Science

FDA: Certain Livestock Antibiotic Uses To Be Phased Out

12/17/2013

Cows photFDA is implementing a voluntary plan to phase out the use of certain antibiotics in food production. The move is a result of the major public health threat of antibiotic resistance. Drug resistant bacteria kill at least 23,000 people in the U.S. each year and cost our health care system $20 billion. FDA is focused on phasing out “medically important” antibiotics in food producing animals for production uses like enhancing growth and improving food efficiency. 

“We need to be selective about the drugs we use in animals and when we use them,” says William Flynn, DVM, MS, deputy director for science policy at FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM). “Antimicrobial resistance may not be completely preventable, but we need to do what we can to slow it down.”

FDA is issuing a guidance that explains how animal pharmaceutical companies can work with the agency to voluntarily remove growth enhancement and feed efficiency indications from approved uses for "medically important" antimicrobial drug products. 

“This action promotes the judicious use of important antimicrobials, which protects public health and, at the same time, ensures that sick and at-risk animals receive the therapy they need,” says CVM Director Bernadette Dunham, DVM, Ph.D. “We realize that these steps represent changes for veterinarians and animal producers, and we have been working to make this transition as seamless as possible.”

The guidance is voluntary because the agency believes it’s the fastest most efficient means of getting something done. 

"Based on our outreach, we have every reason to believe that animal pharmaceutical companies will support us in this effort," says Michael R. Taylor, FDA's deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine.

Antibiotics have been taken for granted as much as running water and toilets, over prescribed and given in low doses to livestock to fatten them up and stave off disease caused by their nasty living conditions. In fact, 80 percent of all antibiotics are unnecessarily fed to livestock, which becomes the breeding ground for such resistance. 

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Read More: Halting Antibiotic Resistance: CDC Guidance Limits Child Prescriptions 

Can Meditation Change Your Genes?

12/16/2013

Meditating and your genes photoScientists are looking at how the practice of meditation can not just mentally, but physically impact your body. A new study with researchers from Spain, France, and Wisconsin shows specific molecular changes in the body after a period of mindfulness meditation

The study looked at a group of experienced meditators and compared them to a group of untrained control subjects who engaged in quiet non-meditation activities. After 8 hours of mindfulness practices, the meditators showed a range of genetic changes. Specifically, they showed reduced levels of genes that caused inflammation, which caused a faster physical recovery after stressful events. 

"To the best of our knowledge, this is the first paper that shows rapid alterations in gene expression within subjects associated with mindfulness meditation practice," says study author Richard J. Davidson, founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds and the William James and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, reported on Science Daily.

"Most interestingly, the changes were observed in genes that are the current targets of anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs," says Perla Kaliman, first author of the article and a researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona, Spain (IIBB-CSIC-IDIBAPS), where the molecular analyses were conducted.

The genes impacted included RIPK2 and COX2. But, interestingly, there weren't differences in the groups before the mindfulness practices, only after them. 

“Our genes are quite dynamic in their expression and these results suggest that the calmness of our mind can actually have a potential influence on their expression," Davidson says.

It’s already been shown the meditation can strengthen your brain. Meditation causes increased folding of the insula, the outermost layer of the brain which plays a role in consciousness as well as memory and attention. 

"The insula has been suggested to function as a hub for autonomic, affective and cognitive integration," said Eileen Luders, an assistant professor at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro-Imaging. "Meditators are known to be masters in introspection and awareness as well as emotional control and self-regulation, so the findings make sense that the longer someone has meditated, the higher the degree of folding in the insula."

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Read More: Don’t Fall Victim To Common Meditation Mistakes

Study: Happiness = Less Smartphone Use

12/13/2013

Smartphone use photoIf you’re constantly on your smartphone it might make others think that you have tons of friends and a busy social life. But in reality, the opposite is true. Those attached to their phones are less likely to be happy and social compared to those that don’t immediately respond to texts and emails. Constant smartphone users suffer from higher anxiety, especially those that are addicted to email, texting, and social media.

Researchers at Kent University in Ohio found that cell phone use was linked to greater stress. Anxiety was measured by each student’s level of satisfaction. One study participant said on The Daily Mail, “The social network sometimes just makes me feel a little bit tied to my phone. It makes me feel like I have another obligation in my life.”

The stress stems from the need to constantly review and respond to people via smartphone

Researcher Andrew Lepp added: “There is no me time or solitude left in some of these students’ lives and I think mental health requires a bit of personal alone time to reflect, look inward, process life's events, and just recover from daily stressors.”

