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By Benedict Carey “In my head, I churn over every sentence ten times, delete a word, add an adjective, and learn my text by heart, paragraph by paragraph,” wrote Jean-Dominique Bauby in his memoir, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” In the book, Mr. Bauby, a journalist and editor, recalled his life before and after a paralyzing stroke that left him virtually unable to move a muscle; he tapped out the book letter by letter, by blinking an eyelid. Thousands of people are reduced to similarly painstaking means of communication as a result of injuries suffered in accidents or combat, of strokes, or of neurodegenerative disorders such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or A.L.S., that disable the ability to speak. Now, scientists are reporting that they have developed a virtual prosthetic voice, a system that decodes the brain’s vocal intentions and translates them into mostly understandable speech, with no need to move a muscle, even those in the mouth. (The physicist and author Stephen Hawking used a muscle in his cheek to type keyboard characters, which a computer synthesized into speech.) “It’s formidable work, and it moves us up another level toward restoring speech” by decoding brain signals, said Dr. Anthony Ritaccio, a neurologist and neuroscientist at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., who was not a member of the research group. Researchers have developed other virtual speech aids. Those work by decoding the brain signals responsible for recognizing letters and words, the verbal representations of speech. But those approaches lack the speed and fluidity of natural speaking. The new system, described on Wednesday in the journal Nature, deciphers the brain’s motor commands guiding vocal movement during speech — the tap of the tongue, the narrowing of the lips — and generates intelligible sentences that approximate a speaker’s natural cadence. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Language; Robotics
Link ID: 26174 - Posted: 04.25.2019

Jayne O'Donnell and Ken Alltucker, Doctors are misusing 2016 opioid pain medication guidelines, federal officials said Wednesday, a clear response to increasing complaints from chronic pain patients who say they are the victims of an overreaction to the opioid crisis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in new guidance for opioid prescribing, said many physicians were guilty of a "misapplication" of 2016 guidelines that clamped down on the use of opioids. The new guidelines, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, was the latest federal acknowledgement that many physicians' responses to the opioid crisis went too far. Former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb, a physician, spoke out last July about the impact the opioid crisis response had on pain patients when he called for development of more options. Until then, people in the middle of cancer treatments, having "acute sickle cell crises" or with pain after surgery shouldn't be affected by the earlier recommendations, CDC said. These patients were outside the scope of the guidelines, which were intended for primary care doctors treating chronic pain patients, CDC said. Doctors that set hard limits or cut off opioids are also misapplying the government's guidance, CDC said. Doctors should prescribe the lowest effective dosage and avoid increasing it to 90 "morphine milligram equivalents" a day or "carefully justify" any decision to raise the dose to that level.

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 26173 - Posted: 04.25.2019

By Niraj Chokshi Americans are among the most stressed people on the planet, according to a new survey. And that’s just the start of it. Last year, Americans reported feeling stress, anger and worry at the highest levels in a decade, according to the survey, part of an annual Gallup poll of more than 150,000 people around the world, released on Thursday. “What really stood out for the U.S. is the increase in the negative experiences,” said Julie Ray, Gallup’s managing editor for world news. “This was kind of a surprise to us when we saw the numbers head in this direction.” For the annual poll, started in 2005, Gallup asks individuals about whether they have experienced a handful of positive or negative feelings the day before being interviewed. The data on Americans is based on responses from more than 1,000 adults. In the United States, about 55 percent of adults said they had experienced stress during “a lot of the day” prior, compared with just 35 percent globally. Statistically, that put the country on par with Greece, which had led the rankings on stress since 2012. About 45 percent of the Americans surveyed said they had felt “a lot” of worry the day before, compared with a global average of 39 percent. Meanwhile, the share of Americans who reported feeling “a lot” of anger the day before being interviewed was the same as the global average: 22 percent. When Gallup investigated the responses more closely, it found that being under 50, earning a low income and having a dim view of President Trump’s job performance were correlated with negative experiences among adults in the United States. But there still isn’t enough data to say for sure whether any of those factors were behind the feelings of stress, worry and anger. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 26172 - Posted: 04.25.2019

