Saturday, 31 March 2012

Criminal Trial Begins for CERN Scientist

Particle physicist Adlène Hicheur, accused by French authorities of "associating with criminals in relation to terrorist activities," went on trial in Paris today. Police arrested the 35-year-old, Algerian-born scientist, who works for CERN in Switzerland on 8 October 2009 as he was reportedly on his way to Algeria to buy a plot of land. Hicheur has languished in Fresnes prison, near Paris, since then.
This is not a good time to begin the trial, argues Hicheur's lawyer, Patrick Baudouin. France is still recovering from the slaughter earlier this month of seven children and soldiers in Toulouse and Montauban by an Islamic radical, Mohamed Merah. The two cases are very different but could become mixed in the public mind, Baudouin warns. In an interview with French radio this morning, Baudouin said that he had wanted to ask that the trial be postponed, but that Hicheur had refused because he was eager to explain his side.
Hicheur, whose brother Halim is also a scientist, was under surveillance by the French intelligence services in 2008 after exchanging e-mails in Arabic with Mustafa Debchi, a supposed member of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, according to news reports.
Although Hicheur had "not participated in preparations" for any terrorist acts, Baudouin said, he admitted on the radio and in other interviews that Hicheur had mentioned "objectives that could be pursued," such as energy groups Total and Suez, as well as a military battalion based in Annecy, in the French Alps. Baudouin said Hicheur's comments were "perhaps debatable, disputable, open to criticism," partly because translations of the scientist's e-mails into French were "approximate or incorrect." In an interview with the Associated Press published on the website of the French newsweekly Le Nouvel Observateur, Baudouin also charged that attempts had been made to buy witnesses.
An international committee has been organized to support Hicheur that includes Jack Steinberger, the 1988 Nobel Prize winner for physics. When the judicial investigation was completed last year, the group had gathered 400 signatures on a petition backing Hicheur.
If found guilty, Hicheur could face a prison sentence of 10 years.

California Water: Is Anyone Listening?

Water scarcity and endangered species troubles will keep growing unless politicians make "hard decisions" about priorities for water use in the California Bay delta, according to a new report out today by the National Research Council (NRC). Blue-ribbon panels, working groups, and stakeholder meetings have tried to come together to make such choices for decades. But because there are so many entrenched competing interests among farmers, fishers, and urban populations that depend on the water, to date there has been no consensus about the best path forward.
The runoff from California's northern Sierra flows into the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and their tributaries, through the delta, and eventually out San Francisco Bay. Some 25 million people throughout California depend on delta water. Pumping stations divert massive quantities to farmers in the Central Valley as well as cities in southern California. But these water removals are increasing the stress—along with dams, declining river habitat, and pollution—on regional fish populations, including several species of salmon and a fingerling called the delta smelt. These troubles will likely be exacerbated by climate change if it shifts spring runoffs earlier in the year and raises water temperatures in the summer months, the NRC panel concludes.
The panel's conclusions do little but restate a problem that has been locked in policymaking gridlock for decades. "Science is necessary to inform actions and proposals," says committee member Henry J. Vaux Jr., professor emeritus of resource economics at the University of California, Riverside. "Societal and political considerations are also integral factors in determining the most appropriate policies toward managing the water resources in the delta and balancing the needs of all water users." In other words, unless politicians negotiate a solution between all the parties, the delta's problems are only going to get worse.

Friday, 30 March 2012

The Woven Brain

Credit: M. D. Van Wedeen, Martinos Center and Dept. of Radiology/Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard U. Medical School

To the unaided eye, the most striking feature of the human brain is its squiggly pattern of bumps and grooves. But within those curves is a latticework of nerve fibers that cross each other at roughly right angles (above), according to a study published in tomorrow's issue of Science. The researchers used a recently-developed method called diffusion spectrum imaging to infer the position of nerve fibers in the living human brain from the way water flows through and around them. These scans revealed an orderly weave of fibers—a much simpler organization than many scientists would have suspected. Scans in four monkey species found a similar pattern. The researchers suggest that this grid-like organization may be advantageous during brain development, providing the equivalent of highway lane markers to help growing nerve fibers find their way to the appropriate destination.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

The 8 Most Surprising Addictions

You love a good game of poker, a tasty meal, or an afternoon spent mall-hopping — but could you be under the influence of your favorite activity? Take a look at some common behavioral addictions.

When most people hear the word “addiction,” they think of the dependence on a substance, such as drugs or alcohol. And for good reason: According to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), one in every eight people in the United States has a significant problem with alcohol or drugs.
But uppers, downers, and other commonly abused substances aren’t the only things Americans are addicted to. In fact, just substitute the word "behavior" for "substance," and you open up the definition of addiction to all kinds of surprising dependencies. Whether it’s sex, the Internet, or bungee jumping, the desire to experience that “high” becomes so strong, the addict loses control and seeks the activity despite all negative consequences. Here are eight habits you can surprisingly become hooked on.

Gambling Addiction

Constantly bucking your odds? Of all behavioral addictions, an addiction to gambling is the one that most closely resembles drug and alcohol addiction. Though the American Psychiatric Association (APA) currently considers compulsive gambling to be an impulse control disorder, the organization is seriously considering reclassifying it as an addictive disorder. In fact, studies show that gambling addictions light up the same areas of the brain as drug addictions — and treatment for compulsive gambling is usually included in the same type of therapy settings as drug and alcohol abuse.

Sex Addiction

Thanks to big names such as Tiger Woods and Anthony Weiner, the topic of sex addiction is frequently in the news. But is a sweet tooth for sex a real addiction? Perhaps: Though it’s not formally classified as an addiction (yet), there are treatments for it, and the APA is considering adding addictive sexual behavior to its updated Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders under the heading “hypersexual behavior disorder.” In addition, the symptoms of sex addiction — including loss of control and disregard for risks and consequences — are very similar to those of traditional addictions. What’s a sex addict to do? Like drugs, alcohol, and even gambling, addiction treatments for hypersexual activity seem to respond best to 12-step programs, such as Sex Addicts Anonymous.

Internet Addiction

We’re living in a wired world — but is it possible to be too plugged in? Psychologists don't generally consider Internet addiction a true addiction, but it can be a true problem for some people. An addiction to the Internet involves loss of control, as well as negative consequences at work and at home. One recent study even found that compulsive use of the World Wide Web may occupy up to 11 hours out of an “Internet addict’s" day. Other studies suggest that compulsive Internet use affects 6 to 14 percent of Internet users.

