22 Jan

Medical News Today: Estrogen regulates the brain's fear response, protecting against PTSD

Estrogen plays an important and well-known role in the sexual growth and development of a woman. New research suggests that its additional role could be protecting the female brain from trauma.
[distressed woman]
A new study shows how estrogen modulates the brain’s response to fear and trauma.

An existing body of research seems to suggest that women are more prone to developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than men, despite the fact that they tend to experience fewer traumatic events than males.

A new study – performed by researchers from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, GA, in collaboration with Harvard Medical School in Massachusetts – indicates that the sex hormone estrogen might play a critical role in PTSD development. The study’s first author is Stephanie Maddox, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard’s McLean Hospital.

Apart from estrogen’s well-known part in the sexual maturation of the female body and its critical role in reproduction and pregnancy, some studies – such as those referenced by Maddox and team – have inventoried further physiological effects of the hormone.

For instance, different levels of estrogen have been associated with differences in the brain’s response to stress via the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands.

According to other studies, women who had experienced trauma seemed to have more trauma-related flashback episodes in the mid-luteal phase of their menstrual cycle. The mid-luteal phase occurs roughly a week after ovulation, a time when the female body produces more progesterone and less estrogen.

Based on this existing research, Maddox and team hypothesized that individual variations in the brain’s response to estrogen levels could affect fear regulation and contribute to PTSD risk in women.

Studying the link between estrogen levels and psychological trauma

The researchers therefore set out to investigate how estrogen changes gene activity in the brain, and the findings were published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

Maddox and team examined blood samples from 278 females enrolled in the Grady Trauma Project (GTP). The GTP is a large-scale study that investigates the role of genetic and environmental factors in the development of PTSD among low-income, African-American females.

Maddox and team approached GTP women of both childbearing age and menopausal age who had been exposed to violence and abuse, and asked them if they were willing to participate in their study, which consisted of blood tests and an interview.

At childbearing age, women’s levels of estrogen go up and down depending on where they are in their menstrual cycle, whereas menopausal and postmenopausal women have lower levels of estrogen.

The researchers collected the blood in EDTA and Tempus tubes – used for DNA and RNA extraction, respectively. They then assessed DNA methylation, which is an epigenetic mechanism that modifies the DNA in a way that suggests that some genes are “turned off.”

Estrogen protects against PTSD

The researchers found that the levels of serum estradiol – a form of estrogen – were associated with DNA methylation across the genome.

Alicia Smith Ph.D. – co-author of the study, and associate professor and vice chair of research in the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics at Emory University School of Medicine – explains what led to the discovery of a single gene that is associated with the brain’s fear response, which was found to be affected by estrogen levels.

“We knew that estrogen affects the activity of many genes throughout the genome,” says Smith, “but if you look at the estrogen-modulated sites that are also associated with PTSD, just one pops out.”

The site she refers to is in HDAC4, a gene that encodes histone deacetylase 4 and is known to be involved in learning, long-term memory formation, and behavior.

The study found that methylation of the HDAC4 gene was higher in PTSD patients than in controls, and also that higher methylation correlated with lower estradiol levels. These results were also linked to the women’s response to fear.

Researchers also examined brain functionality using brain imaging techniques. They found that higher HDAC4 gene variation predicted an overexpression of conditioned fear.

Women with HDAC4 gene variation displayed higher resting-state connectivity between the amygdala and the cingulate cortex of the brain. These two brain areas are involved in fear memory formation.

Finally, the researchers performed experiments in mice to see if their findings would replicate in rodents.

The mice experiments revealed that when estrogen levels were low, the HDAC4 gene expression was higher, but the same regulation was not present when estrogen levels were high. The HDAC4 was activated when the mice were fear learning, but only when estrogen levels were low.

This suggests that estrogen can protect against the formation of PTSD. The authors add that in addition to its role in modulating the fear response, previous studies have also suggested that estrogen alters pain perception.

Smith also notes that their findings suggest that estrogen could be used as a preventive treatment for PTSD.

Learn how sleep could help to reduce PTSD symptoms.

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22 Jan

Medical News Today: Magnesium Glycinate: Uses, Benefits, and Side Effects

Magnesium is a vital nutrient needed to ensure that the body stays healthy. It is essential to many body processes including regulating muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and making protein, bone, and DNA.

If a person is found to be magnesium deficient, the best remedy is to obtain magnesium naturally. Magnesium that is absorbed naturally from food is not harmful and is excreted in the urine even when consumed in high levels.

Magnesium is also available in a variety of different forms including multivitamin-mineral supplements and other dietary supplements. Supplements can help those who suffer from deficiency. One supplement that is often used is magnesium glycinate.

Uses of magnesium glycinate

Magnesium pills
Magnesium glycerinate may be available as a mineral supplement.

Magnesium glycinate is often used because it is the best-absorbed form of magnesium and one of the gentlest on the stomach.

Unlike other forms of magnesium, it may not cause as many adverse side effects, such as gastrointestinal distress or loose stools. This property makes magnesium glycinate a good supplement for bariatric surgery patients.

People who have kidney issues should consult a doctor before taking magnesium glycinate. If they consume too much magnesium, they may have trouble excreting the excess.

Risks and complications

Only a doctor should diagnose magnesium deficiency. They can take blood tests as well as identify the correct plan of action to get magnesium levels back on track.

High amounts of dietary magnesium supplements, including magnesium glycinate, can cause adverse side effects including diarrhea, nausea, and stomach cramps. Extremely high intakes of magnesium can lead to irregular heartbeat and cardiac arrest, which can be very dangerous.