By Nicholas Bakalar The most common cause of injury deaths in babies under a year old is unintentional suffocation, and almost all of these deaths are preventable, a new report found. Researchers used a federal government case registry to look at the causes of infant deaths by injury between 2011 and 2014. Of 1,812 sudden and unexpected infant deaths over the period, about 14 percent were caused by accidental suffocation. Of these, 69 percent were caused by soft bedding, 19 percent were overlay deaths, in which a caregiver rolled over on the baby, and 12 percent happened when the infant was trapped between two objects, usually the mattress and a wall. The analysis appears in Pediatrics. About 71 percent of the overlay deaths occurred in an adult’s bed, as did 49 percent of the soft bedding deaths, where blankets, pillows or soft toys covering the airway were the most common cause. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be put to sleep on their backs, that the crib have no soft bedding or soft objects, and that adults never sleep in the same bed with a baby. “This paper supports the A.A.P. recommendations,” said the lead author, Alexa B. Erck Lambert, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “And it shows that these deaths by suffocation could have been avoided if the babies had been placed properly.” © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sleep
Link ID: 26171 - Posted: 04.25.2019

By Karen Weintraub Stroke, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and other medical conditions can rob people of their ability to speak. Their communication is limited to the speed at which they can move a cursor with their eyes (just eight to 10 words per minute), in contrast with the natural spoken pace of 120 to 150 words per minute. Now, although still a long way from restoring natural speech, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, have generated intelligible sentences from the thoughts of people without speech difficulties. The work provides a proof of principle that it should one day be possible to turn imagined words into understandable, real-time speech circumventing the vocal machinery, Edward Chang, a neurosurgeon at U.C.S.F. and co-author of the study published Wednesday in Nature, said Tuesday in a news conference. “Very few of us have any real idea of what’s going on in our mouth when we speak,” he said. “The brain translates those thoughts of what you want to say into movements of the vocal tract, and that’s what we want to decode.” But Chang cautions that the technology, which has only been tested on people with typical speech, might be much harder to make work in those who cannot speak—and particularly in people who have never been able to speak because of a movement disorder such as cerebral palsy. Chang also emphasized that his approach cannot be used to read someone’s mind—only to translate words the person wants to say into audible sounds. “Other researchers have tried to look at whether or not it’s actually possible to decode essentially just thoughts alone,” he says.* “It turns out it’s a very difficult and challenging problem. That’s only one reason of many that we focus on what people are trying to say.” © 2019 Scientific American

Keyword: Brain imaging; Language
Link ID: 26170 - Posted: 04.24.2019

Sarah Boseley Antidepressants can save lives. At best, they work. At worst, they are a sticking plaster, hopefully enabling people to hold it all together until they get other help in the form of talking therapies. Either way, they are not supposed to be long-term medication. But whether depression is now better diagnosed or we live in sad times, more and more people are taking the pills and the weeks extend into months and years. In some cases, the users find they can’t stop. “I am currently trying to wean myself off,” one told researchers, “which honestly is the most awful thing I have ever done. I have horrible dizzy spells and nausea whenever I lower my dose.” “The withdrawal effects if I forget to take my pill,” another reported, “are severe shakes, suicidal thoughts, a feeling of too much caffeine in my brain, electric shocks, hallucinations, insane mood swings … Kinda stuck on them now cos I’m too scared to come off.” “While there is no doubt I am better on this medication,” said a third, “the adverse effects have been devastating when I have tried to withdraw – with ‘head zaps’, agitation, insomnia and mood changes. This means that I do not have the option of managing the depression any other way.” These anonymised accounts come from scientific studies cited in a report last year to the all-party parliamentary group for prescribed drug dependence and published in the journal Addictive Behaviors. They give a flavour of the reality of dependence on modern antidepressants, the SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). The most famous is Prozac, AKA fluoxetine, once portrayed as a wonder drug that would make the world rosy and shiny again for all of us, without the dangerous dark side of Valium and the rest of the benzodiazepines. Not only was it harder to overdose on SSRIs than on “benzos”, the experts said; it was also easier to come off them. © 2019 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Depression
Link ID: 26169 - Posted: 04.24.2019