Shopping Addiction

Shopping: It’s yet another behavior that, when it spins out of control, is considered to be an impulse control disorder (rather than a true addiction). Do you purchase items to avoid feeling sad — but then feel guilty afterwards? Do you have a closet full of clothes that still have the price tags on them? You could be a shopaholic. Studies show that compulsive shopping affects more women than men, and that it can result in big problems, both financially and personally. How can you get help? Treatment for a shopping addiction usually involves counseling and behavioral therapy.

Video Game Addiction

Can’t get your hands off that game console? Research shows that video game addiction is most common in boys and men — and one recent study even found that as many as one in 10 video players between the ages of 8 and 18 are “out-of-control gamers” (and games like EverQuest and World of Warcraft begin to feel more like reality than fantasy). If you’re addicted to your video games, treatments include counseling and behavior modification.

Plastic Surgery Addiction

To improve the way they look, some people go under the knife again and again … and again. In fact, people with a propensity for plastic surgery may obsessively go from doctor to doctor until they find a plastic surgeon or dermatologist who agrees to treat them. The truth is, these people are more likely to be suffering from body dysmorphic disorder than a cosmetic surgery addiction. People with BDD, about 1 to 2 percent of the population and up to 15 percent of plastic surgery patients, are preoccupied with their appearance and are hell-bent on the idea that they are ugly or deformed.

Food Addiction

For years, Americans have argued over whether food obsessions can actually be food addictions — or whether this “disorder” is more of an excuse. In truth, binge eating disorder is a real problem that affects about 3 percent of adults in the United States. Symptoms include eating to ease emotions, overdoing it on food while alone, and feeling guilty after the binge. But while food can seem like a drug for people with eating disorders, experts’ last word is that this is not a true addiction. The cause of eating disorders is not known, but it is probably linked more to depression than addiction.

Risky Behavior Addiction

Get your rocks off from risk? Thrill seekers share many of the same symptoms as drug addicts; they get a rush from skydiving or rock climbing, but after a while, they seek out even more dangerous adventures to feel that same level of excitement. And studies show that these “thrills” release the same flood of brain chemicals released by addictive drugs.
The bottom line: Not all behavioral addictions meet the classic definition of physical addiction, but they do share many of the psychological and social hallmarks — and they will respond well to traditional types of addiction treatment.


Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Famous Personalities Who Failed At First

Business Gurus
1. Henry Ford
Ford is known for his innovative success but he failed five times before he founded the FORD Company. Henry Ford
2. R. H. Macy
Before the success of MACY, he failed in seven businesses and finally succeeded with his new store. R. H. Macy
3. Soichiro Honda
The billion-dollar business, that is Honda, started initially with a series of failures. He started making scooters of his own at home and spurred on by his neighbors, finally started his own business. Soichiro Honda
4. Bill Gates
Gates didn't seem like a shoe-in for success after dropping out of Harvard and starting a failed first business with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen called Traf-O-Data. Bill Gates
5. Harland David Sanders
Sanders founded KFC and his famous secret chicken recipe was rejected 1,009 times before a restaurant accepted it. Harland David Sanders
6. Walt Disney
Walt Disney had a bit of a rough start and he was fired by a newspaper editor because, 'he lacked imagination and had no good ideas'. He kept plugging along, however, and eventually found a recipe for success that worked. Walt Disney
7. Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein Einstein did not speak until he was four and did not read until he was seven, and his teachers and parents thought he was mentally handicapped, slow and anti-social. But he caught on pretty well in the end, winning the Nobel Prize and changing the face of modern physics.
8. Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin In his early years, Darwin gave up on having a medical career and considered as a lazy boy. Now, Darwin is well-known for his scientific studies.
9. Isaac Newton
Isaac Newton Newton was failed so many times in his school days and was sent off to Cambridge where he finally blossomed into the scholar we know today.
10. Thomas Edison
Thomas Edison Edison was fired for being unproductive In his early years. Even as an inventor, Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb.
11. Orville and Wilbur Wright
Orville and Wilbur Wright After numerous attempts at creating flying machines, several years of hard work, and tons of failed prototypes, the brothers finally created a plane.
Public Figures
12. Winston Churchill
This Nobel Prize-winning, twice-elected Prime Minster of the United Kingdom struggled in school and failed the sixth grade. After many years of political failures, finally became the Prime Minister at the ripe old age of 62. Winston Churchill
13. Abraham Lincoln
After Lincoln was failed many times in business and defeated in numerous runs, he became a greatest leader. Abraham Lincoln
14. Oprah Winfrey
Oprah faced a rough and abusive childhood as well as numerous career setbacks in her life to become one of the most iconic faces on TV. Oprah Winfrey
Writers and Artists
15. Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg Spielberg's name was rejected from the University of Southern California School of Theater, Film and Television three times. Thirty-five years after starting his degree, Spielberg returned to school in 2002 to finally complete his work and earn his BA.
16. J. K. Rowling
J. K. Rowling Rowling may be rolling in a lot of Harry Potter dough today, but before she published the series of novels she was nearly penniless, severely depressed, divorced, trying to raise a child on her own while attending school and writing a novel.
17. Michael Jordan
Most people wouldn't believe that a man often lauded as the best basketball player of all time was actually cut from his high school basketball team. 'I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.' Michael Jordan

Too Much Sitting Can Kill You, Study Suggests

For better health, try standing up more, a new study suggests. Those who spend 11 or more hours a day sitting are 40 percent more likely to die over the next three years regardless of how physically active they are otherwise, researchers say.

Analyzing self-reported data from more than 222,000 people aged 45 and older, Australian researchers found that mortality risks spike after 11 hours of total daily sitting but are still 15 percent higher for those sitting between 8 and 11 hours compared to those sitting fewer than 4 hours per day.
"The evidence on the detrimental health effects of prolonged sitting has been building over the last few years," said study author Hidde van der Ploeg, a senior research fellow at the University of Sydney. "The study stands out because of its large number of participants and the fact that it was one of the first that was able to look at total sitting time. Most of the evidence to date had been on the health risks of prolonged television viewing."

The study is published in the March 26 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Average adults spend 90 percent of their leisure time sitting down, van der Ploeg said, and fewer than half meet World Health Organization recommendations for 150 minutes of at least moderate-intensity physical activity each week.

The data was collected as part of Australia's 45 and Up Study, a large, ongoing study of healthy aging. Strikingly, the elevated risks for dying from all causes remained even after taking into account participants' physical activity, weight and health status.

Sixty-two percent of participants said they were overweight or obese (a similar proportion to Americans), while nearly 87 percent said they were in good to excellent health, and one-quarter said they spent at least 8 hours each day sitting.
Inactive participants who sat the most had double the risk of dying within three years compared to active people who sat least, van der Ploeg said, and among physically inactive adults, those who sat the most had nearly one-third higher odds of dying than those who sat least.

