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Tue, 17 Jan 2017
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Behavioral Economics and the Food System

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The human mind is fascinating. Understanding how we make decisions, how we form preferences, how we think about the future is not only intellectually interesting, but can also help us understand the dynamics of national conversations and find solutions to some of today's most pressing problems.

The national health care debate (or, all too often in August, temper tantrum) is one recent case where understanding the mental process can be helpful. "Status-Quo Anxiety", a recent column by New Yorker financial columnist James Surowiecki, shows how some findings from the field of behavioral economics apply to health care. Some of what he discusses is also applicable to our national conversation on food.

The first effect presented by Surowiecki is the "endowment effect": when we own something, we tend to overestimate its value. The effect has been shown in many experiments using everyday objects like mugs or event tickets, with the owners of the objects consistently charging far more than buyers are willing to pay.

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A vaccine for anxiety? The real reason why drug companies are pushing more vaccines

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There's a new vaccine for nicotine addiction, and another one for drug addiction. There's an AIDS vaccines (which doesn't work) and a vaccine for cervical cancer that's been approved for use on boys (boys don't have a cervix). Through the pharmaceutical industry, the big push for vaccines is on!

But why, exactly? Is there suddenly a new rash of epidemic disease requiring vaccine treatments? No, not really. What's new is the way Big Pharma is latching on to these diseases as new opportunities to sell more drugs.

There's a huge shift underway from drugs designed for sick people to a whole new class of drugs manufactured for healthy people. The new paradigm is that people need drugs before they get sick, as a sort of "protection" against sickness. Drugs, in essence, are being positioned as nutrients -- things the human body needs in order to be healthy. And from the moment you're born, you're considered deficient in these drugs. That's why babies are injected with vaccines within minutes after being born. There's a strong belief in the medical industry that babies are born deficient in vaccines and that such deficiencies must be "corrected" as soon as possible.

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Amino Acid May Help Reduce Cocaine Cravings

A new study in rats has found that N-acetylcysteine (NAC), a commonly available and generally nontoxic amino acid derivative, reverses changes in the brain's circuitry associated with cocaine addiction. The reversal appears to lessen the cravings associated with cocaine, thus providing protection against relapse.

The findings were presented at Neuroscience 2009, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world's largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.

"Our finding suggests a promising therapeutic strategy for cocaine addiction, for which there is no approved treatment," said lead author Khaled Moussawi of the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

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Chronic Voluntary Alcohol Consumption Impairs Neurogenesis

A new study found that chronic alcohol consumption reduces the number of new brain cells that form in the hippocampus of adolescent rhesus monkeys. This finding suggests these cells are vulnerable to alcohol and their presence may be essential for preventing alcohol dependence.

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When Identifying Emotions, Women Outperform Men

Women are better than men at distinguishing between emotions, especially fear and disgust, according to a new study published in the online version of the journal Neuropsychologia. As part of the investigation, Olivier Collignon and a team from the Université de Montréal Centre de recherche en neuropsychologie et cognition (CERNEC) demonstrated that women are better than men at processing auditory, visual and audiovisual emotions.

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Even low alcohol consumption has a negative impact on overall health

Low alcohol consumption is bad for your health in general. Researchers writing in BioMed Central's open access journal Cost Effectiveness and Resource Allocation studied the relationship between alcohol consumption and health to test the current theory which suggests improved health is responsible for the link found between low alcohol consumption and increased wages.

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Rape Is a Pre-Existing Condition? The Heartlessness of the US Health Insurance Industry Exposed

By taking anti-AIDS medicine after a rape, Christina Turner discovered that she had made herself all but uninsurable.

Christina Turner feared that she might have been sexually assaulted after two men slipped her a knockout drug. She thought she was taking proper precautions when her doctor prescribed a month's worth of anti-AIDS medicine.

Only later did she learn that she had made herself all but uninsurable.

Turner had let the men buy her drinks at a bar in Fort Lauderdale. The next thing she knew, she said, she was lying on a roadside with cuts and bruises that indicated she had been raped. She never developed an HIV infection. But months later, when she lost her health insurance and sought new coverage, she ran into a problem.

Turner, 45, who used to be a health insurance underwriter herself, said the insurance companies examined her health records. Even after she explained the assault, the insurers would not sell her a policy because the HIV medication raised too many health questions. They told her they might reconsider in three or more years if she could prove that she was still AIDS-free.

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Emotional Balance: Two Brain Structures Key, Especially In Threatening Situations

Researchers have discovered that a primitive region of the brain responsible for sensorimotor control also has an important role in regulating emotional responses to threatening situations. This region appears to work in concert with another structure called the amygdala to regulate social and emotional behavior.

Georgetown University Medical Center researchers have recently discovered that activation of a primitive brain region, the deep layers of superior colliculus (DLSC), elicits defensive behaviors such as an exaggerated startle, hypervigilance, cowering, and escape. Researchers say it is possible that a prolonged activation of this defense system may lead to emotional disorders.

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Getting on 'the GABA receptor shuttle' to treat anxiety disorders

There are increasingly precise molecular insights into ways that stress exposure leads to fear and through which fear extinction resolves these fear states. Extinction is generally regarded as new inhibitory learning, but where the inhibition originates from remains to be determined. Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), the primary inhibitory chemical messenger in the brain, seems to be very important to these processes.

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Air pollution linked to early form of dementia

Living next to a busy road could increase the risk of memory problems in the elderly, new research has suggested.

A study carried out in Germany on women who had lived at the same address for at least 20 years found those near busy roads were more likely to show signs of mild cognitive impairment, early memory problems that may lead to dementia.

The research published in the journal, Environmental Research, suggests that air pollution from traffic fumes may lead to inflammation in the brain.