Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Alcohol Consumption Affects Ability To Overcome Fear

Doctors have known for a long time that alcoholism is associated with increased risk of anxiety, such as PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), and that heavy drinkers are more likely to be involved in automobile accidents and/or domestic violence situations.

Now, new research by experts at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and UNC's Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies, published online September 2, 2012 in Nature Neuroscience has determined that high alcohol consumption rewires brain circuitry, which suggests that it is more difficult for people who drink heavily to bounce back from a traumatic event in their lives. 

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

For their trial, the experts split mice into two groups. The first was given the equivalent amount of alcohol for humans that is twice the limit allowed for driving. The second was not given any alcohol at all. The mice were then taught by use of small shocks to be scared of a certain sound the researchers played. 


The researchers observed that when the sound played over and over without the shock, the mice who were in the no alcohol group eventually stopped being scared of the tone. On the other hand, the mice who had high exposure to alcohol were scared of the noise, making them stand completely motionless every time they heard it - for a long time after the shocks were not present.

The authors explain that these findings are very much like the ones seen in individuals who suffer from PTSD, with these people taking longer to get over a certain fear even when the situation is not one that they should be scared of anymore. 

They believe that this evidence stems back to the neural circuitry of the mice that were chronically exposed to alcohol. When analyzing the brains of the two different groups of mice, the researchers found that the nerve cells found in the prefrontal cortex of the brains of the mice who had been exposed to alcohol, were shaped differently than the mice who had not been exposed to any alcohol. They also noticed that NMDA, an important receptor in the brain was not as active in the mice who consumed alcohol.

Monday, September 3, 2012

E-cigarettes are equally injurious to health

Electronic cigarettes are being marketed as a potentially safer alternative to normal cigarettes, but new research has shown that they are still causing harm to the lungs.

The study has also added new evidence to the debate over the safety of alternative nicotine-delivery products.

Electronic cigarettes are devices that deliver nicotine through a vapour, rather than smoke. There is no combustion involved but the nicotine in the device is still derived from tobacco. There has been much debate over the safety and efficiency of the products, but little scientific evidence to support either claim.

Researchers from the University of Athens in Greece aimed to investigate the short-term effects of using e-cigarettes on different people, including people without any known health problems and smokers with and without existing lung conditions.

The study included 8 people who had never smoked and 24 smokers, 11 with normal lung function and 13 people with either chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma.

Each person used an electronic cigarette for 10 minutes. The researchers then measured their airway resistance using a number of tests, including a spirometry test.

The results showed that for all people included in the study, the e-cigarette caused an immediate increase in airway resistance, lasting for 10 minutes. In healthy subjects (never smokers) there was a statistically significant increase in airway resistance from a mean average of 182 per cent to 206 per cent.

In smokers with normal spirometry there was a statistically significant increase from a mean average of 176 percent to 220 percent. In COPD and asthma patients the use of one e-cigarette seemed to have no immediate effect to airway resistance.

Professor Christina Gratziou, one of the authors and Chair of the ERS Tobacco Control Committee, said: "We do not yet know whether unapproved nicotine delivery products, such as e-cigarettes, are safer than normal cigarettes, despite marketing claims that they are less harmful. This research helps us to understand how these products could be potentially harmful.

"We found an immediate rise in airway resistance in our group of participants, which suggests e-cigarettes can cause immediate harm after smoking the device. More research is needed to understand whether this harm also has lasting effects in the long-term.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Americans turning from cigarettes to substitutes

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - While more Americans than ever before are quitting their cigarette habit, a growing number are also turning to large cigars and pipes, suggesting that gains in curbing tobacco consumption may be more elusive than previously thought.

The findings were outlined in a report released on Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Overall consumption of smoked tobacco products declined 27.5 percent between 2000 and 2011, but use of noncigarette smoked tobacco products increased by 123 percent in that same time.

One major culprit for the trend is likely price, particularly in the latter part of the decade as Americans grappled with a weak economy and high unemployment.

In 2009, a federal excise tax was enacted and as a result, pipe tobacco, loose tobacco and cigars were taxed at a significantly lower rate than cigarettes. Responses by the tobacco industry to the tax and resulting price shifts have further compounded the problem, according to the CDC.