Smartphone Addiction

In another study, conducted by British psychologist Richard Balding, MSc, researchers found that smartphones were initially used to respond to work email and then use ballooned into responding to social connections. Though the research group was quite small at only 100 participants, researchers found that 37 percent of adults and 60 percent of teenagers considered themselves addicted to their smartphones. According to the Pew Research Center, one-third of American adults have a smartphone which they use to access email daily. 

Anxiety.org reports that “Despite the ability of the phones to provide instant connections with friends and family, the handheld gadgets were actually contributing to stress, rather than alleviating it when used to manage personal contacts.”

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Read More: New Smartphone App Detects Blood Alcohol Levels 

8 Easy and Stress-Free Tips to Boost Fertility Naturally

12/11/2013

Fertility photoMost couples trying to conceive want to get the show on the road. The longer it takes to conceive, the more stressful it can be. But the more educated you are on how to boost your fertility, the more likely you are to get pregnant sooner rather than later. Here are some simple, natural steps that you can take to get pregnant:

Easy and Stress-Free Tips For Natural Conception

1. Be at your ideal weight.

One study found that of 2,112 pregnant women, those who had a body mass index of 25-39, considered overweight or obese, had a two-fold increase in the time it took to get pregnant. Time of conception was increased four-fold for those who had a pregnancy BMI of under 19. Avoid being underweight or overweight if you want to get pregnant.

2. Skip the booze.

Swedish researchers found that women who drank two or more alcoholic beverages per day decreased their fertility by 60 percent. That’s a huge number so if you’re trying to get pregnant, don’t have more than one alcoholic beverage per day and if you are pregnant, avoid them completely.

Caffeine intake photo3. Be moderate with caffeine.

While moderate consumption of caffeine doesn’t seem to impact pregnancy, having more than 500 mg of caffeine or 5 cups of coffee per day is associated with lower fertility

4. Track ovulation.

Ovulation is your fertility window so if you’re trying to conceive make sure you track it on a calendar. It usually happens 14 days before your menstrual period. 

5. Have sex.

Duh right. The point of this tip is it’s better to have sex daily or every other day than to save sperm up for when you're ovulating. 

6. Avoid sugar, white flour, and trans fats. 

Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health found that insulin regulating medications seemed to impact fertility along with white flour and trans fats. Basically, detox your diet.

“It occurred to me that there might be a shared mechanism between glycemic control and insulin sensitivity and ovulation,” Jorge Chavarro, MD, an assistant professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and coauthor of The Fertility Diet, says on Experience Life. “I wanted to investigate whether the dietary risk factors for diabetes and those for infertility might be the same.”

Chavarro looked at a nursing study that involved 18,555 women and found that a starchy diet, trans fats, and foods (such as sugar) that impacted insulin had a dampening impact on fertility. 

7. Keep your gut healthy. 

Eliminate food allergens and boost gut-friendly bacteria. 

“I rarely see women with endometriosis [a condition where uterine cells grow outside the uterus] who don’t have some problem with their gut,” says Bethany Hays, MD, FACOG, medical director at True North, a healthcare center in Falmouth, Maine. “Your immune system is completely interactive with your gut — 60 to 70 percent of it surrounds the GI tract — and you have to calm down that system to get pregnant.”

Yoga image8. Try yoga.

Yoga's mix of exercise of stress management is ideal when you’re trying to get pregnant. This is especially important for those with type A personalities. 

“Yoga is a good balance of physical movement, breathing and relaxation,” Licensed acupuncturists Brandon Horn, PhD, and Wendy Yu. Horn and Yu teach clients a series of poses, based on acupuncture theory, that align with the four stages of the monthly cycle. 

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Read More: Some Fertility Treatments May Lead to Increased Birth Defect Risk

Weight Loss Chip Could Make Surgery Unnecessary in Some

12/07/2013

Weight loss phootThe consumption of calorie dense food and drinks along with a sedentary lifestyle has led to an American population with an expanding waistline. The CDC reports that one third of U.S. adults are obese and two-thirds of adults over 20 are either obese or overweight. And as a result, weight loss surgery is becoming more and more popular. But what if a weight loss computer chip currently being tested on mice could help?

This new weight loss computer chip is being implanted into mice to check for fat in the blood. When blood fat reaches a certain level, a hormone is released that satiates hunger. Tests on mice showed that obese mice lost weight with the chip. The chip stops releasing hormones once the body reaches a healthy weight. 

