Monday, 28 November 2011


Food We Eat Might Control Our Genes
Scientists find rice microRNA inside human cells
By Anne-Marie C. Hodge | November 25, 2011 | 22

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Image: Busse Yankushev Alamy
“You are what you eat.” The old adage has for decades weighed on the minds of consumers who fret over responsible food choices. Yet what if it was literally true? What if material from our food actually made its way into the innermost control centers of our cells, taking charge of fundamental gene expression?

That is in fact what happens, according to a recent study of plant-animal micro­RNA transfer led by Chen-Yu Zhang of Nanjing University in China. MicroRNAs are short sequences of nucleotides—the building blocks of genetic material. Although microRNAs do not code for proteins, they prevent specific genes from giving rise to the proteins they encode. Blood samples from 21 volunteers were tested for the presence of microRNAs from crop plants, such as rice, wheat, potatoes and cabbage.

The results, published in the journal Cell Research, showed that the subjects’ bloodstream contained approximately 30 different microRNAs from commonly eaten plants. It appears that they can also alter cell function: a specific rice microRNA was shown to bind to and inhibit the activity of receptors controlling the removal of LDL—“bad” cholesterol—from the bloodstream. Like vitamins and minerals, microRNA may represent a previously unrecognized type of functional molecule obtained from food.

The revelation that plant microRNAs play a role in controlling human physiology highlights the fact that our bodies are highly integrated ecosystems. Zhang says the findings may also illuminate our understanding of co-evolution, a process in which genetic changes in one species trigger changes in another. For example, our ability to digest the lactose in milk after infancy arose after we domesticated cattle. Could the plants we cultivated have altered us as well? Zhang’s study is another reminder that nothing in nature exists in isolation.


Four Drugs Cause Most Hospitalizations in Older Adults

Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
NOV 28, 2011
Some medications may cause dangerous reactions.
Blood thinners and diabetes drugs cause most emergency hospital visits for drug reactions among people over 65 in the United States, a new study shows.

Just four medications or medication groups — used alone or together — were responsible for two-thirds of emergency hospitalizations among older Americans, according to the report. At the top of the list was warfarin, also known as Coumadin, a blood thinner. It accounted for 33 percent of emergency hospital visits. Insulin injections were next on the list, accounting for 14 percent of emergency visits.

Aspirin, clopidogrel and other antiplatelet drugs that help prevent blood clotting were involved in 13 percent of emergency visits. And just behind them were diabetes drugs taken by mouth, called oral hypoglycemic agents, which were implicated in 11 percent of hospitalizations.

All these drugs are commonly prescribed to older adults, and they can be hard to use correctly. One problem they share is a narrow therapeutic index, meaning the line between an effective dose and a hazardous one is thin. The sheer extent to which they are involved in hospitalizations among older people, though, was not expected, said Dr. Dan Budnitz, an author of the study and director of the Medication Safety Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We weren’t so surprised at the particular drugs that were involved,” Dr. Budnitz said. “But we were surprised how many of the emergency hospitalizations were due to such a relatively small number of these drugs.”

Every year, about 100,000 people in the United States over age 65 are taken to hospitals for adverse reactions to medications. About two-thirds end up there because of accidental overdoses, or because the amount of medication prescribed for them had a more powerful effect than intended.

As Americans live longer and take more medications — 40 percent of people over 65 take five to nine medications — hospitalizations for accidental overdoses and adverse side effects are likely to increase, experts say.

In the latest study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Budnitz and his colleagues combed through data collected from 2007 to 2009 at 58 hospitals around the country. The hospitals were all participating in a surveillance project run by the C.D.C. that looks at adverse drug events.

A common denominator among the drugs topping the list is that they can be difficult to use. Some require blood testing to adjust their doses, and a small dose can have a powerful effect. Blood sugar can be notoriously hard to control in people with diabetes, for example, and taking a slightly larger dose of insulin than needed can send a person into shock. Warfarin, meanwhile, is the classic example of a drug with a narrow margin between therapeutic and toxic doses, requiring regular blood monitoring, and it can interact with many other drugs and foods.