Because many people must sit for long hours at their jobs, they should make sure a greater portion of their leisure time is spent standing, walking or engaging in other movement, said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, director of Women and Heart Disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and a spokesperson for the American Heart Association.

"Yes, you have to work, but when you go home it's so important you don't go back to sitting in front of the computer or television," Steinbaum said. "After the 8-hour mark, the risks go up exponentially. It's really about what you're doing in your leisure time and making the decision to move."
Several workplaces in Australia are testing sit-stand work stations, van der Ploeg said -- a generally well-received initiative that may be a future option for other offices. "Try ways to break up your sitting and add in more standing or walking where possible," she suggested.

While the study uncovered an association between total sitting hours and death risk, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

The study was limited by the relatively short follow-up period of less than three years, experts said, which may have obscured undiagnosed health problems among participants that could have led to earlier death. Dr. David Friedman, chief of heart failure services at North Shore Plainview Hospital in Plainview, N.Y., said those who sit longer "tend to be sicker, have obesity issues and cardiovascular problems. Perhaps they're less ambulatory in the first place."

Van der Ploeg acknowledged these limitations and said more studies will need to replicate the findings and focus more on sitting's influence on developing conditions such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

"Studies that measure sitting time with activity monitors instead of questionnaires will also help build the evidence base," she said. "All these studies will further inform us of the exact relationship between sitting and health conditions, which ultimately will result in public health recommendations like we already have for physical activity."

Hidde van der Ploeg, Ph.D., senior research fellow, Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Australia; David Friedman, M.D., chief, heart failure services, North Shore Plainview Hospital, Plainview, N.Y.; Suzanne Steinbaum, M.D., director, Women and Heart Disease, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City, and spokesperson, American Heart Association; March 26, 2012, Archives of Internal Medicine

World Salt Awareness Week Focuses on Link between Sodium and Stroke

March 26 – April 1 is World Salt Awareness Week. There is strong evidence that eating too much sodium raises blood pressure, and high blood pressure is the most important modifiable risk factor for stroke.

About 9 in 10 Americans aged 2 years and older eat too much sodium. Most of the sodium we eat comes from packaged, processed, store-bought and restaurant food. There is strong evidence that eating too much sodium raises blood pressure, and high blood pressure is the most important modifiable risk factor for stroke. A person with normal blood pressure has half the risk of having a stroke in their lifetime compared to someone with high blood pressure.

Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. Nearly 800,000 people suffer a stroke each year, and contrary to popular belief, most of them survive – but often with serious consequences. At least half of all stroke patients are left permanently disabled with paralysis, speech difficulties, memory loss and emotional problems. Stroke survivors also face enormous medical expenses. In 2010, stroke cost the nation an estimated $54 billion in health care services, medications, and missed days of work.
Eating less sodium can help prevent or lower your risk of stroke. Current dietary guidelines recommend eating less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. If you are African American, 51 years of age or older, have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease, you should further reduce sodium to 1,500 milligrams per day.
According to a recent CDC Vital Signs report, 44% of the sodium we eat comes from only 10 types of foods.
Top Sources of Sodium in the diet:
  • Breads and rolls
  • Cold cuts and cured meats
  • Pizza
  • Poultry
  • Soups
  • Sandwiches
  • Cheese
  • Pasta dishes
  • Meat dishes
  • Snacks
To reduce sodium in your diet:
  • Read Nutrition Facts labels when shopping to find the lowest sodium options of your favorite foods.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables, either fresh, frozen (without sauce), or canned (with no salt added).
  • Limit processed foods high in sodium.
  • When eating out, request no salt be added to your meal.
Reducing sodium intake is a major part of the Million Hearts™External Web Site Icon initiative to prevent a million heart attacks and strokes over the next 5 years.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Sunburn Pain Explained; Tips on How to Beat It

Sunburn is one of the summer's most enduring stings, leaving a sore, red, peeling patch long after the day's rays give way to cooler nights. Ointments and Aspirin can help soothe the sear. But the pain, part of the body's plea for shade and sunscreen, is inevitable.
That could change.

British researchers have discovered a molecule responsible for the persistent pain caused by sunburn, offering hope for a treatment that could one day block it.
"It wasn't known before that this protein was implicated in any kind of pain," said Stephen McMahon, professor of physiology at Guy's Medical School in London. "If you wanted a cure for sunburn pain, we may have found that."

The protein, called CXCL5, was elevated in painful sunburns. And blocking the protein's effects in a rat model of sunburn relieved the pain. The study was published today in Science Translational Medicine.

But McMahon, a long time pain researcher, thinks blocking sunburn pain is a bad idea.
"Pain plays a protective role," he said, explaining how the sensation alerts its victim to looming danger. "Stopping pain is not necessarily a good thing."

Sunburns are the body's response to ultraviolet radiation, which kills some skin cells and permanently damages the DNA of others, sometimes leading to skin cancer later on. In an attempt to save the damaged cells with oxygen and nutrients, the body pumps more blood to the skin, turning it red. And the swollen blood vessels ooze plasma, causing blisters.

"By the time you see your skin turning pink, it's almost too late," said Dr. Darrell Rigel, dermatologist at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. "The damage has already happened."
That damage, Rigel said, is impossible to undo.

"The best thing you can do is protect yourself from the sun," he said. "Wear a broad-brimmed hat, avoid being outside when the sun is at its strongest, and use sunscreen. We know those three things together lower sunburn risk and subsequently lower the risk of skin cancer."
But the sun is sneaky. And even those who protect themselves fall victim to the odd pink shoulders or red feet. Rigel shared these tips for beating the pain and protecting the tender skin after a getting burned:

Take an Aspirin
Aspirin is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory that acts directly on chemicals known to play a role in sunburn pain. It will work better than acetaminophen.

Keep It Cool
The burn will release heat because of the increased blood flow. Sunburn creams that contain menthol will cool the skin.

Stay Hydrated, Moisturized
Damaged skin loses its ability to retain water. Drink lots of water, and use a heavy moisturizer like Vaseline. Avoid using topical anesthetics or antihistamines, which can lead to reactions on the newly exposed, immature skin.

Resist the Urge to Peel
Normally it takes about 28 days for the cells at the base of the skin to work their way to the surface, where they die and are shed as individual cells. But when that process is packed into fewer days by a burn, the cells have less time to separate from their neighbors, and tend to come off in sheets. Let this happen naturally. Peeling the skin can leave a scar, and can even lead to an infection.

Stay Under Cover
If you have a blistering sunburn, you should stay out of sun for a week. The skin is already damaged and more sun will make it worse. If you have to go out, wear a hat and protective clothing. The best protection comes from fabric that is wooly, dark and a tight weave -- not ideal for 90 degree heat. But new synthetic fabrics are light weight, quick to dry and offer up to 50 SPF.