“Instead of placing the mice on a diet to achieve weight loss, we kept giving the animals as much high-calorie food as they could eat,” said ETH-Zurich professor Martin Fussenegger, from the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering in Basel, in a news release reported on Medical Daily.

The journal Nature Communications reports that the chip contains two genes that work together to satiate hunger. A team of researchers at ETH Zurich, a Swiss University says that a version may be ready for humans in the next 5-10 years. 

"Instead of intervening in the progression of a disease that is difficult to regulate, it has a preventive effect and exploits the natural human satiety mechanism,” said the researchers.

Could this be a substitute for weight loss surgery and diet pills?

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Read More: Is Your Schedule Conducive to Being Thin?

Gender Stereotypes Explained by Hardwired Differences Between Male and Female Brains

12/06/2013

Brain image photoGender stereotypes may be difficult for some of us to swallow but research shows that men tend to be better at some tasks and women others. And a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has shown hardwired differences in the male and female brain may actually be to blame. 

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine found that many of the connections in the typical female brain run back and forth from the left brain to the right brain while they run from front to back in the typical male brain. The differences in the brain begin to show up at adolescence around the time when secondary sexual characteristics like facial hair in men and breasts in women are forming. 

The study followed 949 participants, 521 female and 428 male from the ages of 8-22. Researchers looked at the brain using diffusion tensor imaging, which measures the flow of water along nerve pathways and reads connectivity between various parts of the brain. 

“So, if there was a task that involved logical and intuitive thinking, the study says that women are predisposed, or have stronger connectivity as a population, so they should be better at it,” said Ragini Verma, a University of Pennsylvania biomedical imaging analyst and lead author of the study to LA Times.

“For men, it says they are very heavily connected in the cerebellum, which is an area that controls the motor skills. And they are connected front to back. The back side of the brain is the area by which you perceive things, and the front part of the brain interprets it and makes you perform an action. So if you had a task like skiing or learning a new sport, if you had stronger front-back connectivity and a very strong cerebellum connectivity, you would be better at it.”

Women have more emotional intelligence and were better on word, face memory, and cognition while men had better motor skills and were better at spatial analysis. 

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Read More: Why Women Talk More than Men

Trouble Sleeping Linked to Heart Disease, Early Death in Men

12/01/2013

Insomnia photoMen who reported difficultly sleeping or staying asleep had a moderately higher risk of death, especially from heart disease, compared to men who slept soundly. Research at Harvard and Brigham and Women’s Hospital followed 23,447 men over 6 years. Over the course of the study 2,000 of them died. The men who had trouble sleeping had a 55 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease and a 25 percent higher risk of death compared to those that didn’t have trouble falling asleep

Harvard epidemiologist Xiang Gao, one of the researchers behind the study, says the findings made sense. "Poor sleep has influence on endocrine function, it can increase chronic inflammation and also it can change circadian patterns," Gao tells Shots.

The study is published in the journal Circulation. Researchers took age, depression, and diabetes into account, though other factors could still play a role. 

Another study published in the journal Sleep found that men with chronic insomnia had an elevated risk of death compared to men who slept normally. According to Science Daily, “Compared to men without insomnia who slept for six hours or more, men with chronic insomnia who slept for less than six hours were four times more likely to die during the 14-year follow-up period (odds ratio = 4.33). Results were adjusted for potential confounders such as body mass index, smoking status, alcohol use, depression and obstructive sleep apnea.”

Chronic insomnia makes it hard to fall asleep and hard to stay asleep. People with insomnia usually awaken feeling unrefreshed, making the ability to function during the day more difficult. 

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Read More: Binge Drinking Linked to Insomnia in Older Adults

Morning After Pill Ineffective for Women Over 176 Pounds

11/29/2013

Morning after pill phooBack in June some forms of emergency contraception, also called the morning after pill, went over-the-counter. The pill contains a higher dose of the hormone in regular birth control pills and taking it 72 hours after rape, condom failure, or just forgetting to take your regular contraception can cut chances of pregnancy by 89 percent.  The morning after pill works even better within 24 hours. But recently, the European manufacturer of an identical morning after pill formula to Plan B warned that the pill was ineffective for those over 176 pounds. 

HRA Pharma, the French manufacturer of the morning after pill Norlevo, will be changing its packaging to reflect the weight limits. But while the formula for American morning after pills including Plan B One-Step, Next Choice One Dose, and My Way are identical, U.S. packaging does not carry the same warning. These pills use levonorgestrel to prevent pregnancies, though it’s unclear whether increasing the dosage of the compound would work to increase effectiveness in larger weight groups. 