Jessica Wright Sequencing can identify mutations linked to autism even before a child’s birth—especially in cases where doctors suspect problems, two new studies suggest. In the studies, scientists sequenced fetal DNA only when ultrasounds revealed atypical development of limbs or other organs, and they gave families only the results that seemed to explain those problems But there is a real risk that others might use the technique to test for mutations in any fetus—and to relay all the results to parents—without proper oversight, says Ronald Wapner, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Columbia Institute for Genomic Medicine, who led one of the studies. “Not everybody should be doing this; it should be in the hands of people that have expertise,” he says. Other types of analyses already detect mutations in a fetus: Some detect large DNA segments that are swapped between chromosomes, and others can pick up on missing or duplicated copies of DNA fragments. The new studies are among the first to scan for mutations across the fetal exome—essentially, the collection of genes in a genome. The field is fraught with ethical questions, including whether parents might choose to terminate a pregnancy based on the results. But the researchers note that most of the mutations they found pose serious health risks, which could be treated at birth or in utero. © 1986 - 2019 The Scientist

Keyword: Autism; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 26168 - Posted: 04.24.2019

By Olivia Goldhill Free will, from a neuroscience perspective, can look like quite quaint. In a study published this week in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers in Australia were able to predict basic choices participants made 11 seconds before they consciously declared their decisions. In the study, 14 participants—each placed in an fMRI machine—were shown two patterns, one of red horizontal stripes and one of green vertical stripes. They were given a maximum of 20 seconds to choose between them. Once they’d made a decision, they pressed a button and had 10 seconds to visualize the pattern as hard as they could. Finally, they were asked “what did you imagine?” and “how vivid was it?” They answered these questions by pressing buttons. Using the fMRI to monitor brain activity and machine learning to analyze the neuroimages, the researchers were able to predict which pattern participants would choose up to 11 seconds before they consciously made the decision. And they were able to predict how vividly the participants would be able to envisage it. Lead author Joel Pearson, cognitive neuroscience professor at the University of South Wales in Australia, said that the study suggests traces of thoughts exist unconsciously before they become conscious. “We believe that when we are faced with the choice between two or more options of what to think about, non-conscious traces of the thoughts are there already, a bit like unconscious hallucinations,” he said in a statement. “As the decision of what to think about is made, executive areas of the brain choose the thought-trace which is stronger. In, other words, if any pre-existing brain activity matches one of your choices, then your brain will be more likely to pick that option as it gets boosted by the pre-existing brain activity.”

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 26167 - Posted: 04.23.2019

By Pallab Ghosh Science correspondent, BBC News A treatment that has restored the movement of patients with chronic Parkinson's disease has been developed by Canadian researchers. Previously housebound patients are now able to walk more freely as a result of electrical stimulation to their spines. A quarter of patients have difficulty walking as the disease wears on, often freezing on the spot and falling. Parkinson's UK hailed its potential impact on an aspect of the disease where there is currently no treatment. Prof Mandar Jog, of Western University in London, Ontario, told BBC News the scale of benefit to patients of his new treatment was "beyond his wildest dreams". "Most of our patients have had the disease for 15 years and have not walked with any confidence for several years," he said. "For them to go from being home-bound, with the risk of falling, to being able to go on trips to the mall and have vacations is remarkable for me to see." Normal walking involves the brain sending instructions to the legs to move. It then receives signals back when the movement has been completed before sending instructions for the next step. Prof Jog believes Parkinson's disease reduces the signals coming back to the brain - breaking the loop and causing the patient to freeze. The implant his team has developed boosts that signal, enabling the patient to walk normally. However, Prof Jog was surprised that the treatment was long-lasting and worked even when the implant was turned off. He believes the electrical stimulus reawakens the feedback mechanism from legs to brain that is damaged by the disease. "This is a completely different rehabilitation therapy," he said. "We had thought that the movement problems occurred in Parkinson's patients because signals from the brain to the legs were not getting through. "But it seems that it's the signals getting back to the brain that are degraded." © 2019 BBC

