered mice, Johns Hopkins neuroscientists report they have identified what they believe is the cause of the vast disintegration of a part of the brain called the corpus striatum in rodents and people with Huntington's disease: loss of the ability to make the amino acid cysteine. They also found that disease progression slowed in mice that were fed a diet rich in cysteine, which is found in foods such as wheat germ and whey protein.

Their results suggest further investigation into cysteine supplementation as a candidate therapeutic in people with the disease.


Snyder and Paul say they are cautiously optimistic about the results, noting that although they suggest a possible treatment for Huntington's disease, it's clear that a high cysteine diet merely slows rather than halts the progression of the disease. Moreover, the results in live mice may not occur in humans.

Parental addictions associated with adult children’s arthritis

University of Toronto
March 26, 2014

The adult offspring of parents who were addicted to drugs or alcohol are more likely to have arthritis, according to a new study by University of Toronto researchers.


Results indicate that individuals whose parents were addicted to drugs or alcohol are more likely to have arthritis. After adjusting for age, sex, and race, parental addictions were associated with 58 per cent higher odds of arthritis, says lead author Esme Fuller-Thomson, Professor and Sandra Rotman Endowed Chair in the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and the Department of Family and Community Medicine.

“We had anticipated that the adult offspring’s health behaviors such as smoking, obesity and alcohol consumption might explain the strong link between parental addictions and arthritis, however we did not find this to be the case. Even after adjusting for these adult health behaviors, as well as income, education, a history of childhood maltreatment and mood and anxiety disorders, we found that parental addictions was still a statistically significant factor associated with 30 per cent higher odds of arthritis” explains study co-author and recent MSW graduate, Jessica Liddycoat.


Oil Company’s Restraining Order Bars Anti-Fracking Protestor From Grocery Store, Friends’ Houses

By Emily Atkin on March 26, 2014

In October of 2013, Cabot Oil & Gas secured a court order that effectively banned an anti-fracking activist from entering any land owned or leased by the company. But because of the broad scope of the court order, that activist is now claiming she legally can’t go to the grocery store, the hospital, restaurants, and even her friends’ homes.


Cabot, one of the biggest names in Pennsylvania’s natural gas rush, had sought a preliminary injunction against Scroggins in October after alleging that she had repeatedly trespassed onto several of the company’s leased and owned properties, giving unauthorized tours of their operations. After hearing testimony from employees and security personnel, Susquehanna County Judge Kenneth Seamans granted Cabot’s request to have Scroggins legally barred from not only the land Cabot owns, but from all the land it holds mineral leases on.


The problem with that, according to Scroggins’ attorneys, is that nearly 40 percent of Susquehanna County land is owned or leased by Cabot. This includes the grocery store, the local recycling center, the hospital that is nearest to her home, and several of her friends’ houses.

“In short, the right to extract gas is, according to the company, also the right to banish,” Scroggins’ attorneys said in a motion asking Susquehanna County Judge Kenneth Seamans to undo his October order. A ruling on that motion could come this week, the Associated Press reports.

In arguing for the ban, Cabot allegedly said that its leases for the mineral rights below properties like the grocery store and hospital granted the company an “exclusive property interest” in that land. But Scroggins — who elected not to have attorney representation at the time of the October order — is now arguing alongside her attorneys that Cabot’s leases contain no language that grant the company such a broad right.

Additionally, her attorneys are saying that Cabot’s request and Judge Seamans’ decision violated Scroggins’ Constitutional rights to freedom of speech and movement.


According to the motion, Cabot isn’t even continuing to seek the broad restraining order. In an amended complaint against Scroggins filed in January, Cabot said it would prefer a more specific but permanent injunction barring Scroggins from entering onto properties owned and leased by Cabot, but only where it is actually conducting operations. The company also wants to ban Scroggins from coming anywhere within 150 feet of that land.


Crafts such as knitting help the brain

By Jacque Wilson, CNN
updated 10:55 AM EDT, Tue March 25, 2014


Crafting can help those who suffer from anxiety, depression or chronic pain, experts say. It may also ease stress, increase happiness and protect the brain from damage caused by aging.

Little research has been done specifically on crafting, but neuroscientists are beginning to see how studies on cognitive activities such as doing crossword puzzles might also apply to someone who does complex quilting patterns. Others are drawing connections between the mental health benefits of meditation and the zen reached while painting or sculpting.