Magnesium glycinate and other supplements can also interfere or interact with some medicines. These include:

  • Bisphosphonates are used to treat osteoporosis. The body does not absorb these drugs well if they are taken too close to supplements or medications that contain a high amount of magnesium.
  • Antibiotics. These may not be absorbed by the body if they are taken too soon before or after a magnesium supplement.
  • Diuretics can increase or decrease the loss of magnesium through urine.
  • Prescription drugs used to treat acid reflux or peptic ulcers can lead to low blood levels of magnesium when taken over a long period.
  • Extremely high doses of zinc supplements can interfere with the absorption and regulation of magnesium in the body.


Foods containing magnesium
Some foods in which magnesium occurs naturally are avocados, bananas, dark leafy greens, seeds, beans, and fish.

Some people do benefit more from magnesium glycinate than others and it can have a more positive effect on their health. This includes people with the following conditions:

  • High blood pressure or heart disease: Magnesium supplements may help to decrease blood pressure a small amount.
  • Type 2 diabetes: People with higher amounts of magnesium in their diets may actually lower their risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Magnesium helps to break down sugars and may reduce the risk of insulin resistance.
  • Osteoporosis: Magnesium plays a role in the development of healthy bones, and people with higher levels of magnesium may have a higher bone mineral density. This is important in helping to reduce the risk of bone fractures and osteoporosis.
  • Migraine headaches: People who experience migraine headaches sometimes have low levels of magnesium in their blood and other tissues. Supplements may help to reduce the frequency of migraines.
  • Depression: Inadequate levels of magnesium seem to reduce serotonin levels, and antidepressants have been shown to raise levels of brain magnesium.

Measuring magnesium levels is not easy because magnesium is found within the cells or the bones instead of in the bloodstream. It is possible for blood tests to be misleading.

Doctors will typically measure serum magnesium concentrations in the blood, saliva, or urine to help make the best determination.

It is important to let a doctor make the final diagnosis as the symptoms commonly associated with deficiency could be related to another health problem.

Magnesium in the body

The recommended daily amount of magnesium depends on a person’s age and sex. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) provide guidelines for the daily recommended amount in milligrams (mg) below.

Life stage Recommended amount
Infants 7-12 months 75 mg
Children 1-3 years 80 mg
Children 4-8 years 130 mg
Children 9-13 years 240 mg
Teen boys 14-18 years 410 mg
Teen girls 14-18 years 360 mg
Men 400-420 mg
Women 310-320 mg
Pregnant teens 400 mg
Pregnant women 350-360 mg
Breastfeeding teens 360 mg
Breastfeeding women 310-320 mg

Magnesium is found naturally in many common foods. Most people can get the recommended daily dosage by incorporating magnesium-rich foods into their daily diet.

Common foods that contain magnesium include:

  • Legumes, nuts, seeds
  • Whole grains
  • Spinach and other leafy vegetables
  • Fortified breakfast cereals and other fortified foods
  • Milk, yogurt, and other milk products

Magnesium deficiency

According to the NIH, most people in the United States do not get the recommended amount of magnesium from their daily diet. Men older than 70 and teenage girls are most likely to have low intakes of magnesium.

Getting too little magnesium does not typically cause any adverse symptoms within the body. The body loses a certain amount of magnesium every day due to normal body functions, such as muscle movement, heartbeat, and hormone production. Though only a small amount of magnesium is needed, it is important to replenish magnesium levels to prevent deficiency.

When people who are not magnesium deficient have a low amount of magnesium in their body, the kidneys help to retain magnesium by restricting the amount lost in the urine. This can work temporarily until the levels rise, but a person who has low magnesium levels for long periods can develop magnesium deficiency.

In addition to not following a magnesium-rich diet, some medical conditions and medications can affect how the body absorbs magnesium. They can also increase the amount of magnesium that the body gets rid of, which can result in magnesium deficiency.

Health conditions that can lead to magnesium deficiencies include:

Certain lifestyle factors can also lower magnesium levels.

two adults drinking coffee
Too much coffee may lower magnesium levels.

These include:

People who are deficient in magnesium can experience the following symptoms:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue and weakness

According to the NIH, extreme magnesium deficiency can cause:

  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Muscle cramps
  • Seizures
  • Personality changes
  • Abnormal heart rhythm

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22 Jan

Medical News Today: Talk therapy strengthens brain connections to treat psychosis

Cognitive behavior therapy is used to help treat a number of mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. For the first time, researchers have shown how this type of therapy triggers brain changes to produce long-term benefits for patients with psychosis.
[A woman talking to a therapist]
Researchers have found evidence to suggest that talk therapy can alter the brain in a way that leads to long-term recovery from psychosis.

Lead study author Dr. Liam Mason, of King’s College London in the United Kingdom, and colleagues report their findings in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), psychosis describes a set of symptoms “where there has been some loss of contact with reality.”

Such symptoms include delusions, hallucinations, and confused and disturbed thoughts, and they are often the result of mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. However, psychosis can also be triggered by other factors, including sleep deprivation and alcohol or drug abuse.

Each year, around 100,000 adolescents and young adults in the United States experience a first psychotic episode, and approximately 3 percent of the U.S. population will experience psychosis at some point in their lives.

Cognitive behavior therapy and psychosis

Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), also termed “talk therapy”, is a form of psychotherapy used to treat psychosis and other mental health conditions. It focuses on changing the thinking and behavior that might be fueling such conditions.

Past research has suggested that CBT is effective for reducing symptoms of psychosis, and in a previous study, Dr. Mason and colleagues found that CBT can strengthen connections in certain brain regions of patients with psychosis.

