Health & WellnessS


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.

Magic Wand

If you act like a jerk, at least acknowledge it

"You live and learn. At any rate, you live." -- Douglas Adams

If you want to see people at their best, all you have to do is step on them. You know how it is when you get elbowed or knocked aside -- if the other person is shocked and apologetic, you limp on, smiling bravely and being big about it. They say, "Pardon me," and you do.

Notice, though, that the pardoning hinges on the other person's recognizing the fault, owning up to it, and asking for forgiveness. That's common with stepping on a person's toes, but far less likely when stepping on a person's time, dignity, or career. What I'm getting to here is "the accidental jerk." The chief culprits are managers, and only recently have I come to admit that I am guilty of being one of them. I think you might be one, too.

What got me thinking about accidental jerkiness was watching a video from the folks at ej4, an online training company out of St. Louis. The creator of that video, Ken Cooper, told me that one of my columns gave him the idea. That might sound like a bit of an accidental insult ("I read your column and thought about jerks"), but it wasn't. Rather, I was writing about executives who decrease productivity, and thus aren't really practicing leadership. What to call what they do, this antileadership? I needed a new word for the art of demotivation and came up with "impedership."


Eat Less, Live Longer? Gene Links Calorie Restriction To Longevity

In studies going back to the 1930's, mice and many other species subsisting on a severely calorie-restricted diet have consistently outlived their well-fed peers by as much as 40 percent. But just how a diet verging on the brink of starvation extends lifespan has remained elusive.

Now, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have cracked open the black box of how persistent hunger promotes long life and identified a critical gene that specifically links calorie restriction (CR) to longevity.

"After 72 years of not knowing how calorie restriction works, we finally have genetic evidence to unravel the underlying molecular program required for increased longevity in response to calorie restriction," says Andrew Dillin, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory, who led the study published online in the May 2 issue of Nature.


Forcing teen to have baby 'inhumane', court told

It would be inhumane to force a pregnant teenager to carry her baby for nine months knowing it would die, the High Court was told today.

The 17-year-old girl, known only as Miss D and from Leinster, is asking judges to allow her to travel to the United Kingdom for an abortion.

The teenager is four months pregnant, and last week she found out the foetus has not formed properly and suffers from anencephaly, meaning a major part of the brain, scalp and skull is missing. The newborn baby will live three days at most.

Miss D has been in the care of the Health Service Executive (HSE) since March and it asked gardaí to step in and prevent her from travelling. The court heard gardaí do not have those powers.

Opening the case, Eoghan Fitzsimons SC, for Miss D, told the court the diagnosis was most distressing for her. He said the HSE's claim that under law she cannot travel would require her to carry the baby full term only for it to die. He said that would subject her to degrading treatment.


Health care errors impact 1 in 10

Errors in medical care affect 10 percent of patients worldwide, according to the United Nations health agency, which issued a checklist on Wednesday to help doctors and nurses avoid common mistakes.


Woman gets smallpox-vaccine virus via sex

NEW YORK - Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describe the case of a woman who developed a genital infection after having sexual contact with a military serviceman who had been recently vaccinated against smallpox.


Chinese firm dodged inspection of pet food, U.S. says

A Chinese company accused of selling contaminated wheat gluten to pet food suppliers in the United States failed to disclose to China's export authorities that it was shipping food or feed to the United States, thereby avoiding having its goods inspected, according to U.S. regulators.


Virulent New Strain of TB Raising Fears of Pandemic

A virulent strain of tuberculosis resistant to most available drugs is surfacing around the globe, raising fears of a pandemic that could devastate efforts to contain TB and prove deadly to people with immune-deficiency diseases such as HIV-AIDS.


Diseases caused by fetal toxicity studied

U.S. researchers have determined later-life diseases resulting from fetal and infant toxicity have common immune patterns.