"There's promising evidence coming out to support what a lot of crafters have known anecdotally for quite some time," says Catherine Carey Levisay, a clinical neuropsychologist and wife of CEO John Levisay. "And that's that creating -- whether it be through art, music, cooking, quilting, sewing, drawing, photography (or) cake decorating -- is beneficial to us in a number of important ways."


Neuroscientists used to believe that the brain was a static organ, says Levisay, and that once it was fully developed in your 20s, all you could do was lose power. But research has shown more recently that our brains are flexible and can adapt to their environment, even in old age -- a concept called neuroplasticity.

The evidence to support this concept is overwhelming. Studies have found intellectually stimulating activities, such as learning a new language, can help prevent cerebral atrophy and significantly delay dementia. And a recently published clinical trial shows cognitive training can improve reasoning skills and the brain's processing speed for up to 10 years after said training has been completed.


Crafting is also unique, Levisay says, in its ability to involve many different areas of your brain. It can work your memory and attention span while involving your visuospatial processing, creative side and problem-solving abilities.

Scientists are beginning to study leisure activities' impact on the brain. Playing games, reading books and crafting could reduce your chances of developing mild cognitive impairment by 30% to 50%, according to a 2011 study published in The Journal of Neuropsychiatry.

"The hypothesis is that the more stimulating your environment is ... the more you're increasing the complexity of the brain, the more you can afford to lose," Levisay says. "You're building a buffer."

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Bees capable of learning feats with tasty prize in sight

Date: March 18, 2014
Source: University of Guelph


Bumblebees are capable of some remarkable learning feats, especially when they might get a tasty reward, according to two studies. In the first study, the researchers found bees capable of learning to solve increasingly complex problems, an example of scaffold learning. In a second study, the researchers found bees learned by watching and communicating with other bees, a process called social learning.


The researchers presented bees with a series of artificial flowers that required ever-more challenging strategies, such as moving objects aside or upwards, to gain a sugar syrup reward.

When inexperienced bees encountered the most complex flower first, they were unable to access the syrup reward and stopped trying. Bees allowed to progress through increasingly complex flowers were able to navigate the most difficult ones.

"Bees with experience are able to solve new problems that they encounter, while bees with no experience just give up," said Mirwan.


Alcohol's role in traffic deaths vastly underreported: Study


Contact: John Bowersox
Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs

Alcohol's role in traffic deaths vastly underreported: Study

PISCATAWAY, NJ – It's no secret that drinking and driving can be a deadly mix. But the role of alcohol in U.S. traffic deaths may be substantially underreported on death certificates, according to a study in the March issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

Between 1999 and 2009, more than 450,000 Americans were killed in a traffic crashes. But in cases where alcohol was involved, death certificates frequently failed to list alcohol as a cause of death.

Why does that matter? One big reason is that injuries are the leading cause of death for Americans younger than 45, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And it's important to have a clear idea of alcohol's role in those deaths, explained Ralph Hingson, Sc.D., of the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

"We need to have a handle on what's contributing to the leading cause of death among young people," Hingson said. What's more, he noted, researchers need reliable data to study the effects of policies aimed at reducing alcohol-related deaths.

"You want to know how big the problem is, and if we can track it," Hingson said. "Is it going up, or going down? And what policy measures are working?"


Whatever the reasons, Hingson said, the role of alcohol in injury deaths may be seriously underestimated on death certificates. And the situation is likely worse with other types of accidental deaths, such as falls, drug poisoning/overdoses, and drowning, for which there is no mandatory blood alcohol testing or other reporting systems.


What’s so bad about feeling happy?

Not seeing happiness as the most important goal in life doesn't mean a person doesn't want to be happy. Is it really to our benefit that some people gain happiness by hurting others?

And extreme happiness can lead to unhappiness not because of some kind of some kind of "evil eye", but because if you lose the source of the happiness, you can become unhappy in proportion to the loss.

17 March 2014

Why is being happy, positive and satisfied with life the ultimate goal of so many people, while others steer clear of such feelings? It is often because of the lingering belief that happiness causes bad things to happen, says Mohsen Joshanloo and Dan Weijers of the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. Their article, published in Springer’s Journal of Happiness Studies, is the first to review the concept of aversion to happiness, and looks at why various cultures react differently to feelings of well-being and satisfaction.

“One of these cultural phenomena is that, for some individuals, happiness is not a supreme value,” explain Joshanloo and Weijers in their review.