"Cigarette-like (tobacco products), formerly thought of as small cigars, have been modified slightly by the manufacturers .... so that they can be taxed at the lower rate," said Terry Pechacek, CDC's associate director of science and an author on the report.

As a result, such small cigars which resemble cigarettes are far cheaper, selling for about $1.40 per pack versus $5, Pechacek said. Younger consumers in particular are responding to the shift in pricing and consumption patterns.

"The rise in cigar smoking, which other studies show is a growing problem among youth and young adults, is cause for alarm," said Tim McAfee, director of CDC's Office on Smoking and Health.

McAfee cited a recent report from the U.S. surgeon general, which showed that nearly all smokers start before they are 26 years old, making young consumers the most important target for stopping the epidemic.

The CDC said tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the U.S., killing nearly half a million Americans each year.

Health issues linked to smoking include heart and lung disease, several types of cancer, reproductive effects and other chronic diseases, costing taxpayers $193 billion annually in direct health care expenses.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Study finds mismatch between kids and vitamins

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Vitamin supplements are meant to fill-in where diet may be lacking, but a new study finds that U.S. kids may not be getting some of the most needed nutrients from their vitamin pills and the kids taking vitamins may not be the ones who need them the most.

Looking at the diets and supplement use of more than 7,000 kids, researchers found that between the ages of nine and 18 many had low levels of certain vitamins and minerals, and few took supplements, while younger kids had adequate levels of most nutrients and were possibly getting too much of some vitamins and minerals.

Most children under eight, for instance, got the nutrition they needed from the food they ate, regardless of whether or not they took supplements, the study found.

Even with the use of supplements, however, more than a third of children failed to get sufficient calcium and vitamin D. And users sometimes overloaded on essential nutrients such as iron and vitamin A. Zinc and folate were consumed to excess across all age groups.

"We don't know if these excessive amounts cause any harm," said Regan Bailey, a nutritional epidemiologist at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, who led the study. But, Bailey and her coauthors note in The Journal of Pediatrics, their findings suggest that makers of children's vitamins should consider reformulating their products to better match kids' needs and modern diets.

Bailey's team used dietary surveys to assess mineral and vitamin intake among children between the ages of two and 18 who took part in a major government health survey between 2003 and 2006. About 40 percent of children between ages two and eight take a supplement, the study found. Supplement usage was lower among older kids - 29 percent of kids between nine and 13 years old took them and 26 percent of teenagers did.

White children were more likely than their black or Hispanic counterparts to take a supplement, commonly a multivitamin/mineral. Overall, supplement users and nonusers got roughly similar levels of 15 different vitamins and minerals from food sources alone. But users were also more likely to get recommended doses of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin A and vitamin C from food than nonusers.

When supplement use was considered, researchers found users had much better nutrient levels than nonusers. Across all age groups, taking supplements improved intake of calcium and vitamins A, C, D and E. Calcium and vitamin D consumption often fell below recommended levels, however, even among kids who took supplements.

More than a third of kids using supplements did not get enough calcium. The recommended amount is between 200 and 1,000 milligrams a day for children up to age eight, and 1,300 mg per day for kids age nine and up and teens. Most children between ages two and eight who didn't take supplements failed to get adequate levels of calcium and vitamins D and E.

"This is unfortunate," Bailey said. "Calcium and vitamin D are critical during this age for bone growth and development." Teens fell short on several other essential nutrients as well, including magnesium, phosphorus and vitamins A, C and E.

Vitamin E is involved in immune function, vitamin A in vision and bone growth and magnesium promotes nerve function and cellular energy production. At the same time, supplement users were more likely to boost consumption of certain nutrients - such as zinc, folate, iron and vitamin A - above recommended upper limits.

The long-term effects of high doses of these micronutrients in children are unknown, the report noted. The bottom line, Bailey explained, was that for some kids who would have been deficient in some vitamins and minerals, supplements were a help.

"For older children, taking supplements added nutrients for which intake would have been inadequate from food alone," she told Reuters Health. Bailey added that the problem of overloading affected children under age eight the most. The findings highlight the gap between supplement formulations for children and their needs as identified in national research data, Bailey explained.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Health experts want strict implementation of PCPNDT Act

Berhampur: Health experts and activists have sought concrete steps for strict implementation of the Pre Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prevention of Sex Selection) Act, known as PCPNDT Act to prevent sex determination in Odisha.