The researchers built on this finding with their new study, which suggests that the brain connections strengthened by CBT may lead to long-term recovery from psychosis.

In their first study, published in the journal Brain in 2011, 22 patients with schizophrenia-related psychosis underwent CBT.

Six months before and after CBT, Dr. Mason and team used functional MRI to analyze the brain activity of each participant as they viewed pictures of faces expressing various emotions.

Since these participants were already using medication prior to study baseline, they were compared with another group of patients with psychosis who were using medication only.

Compared with the medication-only group, the participants that received both medication and CBT showed stronger connections in numerous regions of the brain, including those related to emotion.

Strengthened brain connections linked to better psychosis recovery

For the new study, Dr. Mason and team used medical records to assess the monthly health of 15 of the 22 participants in the 8 years following CBT.

Subjects also completed a questionnaire that asked them about their recovery from psychosis 8 years after receiving CBT, as well as their overall well-being.

The researchers found that in the 8 years after CBT, participants had spent around 93.5 percent of months in remission from psychosis and around 88.2 percent of months with low affective psychotic symptoms.

Furthermore, the team found that the subjects who showed stronger connections in specific brain regions directly after receiving CBT – particularly in the amygdala and the frontal lobes – had higher psychosis remission rates over the subsequent 8 years.

The amygdala is the brain region associated with the processing of emotions such as fear, while the frontal lobes play a role in thinking and reasoning.

Findings challenge current views of psychotherapy

Overall, the team believes these findings indicate that CBT can trigger brain changes that lead to long-term recovery from psychosis. The authors write:

“Our previous investigation provided evidence that CBTp [cognitive behavior therapy for psychosis] leads to substantial reorganization of functional connectivity supporting social affective processing, relatively little of which is captured by measures of symptom change.

The present findings extend this work by providing initial evidence that it is the degree to which this reorganization takes place that determines sustained gains in the long-term recovery of people with psychosis. This justifies further work utilizing this novel methodology on a larger scale.”

According to Dr. Mason, the study results also challenge the common perception that brain changes that arise in mental health disorders may not be fully treatable with psychotherapies.

“Unfortunately, previous research has shown that this ‘brain bias’ can make clinicians more likely to recommend medication but not psychological therapies,” he adds. “This is especially important in psychosis, where only 1 in 10 people who could benefit from psychological therapies are offered them.”

The team now plans to conduct larger studies with the aim of confirming their current findings, as well as identifying brain changes that can distinguish between individuals who do and do not respond to CBT.

Learn how CBT could help to treat seasonal depression.

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21 Jan

Medical News Today: Inattentive ADHD: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder predominantly inattentive, or inattentive ADHD, is one of the three subtypes of ADHD.

ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders affecting around 5 percent of children and 2.5 percent of adults.

The three subtypes of ADHD are:

  1. ADHD – predominantly inattentive subtype
  2. ADHD – predominantly hyperactive-impulsive subtype
  3. ADHD – combined subtype

It is important to remember that just because a child might display symptoms of ADHD, they may not have the condition. There are many psychological disorders, medical conditions, and stressful life events that can cause ADHD-like symptoms.

Before ADHD is diagnosed, other possibilities such as learning difficulties, life difficulties, psychological or behavioral disorders, and potential medical conditions need to be ruled out.

Causes and risk factors

Scientists are unsure of what specifically causes inattentive ADHD. However, there is evidence to suggest that the following factors may play a role:

A young boy is distracted by an apple.
At present, there is no reliable evidence to prove that sugar intake leads to ADHD.
  • Genetics – 3 out of 4 children with ADHD have a relative with the condition
  • Being born prematurely
  • Low birth weight
  • Brain injury
  • Mother smoking, drinking alcohol, or experiencing extreme stress during pregnancy

While sugar has come under fire as a potential suspect in causing hyperactivity, there is no reliable evidence to prove this claim.

Research also does not support claims that watching too much TV, parenting, or social and environmental factors, such as poverty or family problems, cause ADHD, although they may make symptoms worse.

Symptoms and diagnosis

Many symptoms of inattentive ADHD, such as having a limited attention span and not following instructions, are often seen in children. However, the difference in children with inattentive ADHD is that their lack of ability to focus and pay attention is greater than what is expected for their age.

Inattentive ADHD is diagnosed if a child has at least six of the nine symptoms below, or five for people over 17 years of age:

  • Seeming unable to pay attention or making careless mistakes in tasks
  • Finding staying focused on tasks or activities difficult
  • Not appearing to listen when spoken to
  • Seeming unable to follow through on instructions or complete tasks
  • Having trouble organizing tasks and managing time
  • Avoiding tasks that require thinking for long periods
  • Often losing items needed for daily life
  • Being easily distracted
  • Forgetting to do daily tasks and go to appointments

These symptoms would have occurred over the past 6 months and occur frequently.

There is no test to diagnose inattentive ADHD. A diagnosis is reached by gathering information from parents and teachers, completing checklists, and ruling out other medical problems.

Differences between inattentive ADHD and hyperactive/impulsive ADHD

Inattentive ADHD has symptoms that center around distractedness. The child finds it difficult to process information, which distracts them from thinking and understanding. They may also find that other action around them prevents them from focusing on the task at hand.

A girl is distracted from studying.
The symptoms of inattentive ADHD are largely related to distractedness.

For instance, at school, the child may be focused on activities they can see out the window of the classroom, instead of what the teacher is saying.

