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Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Trump Administration Says It Isn’t Anti-Science As It Seeks to Slash EPA Science Office

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Actions speak ever so much louder than words. Lisa Song reports in ProPublica:

When the city of Toledo temporarily lost access to clean drinking water several years ago after a bloom of toxic algae, the Environmental Protection Agency sent scientists from its Office of Research and Development to study health effects and formulate solutions.

The same office was on the front lines of the Flint water crisis and was a critical presence in handling medical waste from the U.S. Ebola cases in 2014.

Thomas Burke, who directed ORD during the last two years of the Obama administration and was the agency’s science adviser, calls the office the nation’s “scientific backstop in emergencies.”

President Trump’s 2018 budget would slash ORD’s funding in half as part of an overall goal to cut the EPA’s budget by 31 percent.

A statement from EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt did not directly address the cuts to ORD, but offered broad defense of the proposed agency budget, saying it “respects the American taxpayer” and “supports EPA’s highest priorities with federal funding for priority work in infrastructure, air and water quality, and ensuring the safety of chemicals in the marketplace.”

ORD has no regulatory authority, but it conducts the bulk of the research that underlies EPA policies. ORD scientists are involved in “virtually every major environmental challenge the nation has,” Burke said. Diminishing the role and input of the office, he said, risked leaving the country “uninformed about risks and public health.”

“In time, you’re flying blind,” he said. “Everything becomes a mystery.”

Trump’s budget, released Tuesday, reflects the president’s wish list. The numbers likely will change by the time it goes through the congressional appropriations process, but the proposed cuts are consistent with the administration’s push against environmental regulation and scientific funding. Many of the cuts fall on agencies involved with climate change research, including the EPA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.

Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, told reporters in a Tuesday briefing that the budget reduces climate science funding without eliminating it.

“Do we target it? Sure,” Mulvaney said in response to a reporter’s question. “Do a lot of the EPA reductions aim at reducing the focus on climate science? Yes. Does it mean that we are anti-science? Absolutely not. We’re simply trying to get things back in order to where we can look at the folks who pay the taxes, and say, look, yeah, we want to do some climate science, but we’re not going to do some of the crazy stuff the previous administration did.”

Much of the EPA’s climate research takes place in the Office of Air and Radiation, which is separate from ORD. But ORD studies the strategic, long-term effects of climate change, including the effects on agriculture and the oceans, Burke said.

Christine Todd Whitman, a former EPA administrator who worked for George W. Bush from 2001 to June 2003, said the proposed ORD cuts are more drastic than anything she can remember.

Whitman said she expects Congress will restore much of the funding, but she worries about the message behind the budget.

“A budget to me was always a policy document,” she said. Regardless of what Congress does, this administration’s policy “indicates to me [that] they’ll be looking for other ways to … stifle the research and slow it down,” she said. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2017 at 2:48 pm

Trump wasn’t always so linguistically challenged. What could explain the change?

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Sharon Begley writes at STAT, a national publication focused on finding and telling compelling stories about health, medicine, and scientific discovery:

It was the kind of utterance that makes professional transcribers question their career choice:

“ … there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign, but I can always speak for myself — and the Russians, zero.”

When President Trump offered that response to a question at a press conference last week, it was the latest example of his tortured syntax, mid-thought changes of subject, and apparent trouble formulating complete sentences, let alone a coherent paragraph, in unscripted speech.

He was not always so linguistically challenged.

STAT reviewed decades of Trump’s on-air interviews and compared them to Q&A sessions since his inauguration. The differences are striking and unmistakable.

Research has shown that changes in speaking style can result from cognitive decline. STAT therefore asked experts in neurolinguistics and cognitive assessment, as well as psychologists and psychiatrists, to compare Trump’s speech from decades ago to that in 2017; they all agreed there had been a deterioration, and some said it could reflect changes in the health of Trump’s brain.