Don't Forget
The tops of the feet, shoulders, nose and ears are the body parts most often missed during sunscreen slathering.

Severe headaches tied to suicide attempts

People with severe headaches, whether migraines or not, may be more likely to attempt suicide, a new study suggests.

The findings don't prove that headaches caused the suicide attempts, but a number of studies over the years have found that people with migraines tend to have a higher suicide rate than those without the problem.

But it has not been clear whether it's related specifically to the "biology of migraines," said Naomi Breslau of Michigan State University in East Lansing, who led the new study.

"We haven't known if it was the migraines or the pain more generally," Breslau told Reuters Health.
Based on these latest findings, it may be the severity of the pain that matters, migraine or not, the researchers say.

The study, reported in the journal Headache, followed nearly 1,200 Detroit-area adults. About 500 of them were migraine sufferers, while 151 had severe headaches that were not migraines. The rest Over two years, the migraine and severe-headache groups had similar rates of attempted suicide. Almost nine percent of migraine sufferers said they'd tried to kill themselves, as did 10 percent of those with severe non-migraine headaches.

That compared with a rate of just over one percent in the comparison group.

"We're ruling out that it's only migraine" that's related to suicide risk, Breslau said. Usually, she added, common tension-type headaches "don't come close" to the pain severity of migraines. But they can in some cases.

The difference is that migraines have some distinctive features -- like nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light or sound, and throbbing pain on one side of the head only.

In this study, severe non-migraines were defined as an intense headache lasting more than four hours.
So why are severe headaches related to suicide risk? Depression plays some role, Breslau said, but it doesn't tell the whole story.

When Breslau's team factored in people's history of depression, anxiety and past suicide attempts, they found that migraine and headache sufferers were still four to six times more likely to attempt suicide than the comparison group.

There may be some biological underpinnings at work, according to the researchers. Certain brain chemicals, including serotonin, are thought to be involved in severe headaches, and dysfunction in those chemicals has also been linked to suicide risk.

The bottom line, according to Breslau, is that people with severe head pain should seek help from their doctor -- or, if needed, a specialized pain clinic.

The treatment for migraine or severe headaches is often similar. If standard painkillers are not enough, doctors may recommend other medications -- like antidepressants or triptans, which raise serotonin levels.

Certain other drugs, like some high blood pressure or anti-seizure medications, are sometimes given to prevent migraine attacks.

A non-drug option is biofeedback, where people learn to control the physical responses to stress, like muscle tension -- which may help head off or ease migraine pain.
One of the researchers involved in the study reported having ties to manufacturers of migraine treatments.

Headache, online March 9, 2012

Fraud Alert for People with Diabetes

Criminals who plot to defraud the Government and steal money from the American people have a new target: people with diabetes.
Although the precise method may vary, the scheme generally involves someone pretending to be from the Government, a diabetes association, or even Medicare, calling you. The caller offers "free" diabetic supplies, such as glucose meters, diabetic test strips, or lancets. The caller may also offer other supplies such as heating pads, lift seats, foot orthotics, or joint braces, in exchange for the beneficiaries' Medicare or financial information, or confirmation of this type of personal information. Additionally, you may receive items in the mail that you did not order.
The call is a scam.
If you receive such a call, OIG recommends the following actions:

1. Protect Your Medicare and Other Personal Information

Do not provide your Medicare number or other personal information. Be suspicious of anyone who offers free items or services and then asks for your Medicare or financial information. These calls are not coming from Medicare, diabetes associations, or other similar organizations. While the caller says the items are "free," the items are still billed to Medicare. Once your Medicare information is in the hands of a dishonest person or supplier, you are susceptible to further scams. Alert others about this scheme, and remind them not to provide strangers Medicare numbers or other personal information.

2. Report the Call to Law Enforcement

Report the call to the OIG Hotline at 1-800-HHS-TIPS or online at As part of your report, provide the name of the company that called you, the company's telephone number and address, and a summary of your conversation with the caller.

3. Check Your Medicare Summary Notice and Medicare Bills

Check your Medicare Summary Notice and other medical information to see if you were charged for items you did not order or did not receive. Also, check for items that were billed multiple times, such as glucose meters, diabetes test strips and lancets, and other supplies. Report any irregular activity to your health care provider and the OIG Hotline at 1-800-HHS-TIPS or online at

4. Do Not Accept Items That You Did Not Order

You are under no obligation to accept items that you did not order. Instead, you should refuse the delivery and/or return to the sender. Keep a record of the sender's name and the date you returned the item(s) to help OIG catch any future illegal billing.
The Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (OIG) fights fraud in Government programs. As part of this effort, the OIG relies upon alert citizens to help them catch those who steal from American taxpayers.

A New Study Finds A Cup of Java Could Change Your Genes

Change your genetic makeup by drinking up ... Coffee, that is. A new study published on found that “exercise and caffeine change your DNA in the same way."

The study was reported initially in the March issue of Cell Metabolism. The study looked at the effect of exercise on inactive men and women who were in good health. The findings were that in a span of minutes the subjects’ DNA experienced an immediate effect.

“Perhaps even more tantalizing, the study suggests that the caffeine in your morning coffee might also influence muscle in essentially the same way.” Researchers say it does not affect our “underlying genetic code” but the actual DNA in the muscle.

They describe these findings as a possible precursor to being able to reprogram genetics of, “muscle for strength and, ultimately, in the structural and metabolic benefits of exercise.”
Experts at the Institute of Sweden where the study was conducted, compare our muscles to plastic, saying it takes on the results of what we do. In other words, if you are sedentary there is no change, if you activate them, they will change.

The comparison to caffeine came about “[w]hen the researchers made muscles contract in lab dishes, they saw a similar loss of DNA methyl groups. Exposure of isolated muscle to caffeine had the same effect.”

These modifications were measured by “chemical markings” on the skeletal muscle DNA which researchers say were less after both exercise and exposure to caffeine.

I have been known to hit Starbucks on the way to a workout and I will say coffee does pump me up to accelerate my speed and intensity. Many feel the same reaction, and for this reason caffeine and its effect on weight loss is another area of study in relationship to metabolic efficiency and speed.
The Mayo Clinic says that the relationship between weight loss and caffeine may not be “definitive” but there are a few theories. “Caffeine may stimulate thermogenesis — one way your body generates heat and energy from digesting food. But this probably isn't enough to produce significant weight loss.”

The Mayo Clinic says that caffeine in moderation is ok, but excessive amounts can lead to health problems such as high blood pressure, irritability and sleeplessness.

At Starbucks, I typically get plain coffee. Moderation or going for a smaller size for the fancier drinks can help limit the calories if you feel the need to indulge.