Keyword: Parkinsons
Link ID: 26166 - Posted: 04.23.2019

Allison Aubrey An estimated 40% of adults in the U.S. snore. And, men, you tend to out-snore women. (Yes, this may explain why you get kicked or shoved at night!) And despite the myth that snoring is a sign of deep sleep, there's really no upside to it. "Snoring really does not demonstrate anything good, " says Erich Voigt, an ear, nose, and throat doctor and sleep specialist at New York University Langone Health. "You can have beautifully deep sleep in a silent sleep." Snoring is never great news, but often it's harmless (other than the pain your sleeping partner may feel). In some cases, though, it's a sign of something serious. When we sleep, if the air that moves through our nose and mouth has a clear passage, we can sleep silently. But when the airways are narrowed, we snore. "Snoring is basically a vibration of the tissues inside of the airway," Voigt explains — that is, the roof of the mouth and the vertical folds of tissue that surround the tonsils. A lot of factors can contribute to snoring, says Voigt. We can control some of the underlying triggers. For instance, drinking alcohol is linked to snoring. Alcohol tends to make the tissues within our mouths swell a bit, and alcohol can also change the quality of sleep. "Your brain is sedated from alcohol, so the combination can make you snore worse," Voigt says. © 2019 npr

Keyword: Sleep
Link ID: 26165 - Posted: 04.23.2019

By Dave Philipps Post-traumatic stress disorder has long been one of the hardest mental health problems to diagnose because some patients try to hide symptoms while others exaggerate them. But a new voice analysis technique may be able to take the guesswork out of identifying the disorder using the same technology now used to dial home hands-free or order pizza on a smart speaker. A team of researchers at New York University School of Medicine, working with SRI International, the nonprofit research institute that developed the smartphone assistant Siri, has created an algorithm that can analyze patient interviews, sort through tens of thousands of variables in their speech and identify minute auditory markers of PTSD that are otherwise imperceptible to the human ear, then make a diagnosis. The results, published online on Monday in the journal Depression and Anxiety, show the algorithm was able to narrow down the 40,500 speech characteristics of a group of patients — like the tension in the larynx and the timing in the flick in the tongue — to just 18 relevant indicators that together could be used to diagnose PTSD. Based on those 18 speech clues, the algorithm was able to correctly identify patients with PTSD 89 percent of the time. “They were not the speech features we thought,” said Dr. Charles Marmar, a psychiatry professor at N.Y.U. and one of the authors of the paper. “We thought the telling features would reflect agitated speech. In point of fact, when we saw the data, the features are flatter, more atonal speech. We were capturing the numbness that is so typical of PTSD patients.” As the process is refined, speech pattern analysis could become a widely used biomarker for objectively identifying the disorder, he said. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 26164 - Posted: 04.22.2019

James Hamblin The past two weeks have been frenetic for Bre Hushaw, who is now known to millions of people as the girl in the depression helmet. Hushaw has been hearing from people all around the world who want to try it, or at least want to know how it works. Her life as a meme began when she agreed to an on-camera interview with the local-news site AZfamily.com for a story headlined “Helmet Approved by FDA to Treat Depression Available in Arizona.” The feel-good tale of Hushaw’s miraculous recovery from severe depression was tossed into the decontextualizing maw of the internet and distilled down to a screenshot of a young woman looking like a listless Stormtrooper. Jokes poured in. Some of the most popular, each with more than 100,000 likes on Twitter, include: “If u see me with this ugly ass helmet mind ur business.” “Friend: hey everything alright? Me, wearing depression helmet: yeah I’m just tired.” “The depression helmet STAYS ON during sex.” Hushaw has been tracking the virality, sometimes cringing and sometimes laughing. She replies to as many serious inquiries as she can, while finishing up her senior year at Northern Arizona University before starting a job in marketing. A year ago, she didn’t think she was going to live to graduation. When she was 10 years old, her mother died. Her depression symptoms waxed and waned from then on, and they waxed especially when she heard the gunshots on her campus during a shooting at the school in 2015. She’s tried many medications over the years—14, by her count. (c) 2019 by The Atlantic Monthly Group.