In interviews Trump gave in the 1980s and 1990s (with Tom Brokaw, David Letterman, Oprah Winfrey, Charlie Rose, and others), he spoke articulately, used sophisticated vocabulary, inserted dependent clauses into his sentences without losing his train of thought, and strung together sentences into a polished paragraph, which — and this is no mean feat — would have scanned just fine in print. This was so even when reporters asked tough questions about, for instance, his divorce, his brush with bankruptcy, and why he doesn’t build housing for working-class Americans.

Trump fluently peppered his answers with words and phrases such as “subsided,” “inclination,” “discredited,” “sparring session,” and “a certain innate intelligence.” He tossed off well-turned sentences such as, “It could have been a contentious route,” and, “These are the only casinos in the United States that are so rated.” He even offered thoughtful, articulate aphorisms: “If you get into what’s missing, you don’t appreciate what you have,” and, “Adversity is a very funny thing.”

Now, Trump’s vocabulary is simpler. He repeats himself over and over, and lurches from one subject to an unrelated one, as in this answer during an interview with the Associated Press last month:

“People want the border wall. My base definitely wants the border wall, my base really wants it — you’ve been to many of the rallies. OK, the thing they want more than anything is the wall. My base, which is a big base; I think my base is 45 percent. You know, it’s funny. The Democrats, they have a big advantage in the Electoral College. Big, big, big advantage. … The Electoral College is very difficult for a Republican to win, and I will tell you, the people want to see it. They want to see the wall.”

For decades, studies have found that deterioration in the fluency, complexity, and vocabulary level of spontaneous speech can indicate slipping brain function due to normal aging or neurodegenerative disease. STAT and the experts therefore considered only unscripted utterances, not planned speeches and statements, since only the former tap the neural networks that offer a window into brain function. . .

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Videos of Trump speaking, then and now, at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2017 at 11:40 am

Why Chocolate May Be Good for the Heart

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I file this under “good news.” Nicholas Bakalar reports in the NY Times:

Eating chocolate has been tied to a reduced risk of heart disease. Now scientists have uncovered one possible reason.

Using data from a large Danish health study, researchers have found an association between chocolate consumption and a lowered risk for atrial fibrillation, the irregular heartbeat that can lead to stroke, heart failure and other serious problems. The study is in Heart.

Scientists tracked diet and health in 55,502 men and women ages 50 to 64. They used a well-validated 192-item food-frequency questionnaire to determine chocolate consumption. During an average 14 years of follow-up, there were 3,346 diagnosed cases of atrial fibrillation.

After controlling for total calorie intake, smoking, alcohol consumption, body mass index and other factors, they found that compared with people who ate no chocolate, those who had one to three one-ounce servings a month had a 10 percent reduced relative risk for atrial fibrillation, those who ate one serving a week had a 17 percent reduced risk, and those who ate two to six a week had a 20 percent reduced risk.

Dark chocolate with higher cocoa content is better, according to the lead author, Elizabeth Mostofsky, an instructor at Harvard, because it is the cocoa, not the milk and sugar, that provides the benefit. Still, she warned about overindulgence.

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Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2017 at 9:51 am

Posted in Food, Health, Science

A Public Service Announcement from Kevin Drum

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In all seriousness. Kevin Drum posts at Mother Jones:

Do you have a friend or relative who’s having a lot more “senior moments” than they used to? Your doctor has ways to diagnose what’s really going on. She can perform neurological exams, mental status tests, mood assessments, and, in cases where the patient has unusually heavy responsibilities that make it especially important to get a firm diagnosis, brain imaging scans that distinguish between healthy neurons and diseased neurons:

In patients who are showing signs of dementia, brains scans will show a buildup of amyloid plaque that destroys the tau proteins that keep the brain’s messaging system running smoothly. The result is disintegrating microtubules and tangled nerve cells.