Hyperactive/impulsive ADHD has symptoms that revolve around extreme high-energy and that make the child seem as if a motor drives them.

Hyperactive/impulsive ADHD has fewer than six of the symptoms of inattentive ADHD, and at least of six of the following nine symptoms, or five for people over 17 years of age:

  • Squirming, fidgeting, and tapping hands or feet
  • Being unable to stay seated
  • Running and climbing at inappropriate times and places
  • Being unable to quietly play or take part in activities
  • Being constantly “on the go”
  • Talking too much
  • Blurting out answers
  • Finding it difficult to wait their turn
  • Intruding on or interrupting other people

While many children like to run and jump around, that alone does not mean that they have hyperactive-impulsive ADHD. The symptoms would have to be on the extreme side and cause problems in everyday life, as well as occurring frequently for more than 6 months.

Inattentive ADHD has fewer than six of the symptoms of hyperactive/impulsive ADHD.

Combined ADHD has a combination of at least six symptoms of inattentive ADHD and at least six symptoms of hyperactive/impulsive ADHD that have been present for at least 6months.

Hyperactive/impulsive ADHD and combined ADHD usually begin by the age of 7 years. However, inattentive ADHD begins later, by age 9, and the symptoms may not become significant until age 11.

Overall, more boys have ADHD, but girls are more likely to have inattentive ADHD than boys.

Treatments for inattentive ADHD

Inattentive ADHD is often treated with medication and educational, behavioral, and psychological intervention. Although there is no cure for inattentive ADHD, there are medications to help reduce symptoms and therapies to help manage behavior.

Treatments for inattentive ADHD include:

  • Stimulants
  • Atomoxetine
  • Antidepressants
  • Guanfacine
  • Clonidine
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Parenting skills training
  • Family therapy
  • Social skills training

Stimulants are the most widely used medication for ADHD. Between 70-80 percent of children with ADHD have a reduction in symptoms when treated with stimulants.

Every child responds differently to medication. A dose that works well for one child may not have the same effect on another. For this reason, it is important that caregivers work with the child’s doctor in order to find a medication and dosage that works best for the child.

Tips for parents and caregivers

Children running in a park.
Caregivers should encourage children with inattentive ADHD to follow a healthy lifestyle.

There are positive actions that can be taken by parents or caregivers that may help children with inattentive ADHD function on a day-to-day basis. These include:

  • Routine: Aiming to follow the same schedule each day
  • Organization: Always storing clothing, toys, and schoolbag in the same place to avoid losing them
  • Plan: Helping to break down complicated tasks into simpler, smaller steps and taking breaks in longer tasks to limit stress
  • Limit choices: Only offering a choice of a few things at a time to avoid overwhelming and overstimulation
  • Manage distractions: For some children with ADHD, listening to music or moving helps them learn, whereas for others, it has the opposite effect
  • Supervision: Children with ADHD may need supervising more than other children
  • Clear conversation: Using clear, brief directions and repeating what the child says to let them know that they are being listened to
  • Goals and rewards: Listing goals, tracking positive behavior, and rewarding when the child has done well
  • Effective discipline: Using timeouts and removing privileges as a consequence of behaving inappropriately
  • Positive opportunities: Encouraging taking part in activities that the child does well to create positive experiences
  • School: Keeping up regular communication with the child’s teacher
  • Healthy lifestyle: Providing a nutritious diet, encouraging physical activity and enough sleep

It is best for caregivers to watch and see what works best for each child. TV, noise, and clutter should be kept to a minimum.

Tips for managing adult inattentive ADHD

Someone with inattentive ADHD may find everyday tasks such as paying bills and keeping up with friends, family, and social demands overwhelming. However, there are self-help techniques that can help the person focus and calm the chaos.

These include:

  • Getting organized
  • Managing time
  • Managing money and bills
  • Staying focused
  • Managing stress


A lack of concentration and reduced effort are hallmarks of inattentive ADHD. Children with this subtype of ADHD may seem to be daydreamers who have “tuned out” or are “not with it.”

Children with inattentive ADHD often have difficulties with handling everyday social interactions, such as joining in with other kids at play, initiating a friendship, or resolving a dispute, and may be socially rejected as a result.

While children with inattentive ADHD account for 25 percent of children with ADHD seen at mental health centers, they are less likely to be diagnosed and more likely to be overlooked when compared with the hyperactive-impulsive or combined subtypes. This could be due to their lack of hyperactivity.

The goals of treating inattentive ADHD is to improve symptoms and functional performance and remove obstacles that may affect behavior. Around one third of children with ADHD will continue to have the disorder into adulthood.

Although inattentive ADHD is a lifelong condition, symptoms can be reduced with proper treatment, and people with the disorder can lead a normal, fulfilling life.

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21 Jan

Medical News Today: 'Soft robot' designed to pump failing hearts

A team of researchers has designed a robotic sleeve capable of artificially mimicking the muscles of the heart. This new technology could be a lifesaver for individuals with heart failure awaiting transplant.
[Robot holding a robotic heart]
Soft robots could revolutionize cardiac medicine.

Each year, more than 2,000 people in the United States receive heart transplants, and a staggering 5.7 million experience heart failure.

Heart failure occurs when either of the heart’s ventricles can no longer fulfill their duty of pumping blood around the body.

The waiting list for heart transplants is long, and many people die before a donor is found. Designing ways to extend lives while patients wait for a new organ is therefore a priority.

Currently, ventricular assist devices (VADs) can be used to improve the health of patients with end-stage heart failure awaiting a transplant. However, they are not ideal.