The Mayo Clinic warns that there are a lot of extra calories and fat in specialty drinks. For example, according to, “A 20 oz. Eggnog Latte weighs-in at 610 calories. A 24 oz. Frappuccino has 470 calories. If you add whipped cream, the drink contains 580 calories.”

Online References:

“Exercise and Caffeine Change Your DNA in the Same Way, Study Suggests –” Science Daily. Web. 20 March 2012.
“Does caffeine help with weight loss? –” The Mayo Clinic. Web. 20 March 2012.
“Calories in Starbucks Coffee Drinks -” Live Strong. Web 27 Sept. 2011.
Joanne Sgro-Killworth is a Television Fitness Expert, Certified Personal Trainer and Sport Nutritionist. She is Certified in Pilates, Pre-natal/Post-Partum, Yoga and Senior Fitness. She specializes in Weight Loss, Post-Rehab and Post Cancer Training.
Joanne's fitness plans and recipes are available globally on her website She resides in the Phoenix, AZ area with her husband, where she runs her personal training business, Fitness Answer, LLC.

Smoking deaths triple over decade: tobacco report

Tobacco-related deaths have nearly tripled in the past decade and big tobacco firms are undermining public efforts that could save millions, a report led by the health campaign group the World Lung Foundation (WLF) said on Wednesday.

In the report, marking the tenth anniversary of its first Tobacco Atlas, the WLF and the American Cancer Society said if current trends continue, a billion people will die from tobacco use and exposure this century - one person every six seconds.

Tobacco has killed 50 million people in the last 10 years, and tobacco is responsible for more than 15 percent of all male deaths and 7 percent of female deaths, the new Tobacco Atlas report found. (

In China, tobacco is already the number one killer - causing 1.2 million deaths a year - and that number is expected to rise to 3.5 million a year by 2030, the report said.

That is part of a broader shift, with smoking rates in the developed world declining but numbers growing in poorer regions, said Michael Eriksen, one of the report's authors and director of the Institute of Public Health at Georgia State University.

"If we don't act, the projections for the future are even more morbid. And the burden of death caused by tobacco is increasingly one of the developing world, particularly Asia, the Middle East and Africa," he said in an interview.

Almost 80 percent of people who die from tobacco-related illnesses now come from low- and middle-income countries. In Turkey, 38 percent of male deaths are from smoking-related illnesses, though smoking also remains the biggest killer of American women too.

WLF's chief executive Peter Baldini accused the tobacco industry of thriving on ignorance about the true effect of smoking and "misinformation to subvert health policies that could save millions".
The report said the industry had stepped up its fight against anti-tobacco policies, launching legal challenges and seeking to delay or stop the introduction of plain packaging, legislation banning smoking in public places, advertising bans and health warnings on packets.

The world's six biggest tobacco firms made $35.1 billion in profits in 2010 - equal to the combined earnings of Coca-Cola, Microsoft and McDonald's, the report said.

Smoking causes lung cancer as well as several other chronic pulmonary diseases and is a major risk factor in heart disease, the world's number one killer.

More than 170 countries have signed up to a World Health Organization-led convention committing them to cut smoking rates, limiting exposure to second-hand smoke, and curbing tobacco advertising and promotion.

WHO director general Margaret Chan said thanks in part to that convention, 1.1 billion people have in the past two years become covered by at least one measure designed to curb tobacco use. She added, however, that the battle was far from over and urged more countries to fight the industry.
"We must never allow the tobacco industry to get the upper hand," she said in a foreword to the report. "Tobacco is a killer. It should not be advertised, subsidized or glamorized."

Antibiotics Useless for Most Sinus Infections, Experts Say

Most sinus infections are caused by viruses and should not be treated with antibiotics, which target bacteria and are useless against viruses, new expert guidelines state.

About 14 percent (one in seven) of people are diagnosed with a sinus infection each year, and sinus infections remain the fifth leading reason for an antibiotic prescriptions. However, between 90 percent and 98 percent of the infections are caused by viruses, which are not affected by antibiotics, according to the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), which released the new advisory on Wednesday.

IDSA noted that the inappropriate overuse of antibiotics is encouraging the development of tough-to-treat, drug-resistant bacteria or "superbugs."

An inability to determine which germ is behind a particular case of sinusitis often leads to inappropriate prescribing, one expert said.

"There is no simple test that will easily and quickly determine whether a sinus infection is viral or bacterial, so many physicians prescribe antibiotics 'just in case,'" Dr. Anthony Chow, chair of the guidelines panel and professor emeritus of infectious diseases at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, said in an IDSA news release.

"However, if the infection turns out to be viral -- as most are -- the antibiotics won't help and in fact can cause harm by increasing antibiotic resistance, exposing patients to drug side effects unnecessarily and adding cost," Chow noted.

Most sinus infections -- which can cause uncomfortable pressure on either side of the nose and last for weeks -- develop during or after a cold or other respiratory infection. But other factors, such as allergens and environmental irritants, may play a role.
Experts agreed with the new guidelines.

The recommendations "recognize two common problems with previous guidelines: bacterial rhinosinusitis is overdiagnosed and antibiotic resistance among common sinus pathogens has increased significantly," said Dr. Richard Lebowitz, an otolaryngologist at NYU Langone Medical Center and associate professor at the NYU School of Medicine, in New York City.
He believes the recommendations are an "improvement" on prior guidelines, but there are also "potential pitfalls" if a diagnosis isn't clear. "The gold standard [for diagnosis], and the only way to avoid misdiagnosis and improper treatment, is with endoscopy-based diagnosis and culture-directed antibiotic therapy," Lebowitz said.

Another expert noted that there is often "confusion" in distinguishing viral from bacterial sinusitis, because symptoms are often similar. Still, "most patients want some kind of treatment when they go to the doctor," said Dr. Linda Dahl, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "The new guidelines establish updated recommendations for treating these patients in the primary care setting," she said.

The IDSA guidelines also recommend treating the small fraction of sinus infections caused by bacteria with amoxicillin-clavulanate, rather than the current standard of care, amoxicillin. This recommendation was made due to increases in antibiotic resistance as well as the widespread use of pneumococcal vaccines, which have altered the pattern of bacteria that cause sinus infections, Chow explained.
The guidelines also recommend shorter antibiotic treatment times (five to seven days) for adults with bacterial sinus infections.

Patients with either bacterial or viral sinus infections should avoid decongestants and antihistamines, IDSA added. They are not helpful and could make symptoms worse, the IDSA team said. Nasal steroids may help people with sinus infections who have a history of allergies. Nasal irrigation using a sterile solution in the form of spray, drops or liquid may help relieve some symptoms, according to the guidelines.