Keyword: Depression
Link ID: 26163 - Posted: 04.22.2019

By Emily Oster In 1980, 8.6 percent of first births were to women over 30; by 2015 this was 31 percent. This is more than an interesting demographic fact. It means that many of us are having children much later than our parents did. By the time a baby arrives, many of us have been through school, spent time in the working world, developed friendships, hobbies. And through all of these activities, we have probably grown used to the idea that if we work harder — at our jobs, at school, at banking that personal record in the half marathon — we can achieve more. Babies, however, often do not respond to a diligent work ethic. Take, as an example, crying. When my daughter, Penelope, was an infant, she was typically inconsolable between 5 and 8 p.m. I’d walk her up and down the hall, sometimes just crying (me crying, that is — obviously she was crying). I once did this in a hotel — up and down, up and down, Penelope screaming at the top of her lungs. I hope no one else was staying there. I tried everything — bouncing her more, bouncing her less, bouncing with swinging, bouncing with nursing (difficult). Nothing worked; she would eventually just exhaust herself. I wondered whether this was normal. I’m an economist, someone who works with data. I wrote a book on using data to make better choices during pregnancy; it was natural for me to turn to the data again once the baby arrived. And here, faced with crying, I found that the data was helpful. We often say babies are “colicky,” but researchers have an actual definition of colic (three hours of crying, more than three days a week, for more than three weeks) and some estimates of what share of babies fit this description (about 2 percent). But the same data can also tell us that many babies cry just a bit less than that, and almost 20 percent of parents report their baby “cries a lot.” So I was not alone. The data also told me the crying would get better, which it eventually did. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 26162 - Posted: 04.22.2019

By Christopher Ingraham Sleep scientist Matthew Walker has observed that “human beings are the only species that deliberately deprive themselves of sleep for no apparent gain.” We stay up late to watch our favorite TV shows. We wake up early to get to work or school on time. And twice a year we change our clocks, to the bewilderment of our circadian rhythms. We also set up conflicts between our natural and social clocks in other, less obvious ways, a fact underscored in research published this month in the Journal of Health Economics. It turns out, the study found, that living on the wrong side of a time zone’s boundary can have negative consequences on a person’s health and wallet. The culprit? More natural light in the evening hours. To understand the study, co-authored by Osea Giuntella of the University of Pittsburgh and Fabrizio Mazzonna of the Universita della Svizzera Italiana, it is important to understand how time zones affect local sunset times. Traveling east to west, sunrise and sunset times get later, as the map above shows. Panama City, Fla., for instance, is located on the far eastern end of the Central time zone, while Pecos, Tex., sits on the far western side. This week, the sun set in Panama City about 7:12 p.m. Central time. In Pecos, it set more than an hour later, at 8:25 p.m. Sunset is a powerful biological trigger: The fading of natural light causes the body to release melatonin, a hormone that induces drowsiness. As a result, people on the eastern side of a time zone, where the sun sets earlier, tend to go to bed earlier than those on the western side. The data below, derived from about 1 million users of the now-defunct sleep tracker Jawbone, illustrates this point, showing how bedtimes shift from east to west, with a sharp reset happening once you cross into a new time zone. © 1996-2019 The Washington Post