VADs work by pumping blood from the heart and pushing it around the body. To work, the blood has to leave the confines of the blood vessels and travel through tubes and rotors.

Because of this contact with foreign material, the patient needs to take anticoagulants. These drugs can make VADs a viable solution, but they also increase the risk of stroke by 20 percent.

Besides VADs, cardiac sleeves are another option; they sit around the heart and squeeze it in order to replicate muscular contractions. These heart compression interventions are also far from perfect and, until recently, had been all but abandoned.

A new age of robots

Dr. Frank Pigula – from Norton Children’s Hospital in Louisville, KY, but who participated in the research at Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts – explains that: “The cardiac field had turned away from the idea of developing heart compression instead of blood-pumping VADs due to technological limitations. But now, with advancements in soft robotics, it’s time to turn back.”

This week, a new proof of concept – published in the journal Science Translational Medicine – reopens the doors to heart compression devices. A team of biomedical engineers and clinicians from Harvard in Cambridge, MA, and Boston Children’s Hospital has designed and tested a robotic sleeve that twists and compresses the heart in the same way that healthy ventricles would.

Although the classical image of a robot is a solid structure capable of withstanding interstellar warfare, the robots of modern medical research are the polar opposite. Made from elastomers, fibers, and other filler materials, a new wave of so-called soft robots are able to interact intimately and delicately with human anatomy.

Made exclusively from non-rigid, biocompatible materials, this groundbreaking cardiac sleeve sits outside of the heart, removing the need for anticoagulants while minimizing infection risks. It uses pneumatically powered “air muscles,” called actuators.

According to Dr. Nikolay Vasilyev, co-author of the current paper: “The soft robotic actuators are essentially artificial muscles.” The thin silicon sleeve is tethered to an external pump that uses air to power the actuators.

One section of the sleeve twists and the other squeezes, mimicking both ventricles of the heart. Earlier cardiac sleeves were limited in that they could only squeeze.

Soft robot’s lifesaving potential

The study’s first author, Ellen Roche, Ph.D. – who is now based at the National University of Ireland Galway – says that: “We can independently control portions of the device and adjust assistance to a patient’s needs.” So, if one side of a patient’s heart is weaker, it can be modified accordingly.

She continues: “I’m optimistic the soft robotic sleeve could potentially be used for short-term cardiac rehabilitation in addition to long-term therapy.”

The teams recently published their studies on pigs, in which they induced cardiac arrest in the animals then implanted the robotic device. They were able to demonstrate the sleeve’s ability to restore the heart to 97 percent of its original cardiac output.

“This work represents an exciting proof-of-concept result for this soft robot, demonstrating that it can safely interact with soft tissue and lead to improvements in cardiac function.”

Study co-leader Conor Walsh, Wyss Institute, Massachusetts

As the device is refined, there is a real opportunity to save lives. Most patients with heart failure retain a certain degree of function in their heart, and the sleeve has the potential to restore quality of life to these people. Finally, because heart failure affects 41 million people globally, its impact could be far-reaching.

Learn how a paralyzed man regained his sense of touch with a mind-controlled robotic arm.

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21 Jan

Medical News Today: Death risk may be higher for participants of U.S. food assistance program

People in the United States who are a part of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, may be at greater risk of premature death than those who are not a part of the program, a new study finds.
[A bag of groceries and some money]
Researchers suggest that people in the U.S. who are a part of the SNAP program may be at greater risk of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality.

Study leader Zach Conrad, Ph.D. – former postdoctoral fellow at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Medford, MA – and colleagues report their findings in the American Journal of Public Health.

SNAP is a food assistance program overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Formerly known as the Food Stamps Program, SNAP offers food-purchasing assistance to individuals and families with a low income – defined as a gross monthly salary at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty line.

In 2015, the federal government spent approximately $75 billion on SNAP, helping around 1 in 6 low-income U.S. individuals to purchase food.

According to the USDA, SNAP is “the nation’s first line of defense against hunger and offers a powerful tool to improve nutrition among low-income people.”

Food items that are eligible for purchase with SNAP benefits include fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, poultry, breads, cereals, and dairy products, as well as plants and seeds that produce edible foods.

SNAP participants cannot use their benefits to purchase alcohol, cigarettes, or tobacco. However, “junk food” – such as soft drinks, candy, and cookies – can be purchased, since the 2008 Food and Nutrition Act defines eligible food as “any food or food product for home consumption.”

Mortality risk increased twofold for SNAP participants

For their study, Conrad and colleagues analyzed data from the 2000-2009 National Health Interview Survey, which provided health information on 499,741 U.S. adults aged 25 and older.

The researchers set out to investigate the differences in mortality between three groups: individuals who took part in SNAP between 2000-2009, people who were eligible for SNAP benefits (based on income) but who did not participate in the program, and those who were ineligible for SNAP.

The survey data were linked to information on all-cause and cardiovascular mortality, provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Compared with individuals who were ineligible for SNAP, those who participated in SNAP were found to have a twofold greater risk of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality, and a threefold increased risk of diabetes mortality, over the 10-year period.

The risk of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality was 1.5 times higher for individuals who were eligible for SNAP but who did not participate, compared with ineligible adults, while the risk of diabetes mortality was almost twofold higher.

Looking at the data by race and ethnicity, the team found that the increased risk for all-cause and cardiovascular mortality was similar in both white and black individuals who took part in SNAP. Hispanics who participated in the program, however, were found to have a significantly lower mortality risk than that of other racial and ethnic groups.

The increased risk of diabetes mortality for SNAP participants was similar across all races and ethnicities, the team reports.