“These are medicines that are critical,” Dr. Budnitz said, “but because they cause so many of these harms, it’s important that they’re managed appropriately.”

One thing that stood out in the data, the researchers noted, was that none of the four drugs identified as frequent culprits are typically among the types of drugs labeled “high risk” for older adults by major health care groups. The medications that are usually designated high risk or “potentially inappropriate” are commonly used over-the-counter drugs like Benadryl, as well as Demerol and other powerful narcotic painkillers. And yet those drugs accounted for only about 8 percent of emergency hospitalizations among the elderly.

Dr. Budnitz said that the new findings should provide an opportunity to reduce the number of emergency hospitalizations in older adults by focusing on improving the safety of this small group of blood thinners and diabetes medications, rather than by trying to stop the use of drugs typically thought of as risky for this group.

“I think the bottom line for patients is that they should tell all their doctors that they’re on these medications,” he said, “and they should work with their physicians and pharmacies to make sure they get appropriate testing and are taking the appropriate doses.”

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Experimental Philosophy of Everyday Life

Experimental Philosophy of Everyday Life
Following closely the real life adventures in Thought Experiments of my dear friend MC-a mixture of self-realization, applied psychology and Philosophy-I wanted to delve more into the realm of Philosophy in everyday life.
Two prominent findings stood out:
1. Most of the personal conflicts are self-made or man-made and the person confirms it by their self-made or imagined justifications.
2. Most people do not wish to do anything about it, find reasons not do so or follow charlatan advice that reinforces their reluctance, at times adding an exotic note.
The story of a man who was walking with a stone in his shoes all his life, as explained by the Philosopher Counsellor Dr Lou Merinoff is a good illustration of the latter finding and the former finding is contrary to many of the Mental Health professional’s idea of why personal conflicts rise.
A good woman friend of mine, who lives in Teheran, Iran, sent me a link to an Iranian website where educated men posed nude in their blogs, as a protest in a country where women are subjected to extreme violence regarding the exhibition of their bodies, also to demonstrate that the beauty of something being exhibited is not in the object itself but in your thoughts, how you interpret it.
Without context, things have no meaning, I thought to myself. Having lived in countries known for its freedom: Australia, Sweden, UK and USA with forays into the closed political systems of Cuba and Burma, the photographs did not appear to be beautiful to me, appeared somewhat rude. Whereas photos of young women being hoarded into police vans by stern looking head to toe covered policewomen appeared very violent.
This is where the Experimental Philosophy or its use as a counselling tool comes in handy.
The photos themselves are not inherently bad, but my interpretation attaches values to them. Sounds very yogic as well, this western idea of experimental philosophy.
So what we call our “core values” can be seen to be influenced by context: time, distance, lack of awareness, ignorance among others.

Something to think about on this Sunday morning under grey skies in Paris but not an unpleasant day expected.
Regarding the man who has a stone in his shoes, IF he requests your help, if he is ready to accept your help, you should ask him to take the stone out of his shoes!
Those who are interested in reading about Knobe effect, please refer to ScientificAmerican/nov2011/knobe

