Environmental stewardship is influenced by a nation’s personality

Toronto – Countries with higher levels of compassion and openness score better when it comes to environmental sustainability, says research from the University of Toronto.

A new study by Jacob Hirsh, an Assistant Professor of Organizational Behaviour & Human Resource Management at the University of Toronto Mississauga’s Institute for Management & Innovation, who is cross-appointed to UofT’s Rotman School of Management, demonstrates that a country’s personality profile can predict its environmental sustainability records.

While Prof. Hirsh’s previous work has looked at how personality traits predict an individual’s attitudes about the environment, this latest study takes the research to another level, examining how those traits play out across whole nations.

“We used to think that personality only mattered for individual outcomes,” says Prof. Hirsh, “but we’re finding that population differences in personality characteristics have many large-scale consequences”.

The new study examined nation-level personality traits from a database of over 12,000 people in 51 countries. National personality differences, reflecting average trait profiles of a country’s citizens, were used to predict scores on the Environmental Performance Index (EPI). The EPI, developed at Yale and Columbia Universities, ranks countries across 22 environmental indicators, including Co2 emission levels, use of renewable energy, and ecosystem management.

Higher scores on the EPI, reflecting more environmentally sustainable practices, were positively correlated with national levels of two personality traits: Agreeableness, which reflects empathy and compassion, and Openness, which reflects cognitive flexibility and aesthetic appreciation. The same relationships were observed even when controlling for national differences in wealth, education, and population size.

These results highlight the psychological factors that can shape a nation’s environmental policies, says Prof. Hirsh. “Not only can a person’s attitudes about the environment be predicted from his or her personality traits, but the environmental practices of entire nations can be predicted from the personality profiles of their citizens”.

The paper was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Environmental Psychology. Source

Posted in Environmental Health: Sustainability | Leave a comment

Psychological abuse may leave the deepest scars, is undertreated

(Reuters Health) – Psychological cruelty to children from parents or caregivers can cause as much – or even more – emotional damage than physical and sexual abuse, according to a new U.S. study.

The diagnosis is being overlooked and undertreated compared to physical forms of abuse, researchers say.

“When you look at symptom severity, there was no difference between the three forms of maltreatment,” said Joseph Spinazzola, lead author of the study.

Psychological trauma is different from “dysfunctional parenting,” where moms or dads periodically lose their tempers.

“It’s sort of living in this situation where they’re not receiving any kind of love or warmth and instead they’re receiving either hostility, threats or impossible demands, almost as if they are an enemy or monster, a pathetic unlovable creature . . . .,” said Spinazzola, executive director of The Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute in Brookline, Massachusetts.

The study used the National Child Traumatic Stress Network Core Data set to analyze the cases of 5,616 youth with histories of psychological, physical or sexual abuse.

The children were ages 2 to 10 at the start of the data collection, which took place from 2004 to 2010. Forty-two percent were boys and 62 percent had a history of psychological abuse. More

Posted in Health Care: Medical Errors, Mental Health: Abuse | Leave a comment

Overweight kids misinterpret asthma symptoms, potentially overuse medication

ORLANDO, Fla. – New research shows obese children with asthma may mistake symptoms of breathlessness for loss of asthma control leading to high and unnecessary use of rescue medications. The study was published online in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI), the official scientific journal of the American Association of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

“Obese children with asthma need to develop a greater understanding of the distinct feeling of breathlessness in order to avoid not just unnecessary medication use, but also the anxiety, reduced quality of life and health care utilization that come along with this misunderstood symptom,” said Jason Lang, MD, MPH, a physician and researcher in the Division of Pulmonary Medicine at Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando, Fla. “Alleviating this overuse of rescue medications could likely also lessen other symptoms obese children with asthma are impacted by, including most notably acid reflux.”

Researchers, led by Lang, reviewed the lung function, treatment uses, symptom patterns, healthcare utilization, quality of life and caregiver perceptions of asthma-related quality of life in overweight/obese children with asthma (BMI ≥ 85th percentile) and lean counterparts (BMI 20-65th percentile). In total 58 children participated in the study’s three clinical visits.

Both groups displayed similar lung function and controller therapy. However, obese children with asthma experienced and reported symptoms differently compared to lean children, noting symptoms of shortness of breath instead of cough, and three times greater use of self-medication with short-acting Beta-agonist (SABA) medications. These children also had lower asthma-related quality of life and greater gastrointestinal symptoms reported by GERD score.

Researchers note that much of the problematic nature of asthma among obese children with early-onset, allergic asthma may stem in part from heightened airflow perception and GERD symptoms, leading to a sensation of breathlessness. Additionally, high SABA use in this group has been previously shown to reduce lower esophageal sphincter tone, perpetuating a cycle of GERD, chest symptoms and more SABA use.

The results have clinical implications for overweight/obese asthmatic children with excessive breathlessness and rescue medication use. Respiratory physicians treating these children should consider weight loss or other alternative self-management plans to improve GERD, asthma-related symptoms and medication utilization.