Dahl said she found the guidelines, "very useful and in line with the way I practice with a few exceptions." On the issue of decongestants, she said, "I advocate for decongestants in relieving symptoms and preventing viral infections from turning into bacterial infections. The sinuses are literally holes in our skull that produce mucus. If the lining of the sinuses becomes inflamed the mucus cannot drain and can harbor bacterial growth. By keeping the passages open (with decongestants and nasal sprays) the sinuses can heal more quickly."

Other treatments might help some patients, Dahl added, including "manual suctioning of the sinuses, topical antibiotics [in certain cases], and anti-inflammatories such as fish oil that are quite helpful and speed recovery. And most importantly, rest and good sleeping habits."

Linda Dahl, M.D., ear, nose and throat specialist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; Richard A. Lebowitz, M.D., FACS, otolaryngologist, NYU Langone Medical Center, and associate professor, NYU School of Medicine, New York City; Infectious Diseases Society of America, news release, March 21, 2012

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Why Butterflies Sleep Together

Credit: Susan Finkbeiner

When it's time to settle in for the night, red postman butterflies (Heliconius erato) often roost in groups of four or five. To figure out why, researchers hung several thousand fake versions of the insects around the forest in Panama and Costa Rica. To measure bird attacks, they counted beak marks on the dummies' modeling-clay bodies and wax-coated paper wings. Individuals perched alone or in pairs were more than six times as likely to be attacked as were models perched in groups of five. The effect went beyond a simple sharing of risk among group members: Each roost of five, considered as a unit, was less likely than a singleton to experience an attack, the team reports online today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The researchers argue that the butterflies' bright markings, which advertise their toxicity to predators, are more effective when amplified in a group.

Holy Flying Plankton!

Plankton bring the flea circus to the ocean. Like flying trapeze artists or tumbling acrobats, these tiniest of marine animals can really soar above the water's surface. Researchers have caught two species of miniscule crustaceans, called copepods, performing never-before-seen feats of athleticism: To avoid predators, they leap out of the water, completing arcs in the air about 40 times their own length.
Study co-author Brad Gemmell, a marine biologist at the University of Texas, Austin, owes the discovery to his daily routine. On most days after lunch, he takes a short stroll along the university's marina, which sits on the Gulf of Mexico in Port Aransas. On one such walk, he noticed an unusual pattern on the water: "It looked like rain drops hitting the surface," he says. "I thought, 'That's kind of strange.' "
Gemmell ran back to his lab, grabbed a beaker, and scooped up some of the marina water. What he found were lots of copepods—crustaceans smaller than most ants that look like tiny lobsters. He placed the creatures into a tank shared by plankton-eating fish, then watched as some of the copepods literally jumped to safety, landing back down with tiny splashes. Gemmell was amazed. That's not a behavior scientists had ever described before.

Three, two, one ... blast off! By beating all of their 10 legs once, copepods belonging to the species Labidocera aestiva (top) and Anomalocera ornata (photo on left, bottom) are able to overcome the drag from their environment and breach the water's surface.
Credit: (copepod, left) Brad Gemmell; (diagram, right) B. J. Gemmell et al., Proc.R. Soc. B (2012)
So he and his colleagues returned to the marina, this time armed with video cameras. There, they identified two species of jumping crustaceans: Anomalocera ornata—the copepods he had collected on his lunch break—and another related species, Labidocera aestiva. Both are considered big for copepods, reaching a few millimeters in length. The team recorded 89 A. ornata individuals springing for cover as small and predatory fish neared. The animals practically flew, hitting speeds of about 0.66 meters per second in midair and landing up to 17 centimeters away, the group reports online today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Next, the team collected dozens of L. aestiva copepods and recorded their underwater takeoffs using high-speed video in the lab. Amazingly, the crustaceans launched themselves using just a single swimming stroke in which they kicked each of their five pairs of spindly legs in rapid succession. Just escaping from the water cost the animals up to 88% of their initial energy. But thanks to the low density of air, once the copepods breached, they soared. "They actually travel many times farther through the air than they could with the same jump through the water," Gemmell says. They spun furiously, somersaulting at rates up to 7500 revolutions per minute.
In comparison, other leaping aquatic animals, such as flying fish, lose much less energy in breaching but, due to their greater mass, can't fly nearly as far on their own momentum. Gemmell suspects that A. ornata and L. aestiva both evolved their acrobatic displays largely because they're relatively big, making them easy for fish to spot. Their tumbles likely take them well out of a close predator's line of sight; in the marina, only one of the 89 jumping crustaceans wound up getting eaten on camera.
The study shows just how active some plankton can be, says Jeannette Yen, a biological oceanographer who investigates copepod behavior at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. For years, many scientists had assumed that these creatures were only "passive drifters," she says. But that's not the case. Although copepods are pushed and pulled by the currents, she says, "within that realm, they perform amazing behaviors."
Petra Lenz, a marine biologist at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, adds that many biologists likely suspected that some plankton could fly. She used to wonder why the A. ornata individuals she collected always became stuck to the sides of her buckets, well out of the water. It's about time someone finally caught them in the act, she says.

A Fly's Imperfect Disguise

Credit: Steve Marshall

The fly on the left is a puzzle. In theory, it should have evolved to look just as wasplike as the one on the right, the better to ward off hungry birds. But many members of the family Syrphidae, to which both flies belong, only vaguely resemble stinging insects. Scientists have suggested that these mimics are imprecise because they simultaneously copy multiple species, or that humans see imperfections invisible to birds. To test these and other explanations, researchers examined 38 species of hover flies (Syrphidae) and 10 species of bees and wasps. After a statistical analysis of the insects' body measurements and colors, as well as their abundance and ability to trick both humans and birds, the authors discarded most of the existing explanations. Instead, they report online today in Nature, the answer comes down to size: Big flies were the best mimics and small, housefly-sized ones the worst. The team suggests that, because birds prefer to eat larger flies, the little ones simply aren't under as much pressure to evolve perfect disguises.

Insects Behind Chagas Disease Are Feeding on Humans in the U.S.

Insects that are part of a family of bugs that transmit Chagas disease are well-established and feeding on human blood in certain regions of the United States, a new study finds.

What remains a mystery, however, is why the insects infect millions in Central and South America with Chagas disease, a serious condition that can lead to life-threatening digestive and heart problems, yet few such cases have been documented in the United States.

So far, researchers have documented only seven cases of Chagas in the United States.
"The basic message is that the bug is out there, it's feeding on humans, and it carries the parasite, so there may be greater potential for humans to have the disease in the United States than previously thought," Lori Stevens, a biologist at the University of Vermont, said in a university news release. "Very likely, with climate change they will shift further north and the range of some species will extend."