"There's a whole swath of American women for whom [these pills] are not effective," says James Trussell, a professor of public affairs at Princeton University and a senior fellow with the Guttmacher Institute, a think tank for reproductive health issues on MotherJones.

The FDA prohibits generic manufacturers from changing packaging until the drug manufacturer changes it first. Here are the current U.S. morning after pill offerings via Princeton.edu

  • The generic one-pill products (Next Choice One Dose and My Way) will be available on the shelf next to Plan B One-Step, but you need to be 17 to buy them. Be prepared to show ID to buy these products. These generics generally cost about $35-45.
  • The generic two-pill products Levonorgestrel Tablets are still available only at the pharmacy counter. Women and men aged 17 or older can buy them without a prescription. If you are 16 or younger, you need a prescription.
  • ella is sold by prescription only, regardless of age. You can also order ella through an online prescription service for $42, including shipping.

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Read More: 7 Common Pharmaceuticals You Didn’t Know Were Derived From Animals

Caffeine During Pregnancy: New Study Disputes Common Understanding

11/27/2013

Caffeine during pregnancy photoMany pregnant women give up caffeine during pregnancy because of the fear that it will harm their developing fetus. There’s a general understanding that women who are pregnant or trying to conceive should avoid larger quantities of caffeine. But new research out of the Netherlands has found that caffeine during pregnancy may not negatively impact the fetus in the ways we formerly thought. 

The study looked at prenatal intake of caffeine and compared it to a child’s behavior by age 5. More than 8,000 pregnant women participated in the study, filling out questionnaires regarding their intake of coffee, tea, and soda. Researchers then calculated their average intake of caffeine per day. Years later the mothers participated in a follow up study where they looked at their child’s behavior. The results of the study showed that their intake was not associated with a higher risk of hyperactivity, attention problems, emotional issues, bad conduct, and peer relationship challenges. 

Risk of Miscarriage

However, other studies have shown that excessive caffeine can have a negative impact on pregnancy and as a result, the March of Dimes advises no more than 200 mg of caffeine per day or one 12 oz. cup of coffee. A 2008 study found that women who consumed 200 mg or more of caffeine doubled their risk of miscarriage.

A study out of Denmark found that the risk of stillbirth more than doubled in women who drank 8 cups of coffee per day versus those that drank none. Although that’s an exceedingly extreme amount of coffee. 

Your body’s ability to breakdown caffeine when you’re pregnant is diminished. During the second trimester it takes almost twice as long to clear caffeine from the body and during the third trimester it takes nearly three times as long. This can impact the amount of caffeine that crosses the placenta and reaches your baby. So as of yet, research leans toward keeping your consumption below 200 mg.

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Read More: 7 Ways to Get Your Body Ready For Pregnancy 

Bilingualism May Slow Alzheimer’s Disease Progression

11/26/2013

Alzheimer's disease photoBilingualism doesn’t just make you look cool, it’s also good for your brain. New research shows that it may delay the onset of certain types of dementia including Alzheimer’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, and vascular dementia. Researchers studied 648 people, 240 of them had Alzheimer’s disease while the others had frontotemporal dementia and vascular dementia. Of the participants, 391 spoke more than one language and it seemed that bilingualism slowed the progression of dementia

The study involved researchers from Hyderabad, India and Edinburgh, Scotland and was the largest of its kind. It was published in the journal Neurology

"Nowadays, a lot of companies are having expensive brain-training programs, but I’d say bilingualism is very cheap," said Thomas Bak, MD, a lecturer in human cognitive neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh, and second author on the study, reported on Everyday Health. "The crucial thing about bilingualism is that it offers what we say is constant brain training. A bilingual person is forced to switch to different sounds, words, concepts, grammatical structure, and social norms."

Another study from Baycrest Rotman Research Institute looked at the clinical records of 200 patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and found the same thing. The brains of those that spoke more than one language still deteriorated as a result of Alzheimer’s but their memory loss, confusion, and difficulty problem solving and planning were slowed. 

"These results are especially important for multicultural societies like ours in Canada where bilingualism is common," said Dr. Bialystok, professor of Psychology at York University and associate scientist at the Rotman Research Institute on Science Daily. "We need to understand how bilingualism changes cognitive ability, especially when there are clinical implications as in this case."

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Read More: Loneliness in Old Age Associated with Increased Alzheimer's Risk


Sara Novak writes about health and wellness for Discovery Health. Her work is also regularly featured in Breathe Magazine and on SereneKitchen.com. She has written extensively on food policy, food politics, and food safety.


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