SNAP participants ‘require greater support to improve health’

The study findings remained after accounting for a number of possible confounding factors, including age, body mass index (BMI), physical activity, smoking status, alcohol use, and insurance coverage.

However, the team found that differences in employment, education, and marital status between each of the three groups could partly explain the differences in mortality.

While the study is purely observational and cannot prove that SNAP participation is a direct cause of increased mortality risk, the researchers say that their findings indicate that more needs to be done to boost the health of SNAP participants.

“Our results suggest that the millions of low-income Americans who rely on SNAP for food assistance require even greater support to improve their health than they currently receive. Such efforts should be a priority for policymakers.

Mortality differences were consistent by age and gender, whereas racial and ethnic differences were more varied. This highlights the need for further careful investigation of the underlying drivers of the observed poor health, which can help guide improvements to the program.”

Senior study author Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy

The team notes that SNAP participants tend to have a lower quality of diet than those who do not participate in the program, which can contribute to poor health.

Changing financial incentives for foods purchased under the SNAP program could be one way to improve participants’ diets, the researchers suggest. They point out that state-level modifications to the SNAP program have shown that offering financial incentives can increase the consumption of healthful foods.

“SNAP is effective at reaching a population that is at increased risk of ill health,” says Conrad. “Given that approximately 15 percent of the U.S. population participates in this important food assistance program, it is a vital component of the nation’s public health programming infrastructure, and strategies to improve the health of its participants must be prioritized.”

Learn how eating hot red chili peppers could help us to live longer.

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21 Jan

Medical News Today: Can Marijuana Help Treat Fibromyalgia?

Although best known as a recreational drug, marijuana has been used medicinally for thousands of years.

In the United States, the use of marijuana (also known as cannabis) is illegal under federal law. However, many states have passed laws to decriminalize its use for the treatment of specific medical conditions.

As a result, more and more people are considering it as a treatment for pain, nausea, and other symptoms, including those associated with fibromyalgia.

Can marijuana help with fibromyalgia?

Studies in the area of marijuana use for the treatment of fibromyalgia are lacking. The findings among the existing literature are mixed.

A woman is smoking some marijuana.
Research into the use of marijuana for treating fibromyalgia has produced mixed findings so far.

Some research indicates that the use of cannabis is associated with beneficial effects on some of the symptoms of fibromyalgia.

On the other hand, a 2016 review of studies found insufficient evidence to recommend any marijuana-based treatments for the management of symptoms in people with rheumatic diseases, such as fibromyalgia.

Considering that up to 90 percent of those with fibromyalgia are women, it is interesting to note that at least one study has found marijuana to be a better pain reliever for men than women.

It should also be kept in mind that marijuana is a plant that is grown, not carefully synthesized in a laboratory. Therefore, the amounts of potentially beneficial compounds present vary from one batch of plants to another. Symptom relief may also vary as a result.

However, marijuana has been found to be beneficial for treating chronic pain, nausea, and muscle spasms and nerve pain associated with multiple sclerosis (MS). It may emerge that cannabis is effective in easing these same symptoms in those with fibromyalgia.

Those interested in marijuana as a treatment for pain symptoms should check their state’s laws in relation to the use of cannabis. They should also consult their doctor for further advice and treatment. Marijuana should only be used under the care of a health professional.

What conditions can marijuana be used for?

Marijuana is used for a wide number of conditions, although research has only found it to be beneficial for a few. Currently, there is good scientific evidence for its use in treating chronic pain and MS symptoms, including nerve pain and muscle spasms.

Although some initial studies appear promising, more research is needed into the use of marijuana to treat:

Currently, dronabinol and nabilone are used to treat the nausea caused by chemotherapy and to increase appetite in patients with AIDS.

Risks and side effects of marijuana use

Possible side effects associated with marijuana use include:

  • Addiction
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Increased heart rate
  • Breathing problems
  • Dizziness
  • Impaired reaction times
  • Issues with concentration and memory
  • Mental illness in those predisposed to it
  • Interactions with other drugs

Medical marijuana

Medicinal marijuana.
The FDA have approved medications that contain synthetic versions of THC, an ingredient of marijuana that decreases pain levels.

Medical marijuana is sometimes suggested as a potential treatment for those with fibromyalgia because it contains compounds that may offer relief from pain and nausea. Two ingredients, THC and cannabidiol (CBD), are the most commonly studied.

THC is similar to cannabinoid chemicals that occur naturally in the body. It works by stimulating cannabinoid receptors in the brain. This activates the brain’s reward system and decreases pain levels. It also influences the areas of the brain associated with memory and coordination.

Unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive and does not bind to cannabinoid receptors. Therefore, it does not produce the “high” associated with THC.

Synthetic marijuana drugs

When the term medical marijuana is used, it refers to using the whole, unprocessed cannabis plant (or its extracts) to treat illness. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have not approved medical marijuana as a safe or effective drug for any condition.

However, the administration has approved medications containing synthetic versions of THC, such as dronabinol and nabilone.

Clinical trials are currently being conducted on drugs that contain CBD, some of which are already approved in other countries.

Medical treatments and lifestyle changes

Fibromyalgia is associated with a wide variety of symptoms, so it is unlikely that a single treatment will work for all. Treatments also vary in effectiveness from patient to patient.

For most people, a combination of medication and lifestyle changes is most beneficial.


Several drugs are aimed at relieving symptoms of fibromyalgia. These include pain relievers (either over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers may be recommended) or antidepressants, which can alleviate the pain, fatigue, and depression experienced by many with fibromyalgia.

