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How biology can contribute to criminal behaviour

Crime may be an unusual topic for a medical column but is a growing area of scientific research.

The various contributions of biological factors or "nature" versus the social environment, "nurture", is hotly debated. New brain scanning techniques and quick and affordable genetic testing is rapidly improving our understanding of the science behind crime.

The brains of people who undertake serious or sexual crimes seem to differ in a number of ways.

A controversial study from Yale University used MRI scans to compare the brains of paedophiles and those convicted of non-sexual crimes. Paedophiles had significantly less of a substance called "white matter" that connects six areas of the brain known to play a role in sexual arousal.
Ambulance

FDA Stuns Scientists, Declares Mercury in Fish to be Safe for Infants, Children, Expectant Mothers!

In a truly astonishing betrayal of public safety (even for the FDA), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration today revoked its warning about mercury in fish, saying that eating mercury-contaminated fish no longer poses any health threat to children, pregnant women, nursing mothers and infants.

Last week, the FDA declared trace levels of melamine to be safe in infant formula. A few weeks earlier, it said the plastics chemical Bisphenol-A was safe for infants to drink. Now it says children can eat mercury, too. Is there any toxic substance in the food that the FDA thinks might be dangerous? (Aspartame, MSG, sodium nitrite and now mercury...)

This FDA decision on mercury in fish has alarmed EPA scientists who called it "scientifically flawed and inadequate," reports the Washington Post. Even better, the Environmental Working Group issued a letter to the EPA, saying "It's a commentary on how low FDA has sunk as an agency. It was once a fierce protector of America's health, and now it's nothing more than a patsy for polluters."
Health

Strict Blood Sugar Lowering Won't Ease Diabetes Heart Risk

Intensive lowering of blood sugar in people with poorly controlled type 2 diabetes does not have a significant effect on reducing cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and stroke, a new study finds.

"You can decrease cardiovascular events in patients with type 2 diabetes by good treatment of lipids [cholesterol], blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk factors," noted lead researcher Dr. William Duckworth, from the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care Center in Arizona. "But among older patients whose risk factors are controlled, intensive glucose control does not add any significant benefit," he said.

That runs counter to the conventional wisdom on the issue, which holds that intensive lowering of blood sugar should reduce cardiovascular events.
Bizarro Earth

Asian Countries Battle New Bird Flu Outbreaks

Chickens
© AFP
Authorities in several Asian countries are working to contain new outbreaks of bird flu.

Cambodia has begun slaughtering poultry in a district south of the capital, Phnom Penh, where a 19-year-old man last week tested positive for the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus. The agriculture ministry also ordered a 30-day ban on selling or transporting poultry in Kandal province.

The man is the eighth confirmed human case of bird flu in Cambodia, and the first person diagnosed with the disease there this year.
People

Cleveland Clinic Team Outlines Details of First U.S. Face Transplant

Surgeons today described the first face transplant in the United States, a painstaking 22-hour operation to stitch most of a dead woman's face onto a recipient so horribly disfigured she was willing to undergo the risky surgery in the hopes of being able to smile, smell, eat and breathe normally again -- and go out in public without frightening children.

In a procedure done sometime in the past two weeks, the 30-member Cleveland Clinic team replaced about 80 percent of the patient's face -- essentially recreating the entire middle of her face including her lower eyelids, nose, cheeks, and upper jaw, along with supporting the bones, muscles, nerves and arteries.

The operation, transferring everything except the upper eyelids, forehead, lower lip and chin, marks the first time the controversial procedure has been performed in North America and the most extensive face transplant yet.
Pills

Makers of US cold prevention remedy reach $7m settlement

Settlement bars Airborne from saying any of its products prevents colds unless it can back up claims with evidence

Airborne Health, makers of a top-selling product marketed as a cold prevention and treatment remedy, signed a $7m (£4.5) settlement on Tuesday to settle false advertising claims levelled by 32 state attorneys general and the District of Columbia.

The settlement bars the company from claiming that any of its products fights germs, treats cold symptoms or prevents colds, flu and infections unless it can back up those claims with "reliable and competent scientific evidence".

Airborne was not able to supply such evidence, according to Washington attorney general senior counsel Robert Lipson.
Health

Sarcasm finds medical use in dementia detection

Sydney - Sarcasm may be the lowest form of wit, but Australian scientists are using it to diagnose dementia, according to research published on Friday.

Researchers at the University of New South Wales found that patients under the age of 65 suffering from frontotemporal dementia (FTD), the second most common form of dementia, cannot detect when someone is being sarcastic.

The study, described by its authors as groundbreaking, helps explain why patients with the condition behave the way they do and why, for example, they are unable to pick up their caregivers' moods, the research showed.

"This is significant because if care-givers are angry, sad or depressed, the patient won't pick this up. It is often very upsetting for family members," said John Hodges, the senior author of the paper published in "Brain".
Ambulance

Killer Virus Grips Britain

Millions face being struck down by a deadly winter vomiting bug sweeping the country. Scores of hospitals have been forced to close wards to new patients as they struggle to cope with the influx of norovirus sufferers.

One of London's leading hospitals has even had to turn away 999 emergency patients after being overwhelmed with cases of the virus, while another hospital has drafted in GPs to cover for staff hit by the bug.

As the crisis deepens, health campaigners are warning that hospitals face going into "complete meltdown" over Christmas and New Year.
Health

Estrogen in moisturizers may worsen breast cancer

I have referred more than once to the preeminent work of Judi Vance and her 1990s book, "Beauty to Die For". This work began the trail of other that have slowly come forward to report on the very same concerns - there are toxic chemicals in health and beauty products (HABA).

Now the information is coming from the medical establishment.

Even so-called 'natural brands' sold in health stores contain some of these questionable ingredients. And again I encourage you to read labels. Even if the FDA approved a single ingredient they do not test or approve mixtures of ingredients, and this is one place where problems start.
Info

China bans 17 harmful substances in food

China has published a list of 17 acids, chemicals and other substances that have been banned as food additives, amid a four-month safety campaign following a scandal over tainted milk.

Illegal items posted on the Chinese health ministry's list include boric acid, a chemical used as an insecticide or flame retardant that is known to be added to noodles or the skin of dumplings to increase their elasticity.

Formaldehyde, applied to dried seafood to improve its appearance, but also commonly used as a disinfectant, was another dangerous substance on the banned list, published on the ministry's website late on Monday.

Some of the substances, such as the carcinogenic dye Sudan Red 1, had already been banned by the government, but this was the first official compilation of illegal food additives in China.

The crackdown comes after a scandal involved dairy products contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine.
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