Health & WellnessS


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.

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.