Keyword: Biological Rhythms; Sleep
Link ID: 26161 - Posted: 04.22.2019

By Perri Klass, M.D. Every pediatrician knows that it’s important to diagnose autism when a child is as young as possible, because when younger children get help and intensive therapy, their developmental outcomes improve, as measured in everything from improved language, cognition and social skills to normalized brain activity. “The signs and symptoms for most children are there between 12 and 24 months,” said Dr. Paul S. Carbone, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah and a co-author of “Autism Spectrum Disorder: What Every Parent Needs to Know,” published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. “If we can get them in for evaluation by then, the therapies are available as young as those ages, you can easily start by 2,” he said. “We’d like to give kids the benefit of getting started early.” That means taking parents seriously when they bring up concerns about what they regard as strange behaviors and interactions on the part of babies and toddlers, and it also means that we try to screen all our patients, often with a checklist for parents to complete, like the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, or M-CHAT. Children whose scores indicate a concern are then supposed to be referred on for a full developmental assessment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website lists developmental milestones to look for; missing them may be an early sign of autism. So we all know this is important. We also know that we are not, collectively, doing a very good job of screening all children, that the questionnaires often over-identify children who don’t actually need full assessments, and that the referral process can be plagued with long waits (and when a young child has to wait months for the assessment, that works against the benefit of early diagnosis). Children in minority groups are diagnosed at an older average age than white children, and therefore get therapy later, contributing to increased disparities. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 26160 - Posted: 04.22.2019

Yao-Hua Law When it comes to migration science, birds rule. Although many mammals — antelopes, whales, bats — migrate, too, scientists know far less about how those animals do it. But a new device, invented by animal navigation researcher Oliver Lindecke, could open a new way to test how far-ranging bats find their way. Lindecke, of Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany, has been studying bat migration since 2011. He started with analyzing different forms of hydrogen atoms in wild bats to infer where they had flown from. But figuring out how the bats knew where to go was trickier. Lindecke needed a field setup that let him test what possible cues from nature helped bats navigate across vast distances. The first step was studying in which direction the bats first take flight. Such experiments on birds typically involve confining the animals in small, enclosed spaces. But that doesn’t work for bats, which tend to fall asleep in such spaces. So he invented what he calls the circular release box: a flat-bottom, funnel-shaped container topped by a wider lid. To escape, the bat crawls up the wall and takes off from the edge. Bat tracks in a layer of chalk (Lindecke says he was inspired by a snow-covered Berlin street) indicate where the bat took off. In August 2017, Lindecke captured 54 soprano pipistrelle bats (Pipistrellus pygmaeus) in a large, 50-meter-wide trap at the Pape Ornithological Research Station in Latvia as the animals were migrating along the coast of the Baltic Sea toward Central Europe. Experiments with the new device showed that the adult bats flew straight in the direction in which they took off, Lindecke and colleagues report online March 1 in the Journal of Zoology. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2019

Keyword: Animal Migration
Link ID: 26159 - Posted: 04.20.2019

By Kate Murphy Let’s say you’re walking down the street and coming toward you is someone pushing a baby in a stroller. The baby looks right at you and bursts into a big, gummy grin. What do you do? If you’re like most people, you reflexively smile back and your insides just melt. The baby might react by smiling even more broadly and maybe kicking its feet with delight, which will only deepen your smile and add to the warm feeling spreading in your chest. But what if you couldn’t smile naturally, with the usual crinkles around your eyes and creases in your cheeks? There’s convincing scientific evidence that the same kind of mutual engagement and interplay — with infants, or anyone else — would be difficult to achieve. Experts say mirroring another person’s facial expressions is essential for not only recognizing emotion, but also feeling it. That’s why anything that disrupts one’s ability to emote is cause for concern, particularly in an age when Botox and other cosmetic procedures that paralyze, stretch, plump or otherwise alter the face are commonplace. Permanently pouty lips and smooth brows might be good for selfies, but research suggests they flatten your affect, disconnecting you from your feelings and the feelings of others. “People these days are constantly rearranging their facial appearance in ways that prevent engaging in facial mimicry, having no idea how much we use our faces to coordinate and manage social interactions,” said Paula Niedenthal, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who has published several studies on facial mimicry and its emotional and social importance. Following the example of celebrities like the Kardashians, the use of Botox injections is up more than 800 percent since 2000, and the use of soft tissue fillers is up 300 percent. Plus, there has been the advent of so-called “mini-facelifts” whereby people can take a more incremental approach to cosmetic surgery, getting their eyes, foreheads, chins or cheeks done à la carte. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Emotions
Link ID: 26158 - Posted: 04.20.2019