Strengthening Learning in Children: Get Outside and Play

University of Cincinnati
Date: 3/17/2014 11:00:00 AM
By: Dawn Fuller

University of Cincinnati researchers are reporting on the educational and health benefits of specially created outdoor play environments for children. Victoria Carr, a UC associate professor of education and director of the UC Arlitt Child and Family Research and Education Center, and Eleanor Luken, a former UC research associate for the Arlitt Center and current doctoral student at City University of New York, take a look at this growing trend around the world in an article published this month in the International Journal of Play.

Typically called playscapes, these settings are defined as an intentionally designed, dynamic, vegetation-rich play environment that nurtures young children’s affinity for nature. Unlike traditional urban playgrounds, they can promote more learning, physical development and social skills.

The researchers say nationally, children are spending less time on playgrounds as well as less time in just play. “The advantages of building playscapes over traditional playgrounds are considerable,” write the authors. “Children have opportunities to learn about scientific inquiry, mathematics and other embedded concepts as required by curricular methods.”

“Not only does it engage children in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education at an early age, but it also fosters future stewards for a sustainable environment while providing a developmentally appropriate play and learning venue for the 21st century,” the authors state in the article.


Monday, March 24, 2014

The precise reason for the health benefits of dark chocolate: Mystery solved


Contact: Michael Bernstein

Contact: Katie Cottingham, Ph.D.

American Chemical Society

The precise reason for the health benefits of dark chocolate: Mystery solved

DALLAS, March 19, 2014 — The health benefits of eating dark chocolate have been extolled for centuries, but the exact reason has remained a mystery –– until now. Researchers reported here today that certain bacteria in the stomach gobble the chocolate and ferment it into anti-inflammatory compounds that are good for the heart.


"We found that there are two kinds of microbes in the gut: the 'good' ones and the 'bad' ones," explained Maria Moore, an undergraduate student and one of the study's researchers.

"The good microbes, such as Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria, feast on chocolate," she said. "When you eat dark chocolate, they grow and ferment it, producing compounds that are anti-inflammatory." The other bacteria in the gut are associated with inflammation and can cause gas, bloating, diarrhea and constipation. These include some Clostridia and some E. coli.


Two hormone-disrupting chemicals linked to more autistic behaviors

A problem with determining effects of chemicals is that they interact. We are exposed to many chemicals, and one that might have a slight effect by itself could have a much larger effect when other chemicals are present.

Mar 20, 2014
Braun JM, AE Kalkbrenner, AC Just, K Yolton, AM Calafat, A Sjödin, R Hauser, GM Webster, A Chen, BP Lanphear. 2014. Gestational exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals and reciprocal social, repetitive, and stereotypic behaviors in 4- and 5-year-old children: The HOME Study. Environmental Health Perspectives.

Synopsis by Lindsey Konkel

Children exposed in the womb to higher levels of a flame retardant and a chemical in a banned pesticide exhibited slightly more autistic behaviors in a new study.

Previous research has linked changes in children’s brain development to their mothers’ exposure to hormone-disrupting environmental chemicals. But few of these studies have looked specifically at whether they contribute to autism.

Scientists suspect that hormones may play a role in autism because boys are four times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with the disease, and several hormones are known to control brain development.


Children whose mothers had the highest levels of the brominated flame retardant PBDE-28 scored an average of 2.5 points higher on the scale than children whose mothers had the lowest exposures. Children whose moms had the highest levels of trans-nonachlor – a component of the banned pesticide chlordane – scored an average of 4.1 points higher.

The increase in autism-like behaviors linked to the two chemicals is considered slight, and the study doesn’t prove that they are tied to the autistic behaviors.


Fake laughter doesn't fool the brain, research reveals

Date: March 19, 2014
Source: University of Royal Holloway London

s the world celebrates International Day of Happiness today (Thursday, 20 March), can we tell whether people are truly happy just from their laugh?

A researcher from Royal Holloway, University of London, has found that there are clear differences between how our brains respond to genuine and fake laughter.

A study led by Dr Carolyn McGettigan, from the Department of Psychology, recorded the brain responses of participants as they listened to the same people produce genuine laughter, caused by watching funny YouTube videos, and forced laughter. The participants, who were unaware the study was about laughter perception, demonstrated different neurological responses when they heard false laughter. This suggested that our brains not only distinguish between the two types of laughter, but attempt to work out why the fake laughter is not genuine.


Correction Officer Arrested on Federal Civil Rights Charges in Rikers Inmate Death

By Joe Valiquette
Monday, Mar 24, 2014

The FBI arrested a New York City correction officer Monday on federal civil rights charges in connection with the August 2012 death of Rikers Island inmate Jason Echevarria, who died after ingesting a corrosive disinfectant, federal prosecutors say.