Lifestyle changes

A leg is being massaged.
Massage therapy may help alleviate the symptoms of fibromyalgia.

The symptoms of fibromyalgia may be managed through one or more of the following lifestyle modifications:

  • Exercise. Consistent gentle exercises such as walking, swimming, and pilates may help to decrease pain symptoms.
  • Stress reduction. Reducing both the physical and emotional symptoms of stress is important in the management of this condition. Meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and breathing exercises are among the techniques recommended.
  • Massage. The National Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Association state that massage therapy can improve chronic pain and fibromyalgia symptoms.
  • Acupuncture. Some research indicates that tailored acupuncture can ease symptoms in some people.
  • Sleep. People should aim to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. This will help to ease fatigue, one of the main symptoms of fibromyalgia. Those who struggle to get enough sleep should discuss the issue with their doctor.
  • Behavior modification therapy. Working with a therapist to learn new coping skills and define and set limits can improve quality of life and self-esteem in those with fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions.

Fibromyalgia overview

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes a severe and constant pain throughout the body. It also causes fatigue and issues with memory and mood. It is thought that the condition affects the way the body processes pain signals, leading to greater-than-normal sensations of pain.

Fibromyalgia is classed as a rheumatic condition: one that causes joint and soft tissue pain. Other types of rheumatic diseases include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus.

The American College of Rheumatology estimate that between 2 and 4 percent of people have fibromyalgia. The vast majority of whom are women.


The exact cause of fibromyalgia is not known, although several factors are thought to play a role. These can include:

  • Genetics: Fibromyalgia tends to run in families.
  • Illness or infection: People with other rheumatic diseases are more likely to develop fibromyalgia. Infection can also trigger its onset.
  • Physical trauma: A car accident, surgery, or other physical stressor can bring on symptoms.
  • Psychological distress: Post-traumatic stress disorder has been linked to fibromyalgia.

For some people, there appears to be no single event to cause the onset of symptoms.

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Source: medicalnewstoday

21 Jan

Truckers' Poor Health: An Accident Waiting to Happen?

News Picture: Truckers' Poor Health: An Accident Waiting to Happen?

Latest Prevention & Wellness News

THURSDAY, Jan. 19, 2017 (HealthDay News) — Truck drivers spend long hours behind the wheel and often eat less-than-healthy food at roadside stops. These behaviors can raise their risk of multiple health conditions, which boost their chances of getting into a crash, a new study suggests.

Researchers examined data from more than 49,000 commercial truck drivers and found that 34 percent had at least one of several health problems — such as heart disease, low back pain and diabetes — that have been linked with poor driving performance.

Truck drivers with three or more of the flagged medical conditions were two to four times more likely to be in a crash than their healthier peers, the University of Utah researchers found.

For example, the rate of crashes resulting in injury among all truck drivers was 29 per 100 million miles traveled, but was 93 per 100 million miles traveled for drivers with three or more of the identified health problems.

However, the study wasn’t designed to prove a cause-and-effect link.

“What these data are telling us is that with decreasing health comes increased crash risk, including crashes that truck drivers could prevent,” study lead author Matthew Thiese said in a university news release.

Current guidelines prevent truckers with a major health problem from driving, but the guidelines don’t address numerous minor symptoms, the study authors said.

“Right now, conditions are thought of in isolation. There’s no guidance for looking at multiple conditions in concert,” said Thiese. He’s an assistant professor at Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (RMCOEH).

The researchers said the fact that occupants of other vehicles are hurt in three-quarters of injury crashes involving trucks makes this a public health issue.

According to study senior author Dr. Kurt Hegmann, director of RMCOEH, “If we can better understand the interplay between driver health and crash risk, then we can better address safety concerns.”

The study was published online recently in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

— Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2017 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

SOURCE: University of Utah, news release, Jan. 16, 2017

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Source: MediciNet

21 Jan

Most Cow's Milk Baby Formulas Don't Up Risk of Type 1 Diabetes

News Picture: Most Cow's Milk Baby Formulas Don't Up Risk of Type 1 DiabetesBy Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter

Latest Healthy Kids News

THURSDAY, Jan. 19, 2017 (HealthDay News) — Although breast milk is still considered the best nutrition for babies, a new study suggests that most cow’s milk formulas don’t increase the risk of developing type 1 diabetes.

However, the German researchers who did the study did find that giving highly hydrolyzed formulas — sometimes recommended for babies with food allergies — in the first week of life may increase the chances of type 1 diabetes in some children.

“There is no benefit for infants at increased genetic risk for type 1 diabetes to be fed hydrolyzed infant formula as a first formula if breast-feeding is not possible,” said lead author Sandra Hummel, from the Institute of Diabetes Research in Munich.

The study wasn’t designed to prove a cause-and-effect relationship between cow’s milk baby formula and the development of autoantibodies that can trigger type 1 diabetes.

And it’s important to note that type 1 diabetes is believed to be caused by more than one factor, diabetes experts explained.

“This is one piece of the puzzle, and their conclusions are pretty mild. There’s probably not going to be one single thing that’s shown to be the cause of type 1 diabetes,” said Jessica Dunne. She’s the director of discovery research for JDRF — formerly the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

Highly hydrolyzed formulas are formulas that contain cow’s milk proteins that aren’t whole — they’re already at least partially broken down, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

According to Hummel, the molecular weight of cow’s milk proteins differs by formula. It’s lightest for the highly hydrolyzed formulas and heaviest for the standard formulas, she explained.

Partially or highly hydrolyzed formulas also tend to be more expensive than standard infant formulas.