In the study, which was published online March 14 in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, researchers collected specimens from the Reduviid family of insects in Arizona and California.
About 38 percent of the black, wingless insects, also known as "kissing bugs" because they bite sleeping humans around the mouth, contained human blood. Researchers said this was an unexpected finding because the 11 species of kissing bugs found in the United States were not known to feed on people.

More than half of the insects contained Trypanosoma cruzi, the parasite that causes Chagas disease.
Researchers speculate that the prevalence of the disease could be greater than previously thought.
"We think the actual transmission is higher than the seven cases we have identified," study co-author Patricia Dorn, an expert on Chagas disease at Loyola University in New Orleans, said in the news release. "But even with these findings, we think the transmission of Chagas -- of the T. cruzi parasite -- is still very low in the U.S."

The initial symptoms of Chagas disease can be vague, including fever and swelling around one eye and at the site of the bug bite. The disease can go into remission and reemerge years later as a more serious illness, resulting in potentially deadly digestive and heart problems.
The bug's saliva also can lead to severe allergic reactions.

Researchers theorized the bug hasn't become more widespread in the United States because most homes in the country are made with concrete basements, screened doors and windows, and tighter construction. In contrast, kissing bugs have thrived among the thatched roofs, stick-and-mud construction and dirt floors found in rural and poor regions of Central and South America.

Another theory is that unlike the kissing bugs found in other countries, the species found in the United States do not defecate while they are feeding on their host. As a result, there is less opportunity for the parasite that causes Chagas disease to enter the bloodstream.

One way to prevent the spread of Chagas disease is to use screens or close windows at night. Campers should close their tents or sleeping bags.

The study's authors said they hoped to examine a larger sample of kissing bugs from more areas in the United States.

"Chagas isn't going to spread fast, but it could spread," Stevens said. "Finding out how prevalent it is now would be a good idea."

University of Vermont, news release, March 15, 2012

Northeast U.S. Should Brace for Spike in Lyme Disease: Expert

The northeastern United States may see a significant increase in cases of Lyme disease this spring, an expert warns.

The reason is that oak trees produced relatively few acorns this year, part of a normal cycle of boom and bust years for the acorn crop. But the small crop means trouble for the white-footed mouse, which feeds on the acorns.

"We had a boom in acorns, followed by a boom in mice. And now, on the heels of one of the smallest acorn crops we've ever seen, the mouse population is crashing," Richard Ostfeld, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y., said in an institute news release.
What does that have to do with Lyme disease?

Mice are the preferred host for black-legged ticks, which transmit Lyme disease. Black-legged ticks need a bloodmeal at three different stages -- as larvae, as nymphs and as adults. As of the spring, the larval ticks that fed on 2011's large mouse population will be looking for their nymphal meal.
"This spring, there will be a lot of Borrelia burgdorferi-infected black-legged ticks in our forests looking for a blood meal. And instead of finding a white-footed mouse, they are going to find other mammals -- like us," Ostfeld added.

Borrelia burgdorferi is the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.

Ostfeld and colleagues predict the surge will begin in May and last until July. The researchers observed a similar boom-bust cycle of acorn crops and mouse populations in 2006 and 2007. In the wake of this cycle, nymphal black-legged ticks reached a 20-year high.

The bacteria that ticks transmit doesn't affect mice. But in humans, it can cause Lyme disease, which can cause chronic fatigue, joint pain and neurological problems if it goes untreated.

The Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, news release, March 16, 2012

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

New strain of whooping cough emerging

A team of scientists led by the University of NSW found the emerging whooping cough strain was responsible for 84 per cent of cases since 2008, when the current epidemic started.

Associate Professor Ruiting Lan, from the university's School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, said the findings of its two-year study suggested the current vaccination could be contributing to new and more dangerous strains of the potentially fatal disease.

The study, published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, analysed about 200 samples of the bacterium responsible for whooping cough, Bordetella pertussis, from NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia, from 2008 to 2010.

Prof Lan said the current vaccine was effective against most forms of whooping cough, but a new strategy was needed combat the ongoing epidemic.

"The vaccine is still the best way to reduce transmission of the disease and reduce cases, but it appears to be less effective against the new strain and immunity wanes more rapidly," he said in a statement.
"We need to look at changes to the vaccine itself or increase the number of boosters."
About 38,000 cases of whooping cough were reported nationally last year despite the vaccine's high uptake in Australia.

This compared to 35,000 in 2009, according to the study.
The new strain has also been detected in other countries with a similar rate of vaccine uptake.
The current vaccination was introduced in 1997 following concerns about the side effects of the previous antigen.

Whooping cough is particularly dangerous in babies who are at greatest risk of infection until they are vaccinated at two, four and six months.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

New Screening Guidelines for Cervical Cancer

The American Cancer Society today released new screening recommendations for the prevention and early detection of cervical cancer. Screenings are tests for women who have no symptoms of cervical cancer. Among the changes: the American Cancer Society no longer recommends that women get a Pap test every year.

During the past few decades, screening has reduced deaths from cervical cancer, as doctors have been able to find cancer early and treat it, or prevent it from ever developing. Researchers continue to find out more about what causes cervical cancer, and the best ways to screen for it.
There are 2 types of tests used for cervical cancer screening.
  • The Pap test can find early cell changes and treat them before they become cancer. The Pap test can also find cervical cancer early, when it’s easier to treat.
  • The HPV (human papilloma virus) test finds certain infections that can lead to cell changes and cancer. HPV infections are very common, and most go away by themselves and don’t cause these problems. The HPV test may be used along with a Pap test, or to help doctors decide how to treat women who have an abnormal Pap test.
The American Cancer Society regularly reviews the science and updates screening recommendations when new evidence suggests that a change may be needed. The latest recommendations are:
  • All women should begin cervical cancer screening at age 21.
  • Women between the ages of 21 and 29 should have a Pap test every 3 years. They should not be tested for HPV unless it is needed after an abnormal Pap test result.
  • Women between the ages of 30 and 65 should have both a Pap test and an HPV test every 5 years. This is the preferred approach, but it is also OK to have a Pap test alone every 3 years.
  • Women over age 65 who have had regular screenings with normal results should not be screened for cervical cancer. Women who have been diagnosed with cervical pre-cancer should continue to be screened.
  • Women who have had their uterus and cervix removed in a hysterectomy and have no history of cervical cancer or pre-cancer should not be screened.
  • Women who have had the HPV vaccine should still follow the screening recommendations for their age group.
  • Women who are at high risk for cervical cancer may need to be screened more often. Women at high risk might include those with HIV infection, organ transplant, or exposure to the drug DES. They should talk with their doctor or nurse.
In short, the American Cancer Society no longer recommends that women get a Pap test every year, because it generally takes much longer than that, 10 to 20 years, for cervical cancer to develop and overly frequent screening could lead to procedures that are not needed.

