Health & WellnessS


Spread of "disease of destruction" tied to US combat deployments

WASHINGTON -- A parasitic disease rarely seen in United States but common in the Middle East has infected an estimated 2,500 US troops in the last four years because of massive deployments to remote combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, military officials said.


Alcohol Consumption More Detrimental To Women

Alcohol consumption more severely affects women than men, according to a new study by researchers at RTI International, Pavlov Medical University, Leningrad Regional Center of Addictions, Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

The study, published in the May issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, found that women become alcohol dependent more quickly than men and that alcohol more severely impairs women's cognitive functioning including perceptual and visual planning and processing, working memory and motor control.

"Our studied showed that female alcoholics experience a greater decrement in cognitive and motor functions and sustain an accelerated decline in processing speed than males," said Barbara Flannery, Ph.D., research psychologist at RTI. "Our findings confirm and extend prior research that alcohol exerts more profound adverse effect more quickly on women compared to men."


Psychopaths are counting on it: Traumas -- such as being close to twin towers on 9-11 -- could make people's brains more reactive to fear, Cornell study shows

According to a new brain study, even people who seemed resilient but were close to the World Trade Center when the twin towers toppled on Sept. 11, 2001, have brains that are more reactive to emotional stimuli than those who were more than 200 miles away.

That is the finding of a new Cornell study that excluded people who did not have such mental disorders as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depression. One of the first studies to look at the effects of trauma on the brains of healthy people, it is published in the May issue of the journal Emotion.


Premature births may be linked to seasonal levels of pesticides and nitrates in surface water

The growing premature birth rate in the United States appears to be strongly associated with increased use of pesticides and nitrates, according to work conducted by Paul Winchester, M.D., professor of clinical pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine. He reports his findings May 7 at the Pediatric Academic Societies' annual meeting, a combined gathering of the American Pediatric Society, the Society for Pediatric Research, the Ambulatory Pediatric Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Dr. Winchester and colleagues found that preterm birth rates peaked when pesticides and nitrates measurements in surface water were highest (April-July) and were lowest when nitrates and pesticides were lowest (Aug.-Sept.).

More than 27 million U.S. live births were studied from 1996-2002. Preterm birth varied from a high of 12.03% in June to a low of 10.44% in September. The highest rate of prematurity occurred in May-June (11.91%) and the lowest for Aug-Sept (10.79%) regardless of maternal age, race, education, marital status, alcohol or cigarette use, or whether the mother was an urban, suburban or rural resident. Pesticide and nitrate levels in surface water were also highest in May-June and lowest in August - September, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Evil Rays

Chinese suppliers substitute a poison used in antifreeze for a common sweetener

Regulators in the U.S. are warning drugmakers, suppliers and health professionals to be on the alert for counterfeit medicine additives that substitute a poison used in antifreeze for a common sweetener.

Magic Wand

Human Brain Breaks Down Events Into Smaller Units

In order to comprehend the continuous stream of cacophonies and visual stimulation that battle for our attention, humans will breakdown activities into smaller, more digestible chunks, a phenomenon that psychologists describe as "event structure perception."

Event structure perception was originally believed to be confined to our visual system, but new research shows that a similar process occurs when reading about everyday events as well.

Nicole Speer and her colleagues at Washington University examined event structure perception by having subjects read narratives about everyday activities while undergoing functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to measure neural activity. The subjects were then invited back a few days later to reread these same narratives, this time without the fMRI scan. Instead, they were asked to divide the narrative where they believed one segment of narrative activity ended and another segment began.

Arrow Down

Older-adult dieting won't lead to reduced physical function, research suggests

Unintentional weight loss in older adults often leads to frailty, a decline in physical function and even death. So is it wise for older, overweight women to embark on a weight loss program? New research from Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center suggests that these women are better off trying to lose weight - even if they regain some of it.

"Our results suggest that losing weight through calorie cutting won't lead to increased disability in older women," said Jamehl Demons, M.D., lead investigator on a project evaluating the effects of weight loss on physical performance.

And even when some of the weight was regained, the women still came out ahead.

"It looks like they are better off than if they had never tried to lose weight," said Mary F. Lyles, M.D., lead investigator on an analysis exploring how dieting affected body composition.

The results of both projects - which are part of the larger Diet, Exercise and Metabolism in Older Women (DEMO) study - are being presented today (May 4) at the annual meeting of the American Geriatrics Society in Seattle.

Magic Wand

Multitasking is hardest in the early morning

Multitasking seems to come easier for some and is virtually impossible for others, however new research shows that it is difficult for all in the late night and early morning.

Previous studies have shown that the time of day greatly affects human's reaction time (for a review, see Carrier & Monk, 2000). This performance decrement is constantly found during the night with its' lowest point in the early morning. This leads to the assumption that the time of day directly affects the speed of cognitive processing.

Daniel Bratzke at the University of Tuebingen wished to take these studies a bit further and figure out what makes our reaction time so slow during the wee hours. While many researchers have studied this, Bratzke focused on one of the three stages of human processing because he argues that measuring overall reaction time does not allow researchers to separate the effects of three different processing stages. Bratzke describes, for example, that the stage models of human performance assume at least three distinct processing stages: early perceptual, central decisional and late motor. He writes, "Given this widely accepted view, the question arises whether time of day affects all processing stages in general or one or more stages selectively."


Mirror Neurons: How We Reflect on Behavior

In the mid-1990s, scientists at the University of Parma, in Italy, made a discovery so novel that it shifted the way psychologists discuss the brain. After researchers implanted electrodes into the heads of monkeys, they noticed a burst of activity in the premotor cortex when the animals clutched a piece of food. In a wonderfully fictitious account of the discovery, neuroscientist Giacomo Rizzolatti was licking ice cream in the lab when this same region again fired in the monkeys. In an equally wonderful truthful account, the neurons in this region did, in fact, fire when the monkeys merely watched researchers handle food.

Mirror neurons - the tiny neurological structures that fire both when we perceive action and take it, exposing the true social nature of the brain - had been identified. Since that time, the term has become a powerful buzz phrase: technical enough to impress at dinner parties; simple enough to explain to Grandma; sweeter sounding than, say, the Bose-Einstein condensate. Recently, I wrote an article for this magazine about the power of movies on behavior; to my surprise, many researchers discussed, without prompting, the role mirror neurons play in explaining why viewers connect so strongly with on-screen emotions. A short while later I read an article in Time magazine that said mirror neurons might form the basis for empathy, social behavior, and even language. One psychologist placed these neurons on the same plane as DNA in the realm of scientific discovery.


Analysis: Migraine, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder high in Iraq vets

Soldiers returning from Iraq with migraine headaches often have an increased risk for depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, Army doctors said Thursday.

About 19 percent of veterans from the Iraq combat zone reported headaches consistent with migraine, said Maj. Jay Erickson, a neurologist at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Wash.

"In the general population of men of the soldiers' age group, the rate of migraine is about 10 percent," Erickson told United Press International, "so the rate we are seeing in returning troops is about twice what we would expect in the general population."

Erickson and colleagues questioned 2,167 soldiers within 90 days of returning to the United States after deployment to Iraq, Erickson said in a presentation at the 59th annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Boston.