Laura Sanders Kratom, an herbal supplement available at vape shops and online stores, has been linked to 91 deaths over 18 months from July 2016 to December 2017, according to a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those deaths made up less than 1 percent of the 27,338 overdose fatalities analyzed for the report, released online on April 12. Although small, the numbers point to increasing numbers of people using the plant to combat pain, depression and even opioid addiction. Interest in, and exposure to, kratom is apparently rising. “We’d see about 10 cases a year, and now we’re seeing hundreds,” says toxicologist Henry Spiller of the Central Ohio Poison Center in Columbus. Here, scientists weigh in on what’s known and unknown about the herbal supplement. What is kratom, and why are people using it? The supplement is mashed leaves from the tropical tree Mitragyna speciosa, a coffee cousin that grows in the warm, wet forests of Southeast Asia. Pulverized leaves create a green powder that can be dissolved in tea, packed into pill capsules or extracted into alcohol. Traditionally, workers chew the leaves in search of a mild stimulant effect during the day, and then drink tea to relieve pain, says pharmacologist and toxicologist Oliver Grundmann of the University of Florida in Gainesville. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2019

Keyword: Drug Abuse
Link ID: 26157 - Posted: 04.20.2019

By Gina Kolata The study subjects had been thin all their lives, and not because they had unusual metabolisms. They just did not care much about food. They never ate enormous amounts, never obsessed on the next meal. Now, a group of researchers in Britain may have found the reason. The people carry a genetic alteration that mutes appetite. It also greatly reduces their chances of getting diabetes or heart disease. The scientists’ study, published on Thursday in the journal Cell, relied on data from the U.K. Biobank, which includes a half million people aged 40 to 69. Participants have provided DNA samples and medical records, and have allowed researchers to track their health over years. A second study in the same journal also used data from this population to develop a genetic risk score for obesity. It can help predict, as early as childhood, who is at high risk for a lifetime of obesity and who is not. Together, the studies confirm a truth that researchers wish more people understood. There are biological reasons that some struggle mightily with their weight and others do not, and the biological impacts often are seen on appetite, not metabolism. People who gain too much weight or fight to stay thin feel hungrier than naturally thin people. The study of the appetite-dulling mutation was led by Dr. Sadaf Farooqi, professor of metabolism and medicine at the University of Cambridge, and Nick Wareham, an epidemiologist at the university. The study drew on Dr. Farooqi’s research into a gene, MC4R. She has probed it for 20 years, but for the opposite reason: to understand why some people are overweight, not why some are thin. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Obesity; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 26156 - Posted: 04.19.2019

Tina Hesman Saey There’s a new way to predict whether a baby will grow into an obese adult. Combining the effect of more than 2.1 million genetic variants, researchers have created a genetic predisposition score that they say predicts severe obesity. People with scores in the highest 10 percent weighed, on average, 13 kilograms (about 29 pounds) more than those with the lowest 10 percent of scores, the team reports April 18 in Cell. The finding may better quantify genes’ roles in obesity than previous prediction scores, but still fails to account for lifestyle, which may be more important in determining body weight, other researchers say. Still, the study shows that “your genetics really start to take hold very early in life,” says coauthor Amit Khera, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. Weight differences showed up as early as age 3, and by age 18, those with the highest scores weighed 12.3 kilograms more on average than those with the lowest scores, Khera and his colleagues found. Some people with high genetic scores had normal body weights, but those people may have to work harder to maintain a healthy weight than others, he says. People with the highest scores were 25 times more likely to have severe obesity — a body mass index (BMI) greater than 40 — than those with the lowest scores. BMI is a measurement of body fat based on height and weight. A BMI of 18.5 (calculated as kilograms per meters squared of height) to 24.9 is considered healthy. BMIs 30 and above are considered obese. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2019

Keyword: Obesity; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 26155 - Posted: 04.19.2019