Insight Into a Shocking Therapy for Depression

Since the 1930s, doctors have been jolting the brains of depressed patients with electricity to relieve their symptoms. The treatment, known as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), works, but it can cause memory loss and confusion and lead to difficulty forming new memories. Today, physicians generally limit it to patients who are severely ill, including those at risk for suicide. Now, a brain-imaging study highlights the part of the brain most affected, perhaps pointing to safer, less-invasive ways to achieve the same results.

Depression may be caused by an overactive brain, says physicist and neuroscientist Christian Schwarzbauer of the University of Aberdeen in the United Kingdom. "There may be so much internal communication that the brain becomes preoccupied with itself, less able to process information coming in from the outside world," he says, noting that studies have found that people with depression have heightened connectivity among brain networks involved in paying attention, monitoring internal and external cues, remembering the past, and controlling emotions.

In a 2010 study, psychiatrist Yvette Sheline and colleagues at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, found that these overactive networks converged on a common point in a region called the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex. This common point, dubbed the dorsal nexus, may "hot wire" the brain networks together in a way that leads to depression, the authors hypothesized.
It may be this nexus that's affected by ECT, according to the new findings. In a study led by psychiatrist Ian Reid of Aberdeen, Schwarzbauer and colleagues performed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans of nine depressed patients before and after ECT. Rather than focusing on activity in previously suspected brain areas, the researchers examined connectivity in the brain as a whole, examining changes in blood oxygenation in about 27,000 points known as voxels (the 3D imaging equivalent of pixels on a computer screen). Voxels were considered to be highly connected if their changes in blood oxygenation were strongly correlated—if one went up and the other went up to a similar degree.

After treatment with ECT, connectivity was dramatically decreased in one cluster of voxels around an area called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the researchers report today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Decreases in connectivity reflected improvements in symptoms, as reported by the patients. The area of decreased connectivity includes the dorsal nexus previously identified by Sheline and colleagues. This finding indicates that ECT reduces the influence of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex on this nexus.

Because the dorsal nexus is a place where attention, memory, and emotion all converge, its emergence as the target of ECT explains both the therapy's success and the side effects of memory impairment, the authors write.

"This is an important study. It provides insight into a likely mechanism for ECT," Sheline says. She adds that both antidepressant treatment and cognitive therapy have been shown to reduce excessive connectivity in some areas.

But research psychologist Jennifer Perrin, co-author of the new paper, cautions: "It still isn't known whether these approaches reduce connectivity in the specific area that we found." She says further research is needed to see whether this effect is unique to ECT or is a feature of other treatments as well.
Perrin says the finding may open the door to treatments that target the area more directly. For example, in transcranial magnetic stimulation, a magnetic field is passed over the scalp above this part of the brain; a similar study could explore whether this technique could be made more effective. The authors' method of analyzing connectivity could also be used to study other disorders, such as schizophrenia, autism, or dementia, she says.

More Insight on Possible Role of Vitamin D Against Alzheimer's

Scientists have pinpointed how vitamin D3 works with some of the body's cells to help clear the brain of amyloid beta, the main component of plaques that are seen in Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers took blood samples from Alzheimer's patients and healthy people and then isolated immune cells called macrophages, which consume amyloid beta and other waste products in the brain and the body.

They found that vitamin D3 may activate certain genes and cellular signaling networks to trigger the immune system to clear amyloid beta, according to the study published in the March 6 issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

Previous research by the same University of California, Los Angeles, team found that therapy with vitamin D3 and curcumin -- a chemical found in the spice turmeric -- seemed to boost the ability of macrophages to clear amyloid beta from the brains of Alzheimer's patients. However, it wasn't known how this might work.

"This new study helped clarify the key mechanisms involved, which will help us better understand the usefulness of vitamin D3 and curcumin as possible therapies for Alzheimer's disease," study author Dr. Milan Fiala, a researcher at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the Veterans Affairs Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, said in a UCLA news release.

SOURCE: University of California, Los Angeles, Health Sciences, news release, March 6, 2012

Can Statins Prevent Parkinson's Disease?

People taking popular cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins may have a slightly lower risk than others of developing Parkinson's disease, new research suggests.

This effect may be even more pronounced among people younger than 60, according to the study published in the March issue of Archives of Neurology.

However, the risk reduction was modest and may have been due to chance, the authors said, noting that more research is warranted, especially because statins can cause adverse side effects.
"There is no clear verdict," said Dr. Stuart Isaacson, director of the Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders Center of Boca Raton, who was not involved in the study.

"Right now we don't have any good evidence that there is anything we can do to reduce the risk of developing Parkinson's disease, but research is ongoing," added Isaacson, also an associate professor of neurology at Florida International University's Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine in Miami.
For the study, researchers led by Dr. Xiang Gao, of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard University School of Public Health in Boston, analyzed data on more than 38,000 men and almost 91,000 women enrolled in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study and the Nurses' Health Study in 1994.

During 12 years of follow-up, 644 people were diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. People taking cholesterol-lowering drugs, especially those younger than 60, were less likely to develop the neurological disorder than those not using cholesterol drugs, the researchers found.

Nearly one million people in the United States have Parkinson's disease, a chronic and progressive movement disorder, and no one knows what causes it.

The researchers can't say exactly how -- or even if -- statins reduce the risk of Parkinson's. It's thought these drugs may have potent anti-inflammatory effects, which could protect the brain.

The study had some limitations, the authors acknowledged. For example, only about 70 percent of people who were taking drugs to lower cholesterol were actually on statins at the study's start.
Dr. Roy Alcalay, an assistant professor of neurology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, said it is way too early to say that statins lower risk for Parkinson's disease. "This is a promising avenue for future research," said Alcalay, an advisor for the Parkinson's Disease Foundation.
But there is some good news, he added. The data are compelling evidence that statins are not detrimental for people with or at risk of Parkinson's disease, he said. There was a concern that statins could be harmful as they might lower the level of coenzyme Q10 in the blood. Co-Q10, an antioxidant, is thought to have benefits for people with Parkinson's disease.

"If you need to be on statins for your heart, it is not going to increase your risk for Parkinson's," Alcalay said.

SOURCES: Stuart Isaacson, M.D., director, Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders Center of Boca Raton, and associate professor, neurology, Florida International University, Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, Miami, Fla.; Roy Alcalay, M.D., assistant professor, neurology, Columbia University Medical Center, New York City, and advisor, Parkinson's Disease Foundation; March 2012, Archives of Neurology