Omega 3 Fatty Acids Protect the Heart in patients with Diabetes

Omega-3 fatty acids may stave off CV events in high-risk patients with diabetes
Kromhout D. Diabetes Care. 2011;34:2515-2520.
Low-dose supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids may protect patients with diabetes and a history of myocardial infarction from ventricular arrhythmia-related events, new data from the Alpha Omega Trial suggest.
Daan Kromhout, MPH, PhD, of the division of human nutrition at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and colleagues randomly assigned 1,014 patients aged 60 to 80 years with diabetes to consume one of four margarines supplemented with daily recommended doses of omega-3 fatty acids: 400 mg eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) per day; 2 g alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) per day; a combination of the recommended daily doses of EPA, DHA and ALA; or placebo for 40 months. All patients had MI within the past 10 years.
On average, patients consumed 18.6 g margarine daily, according to the researchers, leading to additional intakes of 223 mg EPA, 149 mg DHA and 1.9 g ALA per day. During a median follow-up period of 40.7 months, 29 patients developed a ventricular arrhythmia-related event and 27 died of MI. Data indicate that supplementation with any combination of the omega-3 fatty acids decreased ventricular arrhythmia-related events compared with placebo. However, patients assigned EPA and DHA plus ALA supplementation experienced the lowest incidence, with adjusted analyses suggesting that supplementation decreased these events by 84% vs. placebo (HR=0.16; 95% CI, 0.04-0.69). Results were similar for the combined endpoint of cardiac arrest and sudden death (HR=0.13; 95% CI, 0.02-1.09) and placement of cardioverter defibrillators(HR=0.19; 95% CI, 0.02-1.55).
Although the researchers found no significant reductions in fatal MI among the treatment groups, after adjustment for potential confounders, combined supplementation of EPA and DHA plus ALA appeared to reduce the combined endpoint of ventricular arrhythmia-related events and fatal MI by 72% (HR=0.28; 95% CI, 0.11-0.71), the researchers said.
“While more research is needed to definitively determine the role of these fatty acids in protecting people from ventricular arrhythmias, they seem to provide a benefit to the heart attack patients who also had diabetes,” Kromhout said in a press release. “This is the first study that showed a significant protective effect of omega-3 fatty acids in high-risk patients with diabetes who were on state-of-the-art drug treatment for their heart attack.”
Disclosure: Unilever provided an unrestricted grant for distribution of trial margarines to the patients, and one researcher reports being an employee of Unilever.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Nature Vs Nurture Once again, this time Nature vs Practice

November 19, 2011
Sorry, Strivers: Talent Matters
HOW do people acquire high levels of skill in science, business, music, the arts and sports? This has long been a topic of intense debate in psychology.

Research in recent decades has shown that a big part of the answer is simply practice — and a lot of it. In a pioneering study, the Florida State University psychologist K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues asked violin students at a music academy to estimate the amount of time they had devoted to practice since they started playing. By age 20, the students whom the faculty nominated as the “best” players had accumulated an average of over 10,000 hours, compared with just under 8,000 hours for the “good” players and not even 5,000 hours for the least skilled.

Those findings have been enthusiastically championed, perhaps because of their meritocratic appeal: what seems to separate the great from the merely good is hard work, not intellectual ability. Summing up Mr. Ericsson’s research in his book “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell observes that practice isn’t “the thing you do once you’re good” but “the thing you do that makes you good.” He adds that intellectual ability — the trait that an I.Q. score reflects — turns out not to be that important. “Once someone has reached an I.Q. of somewhere around 120,” he writes, “having additional I.Q. points doesn’t seem to translate into any measureable real-world advantage.”

David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, restates this idea in his book “The Social Animal,” while Geoff Colvin, in his book “Talent Is Overrated,” adds that “I.Q. is a decent predictor of performance on an unfamiliar task, but once a person has been at a job for a few years, I.Q. predicts little or nothing about performance.”

But this isn’t quite the story that science tells. Research has shown that intellectual ability matters for success in many fields — and not just up to a point.

Exhibit A is a landmark study of intellectually precocious youths directed by the Vanderbilt University researchers David Lubinski and Camilla Benbow. They and their colleagues tracked the educational and occupational accomplishments of more than 2,000 people who as part of a youth talent search scored in the top 1 percent on the SAT by the age of 13. (Scores on the SAT correlate so highly with I.Q. that the psychologist Howard Gardner described it as a “thinly disguised” intelligence test.) The remarkable finding of their study is that, compared with the participants who were “only” in the 99.1 percentile for intellectual ability at age 12, those who were in the 99.9 percentile — the profoundly gifted — were between three and five times more likely to go on to earn a doctorate, secure a patent, publish an article in a scientific journal or publish a literary work. A high level of intellectual ability gives you an enormous real-world advantage.