Terrence Pendergrass, 49, a correction officer and former captain with the New York City Department of Correction, is named in a federal criminal complaint accusing him of deliberately ignoring the urgent medical needs of Echevarria.

Echevarria was being held at Rikers on a burglary charge and was being housed in the Mental Health Assessment Unit for Infracted Inmates when he swallowed a ball of laundry detergent containing ammonium chloride, a corrosive chemical that can be fatal if ingested, court papers say.

Prosecutors say a correction officer informed Pendergrass, a supervisory corrections officer on duty at the time, of Echevarria’s need for medical attention and that Pendergrass responded that he should only be called if an inmate needed to be extracted from a cell or if there was a dead body.

Later that day, a second correction officer informed Pendergrass that Echevarria had swallowed a soap ball and needed medical help. Pendergrass failed to contact any medical personnel, prosecutors say.

Echevarria was found dead in his cell the next day. An autopsy determined he suffered internal burns and scarring along his esophagus and his trachea, indicating he suffered aspiration of vomit into his lungs.


India beats the odds, beats polio

Thank you to the scientists, health workers, politicians, and others who made this possible.

By Moni Basu, CNN
updated 9:13 AM EDT, Sat March 22, 2014


When a global effort to end polio was launched in 1988, the disease crippled more than 200,000 children every year in India. Almost two decades later, in 2009, India still reported half of the world's new cases -- 741 out of 1,604.

India has millions of poor and uneducated people. The population is booming. Large areas lack hygiene and good sanitation, and polio spreads through contaminated water. Many health experts predicted India would be the last country in the world to get rid of polio.

They were wrong.

Since Rukhsar's diagnosis three years ago, India has not seen another new case of polio. On March 27, the World Health Organization will formally announce the end of polio in India and proclaim another one of its global regions -- Southeast Asia -- free of the disease. Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria are the only three countries that have not eradicated polio, leaving the Eastern Mediterranean and Africa the last two WHO regions with the disease.

The last time WHO made a similar announcement was in 2002, when the European region was declared polio-free.


Western nations conquered polio so long ago that its name is unknown to younger generations.

America experienced the height of polio in the 1940s and '50s, when about 35,000 people became disabled every year. Fear and panic spread and parents were known to warn their children to not drink from public water fountains, avoid swimming pools and stay away from crowded public places like movie theaters. Perhaps the most famous case of polio in America was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the first president with a significant physical disability.

The development of the Salk and Sabine vaccines helped lead to eradication of polio in the United States in 1979. In India, too, vaccination was critical.

"There were three keys to our success," Kapur says. "Immunize, immunize and immunize."


The oral vaccine must be kept cold, and many places in India do not have electricity -- and even those that do experience frequent power cuts. Each vaccine costs only 12 cents, but refrigerating them was a major problem, says Dr. Mathew Varghese, an orthopedic surgeon who runs India's last dedicated polio ward at St. Stephen's Hospital in New Delhi.

India was able to come up with innovative ideas -- like refrigerators powered by kerosene -- to get vaccinations to remote villages not unlike the one where Rukhsar lives.

And then there was the campaign to educate. Rumors had spread in Muslim communities about the polio vaccine. Some Muslims believed it made women infertile and that the Indian government was using it to curb a minority population.

To combat such false beliefs, health workers began a dialog with clerics. They were able to build trust and persuade the clerics to put drops of the vaccine in their own grandchildren's mouths so their followers could see nothing bad would happen.


Varghese has operated on thousands of twisted and mangled bodies, on patients who are forced to crawl on all fours. Polio, he says, robs a person of dignity.

"It's terrible to have a childhood ruined," he says, inspecting the progress of Haseen Jahan. She's lived with polio 23 of her 25 years. She used to press her hand to her thigh when she walked, to keep her left leg down. Her left foot used to point outwards.

In her dreams she walked upright. In her dreams, she danced, even wore pants, something she was not able to do before because of the way her limbs were bent.

Varghese straightened her leg with his orthopedic surgical skills.


Learning from their own mistake, Rukhsar's parents have become advocates for polio vaccinations in their part of the world. Shah is thankful his daughter was not left immobile, but still, he worries for her future.

He is a poor man, and like most men and women in this village, he makes about $40 a month embroidering saris -- far less than the brocaded and beaded garments sell for. He knows he must save money for future health care needs and do all he can to make sure Rukhsar is educated. He is certain he will face obstacles in finding a groom for a daughter with a disability.