The researchers initially thought to look at cow’s milk-based formulas because cow’s milk has been previously implicated as a possible risk factor for type 1 diabetes. However, past studies have had mixed results, so it’s still not clear if there’s a connection, the study authors said.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. That means the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the body. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system destroys insulin-producing islet cells. That leaves the body unable to produce enough insulin, a hormone necessary for cells to be able to use the sugars from foods as fuel.

The autoantibodies that destroy the islet cells are called islet autoantibodies. These antibodies are often evident before the signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes surface.

The new study used data from a long-term study of children who are at high-risk of developing type 1 diabetes. It includes almost 9,000 children who have a gene that suggests an increased risk of type 1 diabetes. The children were followed from birth through age 8, according to Hummel.

The children come from four countries. Three sites are in the United States. One is in Finland, another is in Germany, and the final site is in Sweden.

The researchers found that regular cow’s milk formula, partially hydrolyzed and even highly hydrolyzed formulas given during the first three months of life weren’t linked to a higher risk of type 1 diabetes.

But, when highly hydrolyzed formulas were given during the first seven days of life, the study showed that the chances of islet autoimmunity went up 57 percent.

There are a number of potential reasons that this type of formula could raise the risk of type 1 diabetes, according to Dunne. “It may have to do with early immune education. It could be the gut microbiome [the bacteria normally living in the intestine], but there’s no smoking gun,” she said.

Most of the extensively hydrolyzed formula use — 80 percent — was in Finland. Dunne said the researchers took this into account, and still saw a link.

Dunne suggested that parents who have a family history of type 1 diabetes have a conversation with their pediatrician about what formula would be best if they need to use baby formula.

The findings were published online Jan. 17 in the journal Diabetes Care.

Copyright © 2017 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

SOURCES: Sandra Hummel, Ph.D., group leader, gestational diabetes, Institute of Diabetes Research, Munich, Germany; Jessica Dunne, Ph.D., director, discovery research, JDRF, New York City; Jan. 17, 2016, Diabetes Care

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Source: MediciNet

21 Jan

Nearly Half of U.S. Men Infected With HPV, Study Finds

News Picture: Nearly Half of U.S. Men Infected With HPV, Study FindsBy Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

Latest Sexual Health News

THURSDAY, Jan. 19, 2017 (HealthDay News) — Many American men are infected with the cancer-causing human papillomavirus (HPV), but unlike women, men are more likely to stay infected throughout their lives, a new study finds.

About 45 percent of U.S. men are infected with the sexually transmitted disease, as are 45 percent of women. Among women, the prevalence of HPV infection drops to about 22 percent as they age, but it remains high among men, said lead researcher Dr. Jasmine Han. She is in the division ofgynecologic oncology at Womack Army Medical Center, in Fort Bragg, N.C.

“We don’t know why it stays high in men while it drops in women,” she said. “Among men it’s higher than expected.”

Han speculates that the virus may remain in men because it lives in the penile glands, while in women, the virus is near the surface of the vagina and is more easily shed.

Although a vaccine against HPV has been available since 2009, coverage remains low. Only about 11 percent of men and 33 percent of women have been vaccinated, Han said.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease among men and women in the United States, according to background information in the study. About 79 million Americans are infected with some type of HPV, with approximately half of new infections occurring before age 24, the study authors said.

Most people infected with HPV don’t know they have it and don’t develop health problems from it, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But HPV is not a benign infection. More than 9,000 cases of HPV-related cancers occur in men each year. HPV is the cause of 63 percent of penile, 91 percent of anal, and 72 percent of oral and throat cancers, the researchers noted.

In addition, HPV among men is an indirect cause of cervical cancer in women. The virus is also responsible for 90 percent of genital warts. HPV can also lead to tumors in the respiratory tract, called respiratory papillomatosis.

Han believes that the HPV vaccine should be mandatory for both boys and girls.

The CDC recommends that all boys and girls aged 11 to 12 get two doses of the HPV vaccine.

“We want our children to be vaccinated with the HPV vaccine because it is a cancer vaccine,” Han said. “By getting vaccinated, you can prevent your sons and daughters from getting these HPV-associated cancers in later years,” she explained.

Fred Wyand is a spokesman for the American Sexual Health Association/National Cervical Cancer Coalition. “This study underscores that HPV is common in men, and that’s true throughout most of their lives,” he said.

“We’re doing a better job of getting young males vaccinated against HPV, but uptake is still way below the levels we’d like to see,” Wyand added.

To get parents to accept the vaccine for their children, Wyand suggested that doctors need to give a “clear, strong recommendation for vaccination and treat HPV immunization as a normal, routine part of adolescent vaccinations.”

To gauge the prevalence of HPV infection among men, Han and colleagues used data on nearly 1,900 men who took part in the 2013-2014 U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Samples from penile swabs were tested for HPV.

Overall, a little more than 45 percent of the men were infected with the cancer-causing virus. Among vaccine-eligible men, however, only about 11 percent had been vaccinated.

The lowest prevalence of the virus among men was about 29 percent for those aged 18 to 22, which increased to nearly 47 percent in men aged 23 to 27 and stayed high and constant as men aged, Han said.

It’s possible that the lower rate among younger men may have resulted from young men being vaccinated, the researchers said.

The report was published online Jan. 19 in the journal JAMA Oncology.

Copyright © 2017 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

SOURCES: Jasmine Han, M.D., Womack Army Medical Center, Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fred Wyand, spokesman, American Sexual Health Association/National Cervical Cancer Coalition, Research Triangle Park, N.C.; Jan. 19, 2017, JAMA Oncology, online

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Source: MediciNet