In our own recent research, we have discovered that “working memory capacity,” a core component of intellectual ability, predicts success in a wide variety of complex activities. In one study, we assessed the practice habits of pianists and then gauged their working memory capacity, which is measured by having a person try to remember information (like a list of random digits) while performing another task. We then had the pianists sight read pieces of music without preparation.

Not surprisingly, there was a strong positive correlation between practice habits and sight-reading performance. In fact, the total amount of practice the pianists had accumulated in their piano careers accounted for nearly half of the performance differences across participants. But working memory capacity made a statistically significant contribution as well (about 7 percent, a medium-size effect). In other words, if you took two pianists with the same amount of practice, but different levels of working memory capacity, it’s likely that the one higher in working memory capacity would have performed considerably better on the sight-reading task.

It would be nice if intellectual ability and the capacities that underlie it were important for success only up to a point. In fact, it would be nice if they weren’t important at all, because research shows that those factors are highly stable across an individual’s life span. But wishing doesn’t make it so.

None of this is to deny the power of practice. Nor is it to say that it’s impossible for a person with an average I.Q. to, say, earn a Ph.D. in physics. It’s just unlikely, relatively speaking. Sometimes the story that science tells us isn’t the story we want to hear.

David Z. Hambrick and Elizabeth J. Meinz are associate professors of psychology at Michigan State University and Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, respectively.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

High Fructose Corn Syrup and Fatty Liver Disease

High-fructose corn syrup consumption may push fatty livers to the brink
March 18, 2010 | 6:12 pm
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is one of the many consequences of obesity, as fat accumulates not only across the body and around the visceral organs, but inside the organ that helps break down fats, filter toxins from the bloodstream and create useable fuel from the food we eat. About 3 in 10 American adults suffer from nonalcoholic fatty liver. But it's a population of patients that's grown so fast, there isn't a lot known about their risks, and what factors aggravate those risks.

Researchers know those with nonalcoholic fatty liver are more likely than those without such fatty deposits to develop cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure requiring transplant. Still, a minority of those patients will do so, and doctors wish they could identify what factors may push those with fatty liver toward those outcomes.

The development of tough scar tissue in the liver can be a sign that liver failure may lie ahead. For heavy alcohol consumers, an alcoholic bender can cause scarring, or fibrosis, and lead to trouble. That's why those with signs of alcoholic fatty liver are urged to stop drinking alcohol.

A new study suggests that for those with nonalcoholic fatty liver, drinking a lot of beverages sweetened with fructose may do the same thing as liquor.

The study, published in the journal Hepatology, tracked 427 patients with fatty liver disease to see whether consumption of fructose made a difference in the progression of fatty liver to the organ's failure. The Duke University researchers asked subjects only about how many fructose-sweetened beverages a week they drank, including fruit juices and soft drinks sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup -- yielding a conservative accounting, since the stuff is also used in baking and other processed foods. Though only 19% of the fatty liver patients consumed few or no fructose sweetened beverages, 28% drank at least one a day.

Best represented among the heavy fructose consumers were subjects who were younger, male and Latino, and who had a higher BMI.

Compared to subjects who drank the least fructose beverages, those who drank the most were significantly more likely to have the hepatic scarring that will more often progress to cirrhosis or liver cancer. And older subjects who regularly consumed fructose beverages showed more signs of liver inflammation. After they stripped out the effects of age, gender and body-mass index, the researchers also found that the heavy fructose drinkers also have lower levels of HDL (or "good") cholesterol.

Duke University hepatologist Dr. Manal Abdelmalek said in a news release that high-fructose corn syrup, which was first introduced into the human diet in the 1970s and has accounted for an average of 10% of Americans' caloric intake over the last decade, "may not be as benign as we previously thought." While researchers have demonstrated clearly that the stuff has "fueled the fire of the obesity epidemic," added Abdelmalek, "untill now, no one has ever suggested it contributes to liver disease and/or liver injury."