Low male-female sex ratio in the state has direct linkage with misuse of technology for sex determination and sex selective abortion, they said at a workshop held here over the weekend on `Strengthening monitoring of PCPNDT Act implementation in Odisha`.

The workshop was organised by Odisha State Legal Services Authority (OSLSA) in collaboration with the Department of Health and Family Welfare, state government and United Nations Population Fund (UNPF).

Several health activists and experts from Ganjam, Gajapati, Koraput, Malkanagiri, Nabarangapur, Rayagada and Kandhamal attended the workshop.

The objective of the workshop was to sensitise NGO functionaries?on different provisions under the PCPNDT Act and to prepare a roadmap for local level action for its better implementation, said member secretary of OSLSA B C Rath.

The workshop assumed significance as the child sex ratio in the state stands at an all time low of 934 girls per 1000 boys.The child ratio dipped alarmingly to less than 900 in four districts of Ganjam, Nayagarh, Dhenkanal and Angul, said Deputy Director, family welfare R K Mishra.

Several judicial and health officers, including the chief district medical officer, Ganjam S K Patnaik discussed different aspects of the Act and problems faced in its proper implementation. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Smoking mothers' embryos 'grow more slowly

French academics in an IVF clinic took regular pictures of an egg from the moment it was fertilised until it was ready to be implanted into the mother.

At all stages of development, embryos from smokers were consistently a couple of hours behind, a study showed.The lead researcher, from Nantes University Hospital, said: "You want a baby, quit smoking".

Smoking is known to reduce the chances of having a child. It is why some hospitals in the UK ask couples to give up smoking before they are given fertility treatment.

As eggs fertilised through IVF initially develop in the laboratory before being implanted, it gave doctors a unique opportunity to film the embryos as they divide into more and more cells.

Researchers watched 868 embryos develop - 139 from smokers.In the clinic the embryos of non-smokers reached the five-cell stage after 49 hours. In the smokers it took 50 hours. The eight-cell stage took 62 hours in smokers' embryos, while non-smokers' embryos reached that point after 58 hours.

Senior embryologist and lead researcher, Dr Thomas Freour, told the BBC: "Embryos from smoking women, they behave slower, there is a delay in their development."On average it is about two hours, it is significant and nobody knew that before."

This study cannot say what impact the slower development has, or if this affected the chances of having a child.Dr Freour speculated that "if they go slower, maybe something is starting to go wrong and they wouldn't implant."

His advice was simple: "You should quit smoking, it couldn't be easier. What else can I say? You want a baby, quit smoking."Dr Allan Pacey, senior lecturer in andrology at the University of Sheffield, said it was an "interesting" study which pioneered the use of new technology.

"It uses a fancy piece of equipment called an embryoscope which allows scientists to watch in real time how embryos develop without disturbing them.

"It's early days for this machine but we need trials like this to test its potential, we know our current methods of embryo selection are based on what looks good down the microscope to a trained eye."The findings were presented at the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) meeting in Turkey.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Children born to older fathers may live longer: study

WASHINGTON — The children and grandchildren of men who reproduced later in life could enjoy life-extending genetic benefits, including being able to father children at an older age, a new study suggests.

Researchers at Northwestern University believe the process represents an unusually rapid evolutionary adaptation in which telomeres -- DNA found at the ends of chromosomes -- lengthen, which is thought to promote healthy aging.

"If your father and grandfather were able to live and reproduce at a later age, this might predict that you yourself live in an environment that is somewhat similar -- an environment with less accidental deaths or in which men are only able to find a partner at later ages," said Dan Eisenberg, lead author of the study.

"In such an environment, investing more in a body capable of reaching these late ages could be an adaptive strategy from an evolutionary perspective."

After analyzing the DNA of 1,779 young adults and their mothers in the Philippines, researchers found that children of older fathers not only inherit longer telomeres, but that the effect is cumulative across generations.

The researchers do not advise men to reproduce at later ages, as other research has shown that doing so raises the risk of passing on genetic mutations that can cause miscarriages or other health problems.

Co-author Christopher Kuzawa said more research would be necessary to see if the longer telomeres inherited from older fathers and grandfathers reduce the health problems and ailments that come with age.

"Based upon our findings, we predict that this will be the case, but this is a question to be addressed in future studies," he said.

The study appeared in the June 11-15 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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