Don’t worry: insurance will cover the cost of these tests if you work for a large employer like the federal government. So keep an eye out for the warning signs: isolation from friends,1 irritability and unpredictable fits of temper,2 poor judgment,3difficulty speaking plainly,4 trouble understanding visual images like maps,5 difficulty planning things,6 and memory lapses.7

1cnn.com/2017/05/12/politics/trump-comey-white-house-morale-fallout/
2redux.slate.com/cover-stories/2017/05/trumps-rage-powers-his-ruthlessness-and-his-ineptitude.html
3nytimes.com/2017/05/15/us/politics/trump-russia-classified-information-isis.html
4portlandmercury.com/blogtown/2017/04/25/18971137/the-best-parts-of-trumps-trainwreck-ap-interview
5cnn.com/videos/politics/2017/04/28/trump-electoral-maps-reuters-interview-newday.cnn
6politico.com/story/2017/05/15/donald-trump-fake-news-238379
7nbcnews.com/video/trump-forgets-to-sign-executive-order-911564355790

Written by LeisureGuy

16 May 2017 at 8:53 am

A little cannabis every day might keep brain ageing at bay

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Michael Le Page writes in New Scientist:

In some cultures, it’s traditional for elders to smoke grass, a practice said to help them pass on tribal knowledge. It turns out that they might just be onto something.

Teenagers who toke perform less well on memory and attention tasks while under the influence. But low doses of the active ingredient in cannabis, THC, might have the opposite effect on the elderly, reversing brain ageing and restoring learning and memory – at least according to studies of mice.

“We repeated these experiments many times,” says team leader Andreas Zimmer at the University of Bonn, Germany. “It’s a very robust and profound effect.”

Zimmer’s team has been studying the mammalian endocannabinoid system, which is involved in balancing out our bodies’ response to stress. THC affects us by mimicking similar molecules in this system, calming us down.

The researchers discovered that mice with genetic mutations that stop this endocannabinoid system from working properly age faster than normal mice, and show more cognitive decline. This made Zimmer wonder if stimulating the endocannabinoid system in elderly mice might have the opposite effect.

Brain boost

To find out, the team gave young (2-month-old), middle-aged (12-month-old) and elderly (18-month-old) mice a steady dose of THC. The amount they received was too small to give them psychoactive effects.

After a month, the team tested the mice’s ability to perform cognitive tasks, such as finding their way around mazes, or recognising other individuals.

In the control groups, which received no THC, the young mice performed far better than the middle-aged and elderly mice. But the middle-aged and elderly mice who had been given THC performed as well as the young mice in the control group.

Further studies showed that THC boosted the number of connections between brain cells in the hippocampus, which is involved in memory formation. “It’s a quite striking finding,” says Zimmer.

Age effect

But THC seemed to have the opposite effect in young mice: when they were given THC, their performance in some tasks declined.

Young people also perform worse in learning and memory tests in the hours and days after smoking cannabis, but a joint delivers far higher doses than the mice received. Claims that heavy marijuana use can permanently impair cognition are disputed.

Zimmer thinks his findings show that both too much and too little stimulation is harmful. The endocannabinoid system is most active in young mice (and people), so extra THC may overstimulate it. In older mice, by contrast, endocannabinoid activity declines, so a little THC restores it to optimum levels.

Human trial

The team’s findings aren’t that surprising, says neuropsychopharmacologist David Nutt of Imperial College London. Animal studies have shown that the cannabinoids the body produces itself can have beneficial effects on the brain. And Nutt and his colleagues have also found that THC use protects alcoholics from alcohol-induced brain damage.

Zimmer’s team is now planning human trials to find out whether older people can benefit from low doses of THC too and, if so, from what age it is beneficial. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

10 May 2017 at 2:07 pm

20 and 50 Grams of Carbs – How Much Food Is That?

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Interesting article with several photo comparisons at DietDoctor.com. Here’s one:

Scroll to the bottom of the post at the link above for more visual comparisons.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 May 2017 at 8:58 am

Why Everything We Know About Salt May Be Wrong

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Gina Kolata reports in the NY Times:

The salt equation taught to doctors for more than 200 years is not hard to understand.

The body relies on this essential mineral for a variety of functions, including blood pressure and the transmission of nerve impulses. Sodium levels in the blood must be carefully maintained.

If you eat a lot of salt — sodium chloride — you will become thirsty and drink water, diluting your blood enough to maintain the proper concentration of sodium. Ultimately you will excrete much of the excess salt and water in urine.

The theory is intuitive and simple. And it may be completely wrong.

New studies of Russian cosmonauts, held in isolation to simulate space travel, show that eating more salt made them less thirsty but somehow hungrier. Subsequent experiments found that mice burned more calories when they got more salt, eating 25 percent more just to maintain their weight.

The research, published recently in two dense papers in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, contradicts much of the conventional wisdom about how the body handles salt and suggests that high levels may play a role in weight loss.

Continue reading the main story

The findings have stunned kidney specialists.

“This is just very novel and fascinating,” said Dr. Melanie Hoenig, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “The work was meticulously done.”

Dr. James R. Johnston, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, marked each unexpected finding in the margins of the two papers. The studies were covered with scribbles by the time he was done.

“Really cool,” he said, although he added that the findings need to be replicated.

The new studies are the culmination of a decades-long quest by a determined scientist, Dr. Jens Titze, now a kidney specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the Interdisciplinary Center for Clinical Research in Erlangen, Germany.

In 1991, as a medical student in Berlin, he took a class on human physiology in extreme environments. The professor who taught the course worked with the European space program and presented data from a simulated 28-day mission in which a crew lived in a small capsule.

The main goal was to learn how the crew members would get along. But the scientists also had collected the astronauts’ urine and other physiological markers.

Dr. Titze noticed something puzzling in the crew members’ data: Their urine volumes went up and down in a seven-day cycle. That contradicted all he’d been taught in medical school: There should be no such temporal cycle.

In 1994, the Russian space program decided to do a 135-day simulation of life on the Mir space station. Dr. Titze arranged to go to Russia to study urine patterns among the crew members and how these were affected by salt in the diet.

A striking finding emerged: a 28-day rhythm in the amount of sodium the cosmonauts’ bodies retained that was not linked to the amount of urine they produced. And the sodium rhythms were much more pronounced than the urine patterns.

The sodium levels should have been rising and falling with the volume of urine. Although the study wasn’t perfect — the crew members’ sodium intake was not precisely calibrated — Dr. Titze was convinced something other than fluid intake was influencing sodium stores in the crew’s bodies.

The conclusion, he realized, “was heresy.”

In 2006, the Russian space program announced two more simulation studies, one lasting 105 days and the other 520 days. Dr. Titze saw a chance to figure out whether his anomalous findings were real.

In the shorter simulation, the cosmonauts ate a diet containing 12 grams of salt daily, followed by nine grams daily, and then a low-salt diet of six grams daily, each for a 28-day period. In the longer mission, the cosmonauts also ate an additional cycle of 12 grams of salt daily.

Like most of us, the cosmonauts liked their salt. Oliver Knickel, 33, a German citizen participating in the program who is now an automotive engineer in Stuttgart, recalled that even the food that supplied 12 grams a day was not salty enough for him.

When the salt level got down to six grams, he said, “It didn’t taste good.”

The real shocker came when Dr. Titze measured the amount of sodium excreted in the crew’s urine, the volume of their urine, and the amount of sodium in their blood.

The mysterious patterns in urine volume persisted, but everything seemed to proceed according to the textbooks. When the crew ate more salt, they excreted more salt; the amount of sodium in their blood remained constant, and their urine volume increased.

“But then we had a look at fluid intake, and were more than surprised,” he said.

Instead of drinking more, the crew were drinking less in the long run when getting more salt. So where was the excreted water coming from?

“There was only one way to explain this phenomenon,” Dr. Titze said. “The body most likely had generated or produced water when salt intake was high.”

Another puzzle: The crew complained that they were always hungry on the high-salt diet. Dr. Titze assured them that they were getting exactly enough food to maintain their weights, and were eating the same amount on the lower-salt diets, when hunger did not seem to be problem.

But urine tests suggested another explanation. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 May 2017 at 9:40 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

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