“This research helps define how overweight and obesity affect the patterns and severity of asthma symptoms in children,” said Lang. “We hope to use this information to improve self-management and health care utilization for this critical patient population.” Source

Posted in Asthma, Health Care: Medical Errors, Obesity | Leave a comment

High-Dose Vitamin D Not Effective for Repeat Reproductive Tract Infections

Newswise — Columbus, OH. Women with the reproductive infection bacterial vaginosis (BV) do not benefit from high-dose vitamin-D supplementation, according to new research. The findings add to a body of conflicting data about a possible link between vitamin D – a powerful immune system regulator – and BV, which is the most common vaginal infection among women ages 15-44 around the world.

“Earlier studies observed that women with low vitamin D levels were more likely to have bacterial vaginosis, and we hypothesized that vitamin D supplementation might reduce BV,” said the trial’s lead author Abigail Norris Turner, PhD, an infectious disease expert at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “However, our study found that high-dose vitamin D supplementation wasn’t helpful in preventing recurrence of BV.”

BV is caused by an imbalance in the bacteria that normally populate the reproductive tract, and is not sexually transmitted. Initial antimicrobial treatment is usually successful, but many women go on to have repeat episodes of BV. Some women don’t have symptoms, while others have symptoms that sufferers say are embarrassing and detrimental to their sexual relationships.

Beyond embarrassment, BV has much more serious health implications: in pregnant women, it can cause spontaneous abortions, and women who have BV are more susceptible to acquiring and transmitting HIV. In the United States, 21 million women are diagnosed with BV each year, and black women are almost twice as likely to have the condition as white women.

“BV is a very real health issue for millions of women, many of whom have limited access to medical care,” said Turner, who was originally an HIV epidemiologist before turning her focus to women’s reproductive health more generally. “Finding a low cost, simple way to help women with recurrent BV would be a major global public health win.”

The Silver Lining
For the randomized, double-blinded study, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Turner enrolled 118 women with BV from a local health department sexual health clinic. At enrollment, the women had their baseline vitamin D level measured via a blood sample, and were provided with the standard, CDC-recommended 7-day antimicrobial treatment for BV.

The women were randomized into two equal-sized groups, with one group receiving 9 doses of 50,000 IU of cholecalciferol (vitamin D3), and the other group receiving a placebo. Both groups were instructed to take either the vitamin D tablets or placebo at regular intervals during the 24-week study. Study participants’ BV status and vitamin D serum levels were checked at several points across the study. None of the participants, investigators nor data analysts knew which women were receiving vitamin D and which were receiving placebo.

Turner found that while women randomized to the vitamin D arm had significant increases in their serum vitamin D levels compared to women in the placebo arm – validating their compliance with the protocol –this did not translate into a decrease in BV recurrence. Despite not finding the evidence that she was looking for, Turner said that her research yielded other important findings for future studies.

“We learned that this high-risk population knew a lot about bacterial vaginosis, and that many women have an active interest in learning more about treating it,” said Turner, who was supported by a KL2 career development grant from Ohio State’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS). “This study also gave us proof that we can effectively recruit for a large-scale clinical trial at a local health clinic.”

Moving beyond vitamin D
Turner and her research mentor, Rebecca Jackson, MD, emphasize that while vitamin D may not be useful for treating women with recurrent BV, the jury is still out on the vitamin’s ability to prevent BV from initially developing.

Vitamin D is critical to a healthy immune system, so there may still be a role for it from a prevention standpoint,” said Jackson, a women’s health expert and Director of the CCTS. “And certainly, women of all ages should make sure they are getting adequate amounts of vitamin D through diet, daily exposure to sunlight or supplementation.”

Turner says that while she is able to rule out vitamin D as a solution for recurrent BV, the disappointing results have pushed her to pursue a different track.

“I think we need to go back to why people studied vitamin D as a BV risk factor initially – and that’s the immune system and immune response,” said Turner. “Most women have continually fluctuating concentrations of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria in the genital tract. What immune factors lead some women to develop BV, and others to more effectively regulate the balance of bacteria in the vagina?”

Turner is in the process of developing a grant proposal to explore her hypothesis further.

Turner’s research was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Study collaborators include, from Ohio State’s College of Medicine: Patricia Carr Reese, MPH and John A. Davis, MD, PhD, Division of Infectious Disease; Mark A. Klebanoff, MD, MPH, Departments of Pediatrics and Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital; from the Sexual Health Clinic of the Columbus Public Health Department: Karen S. Fields, RN, Julie Anderson, MPH, Melissa Ervin, MT (ASCP), and Mysheika Williams Roberts, MD, MPH; from the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology, Laboratory of Genital Tract Biology, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School: Raina N. Fichorova, MD, PhD.

Posted in Bacterial Vaginosis, Nutrition: Vitamin D | Leave a comment

Endurance athletes at risk of swimming-induced pulmonary edema

Endurance athletes taking part in triathlons are at risk of the potentially life-threatening condition of swimming-induced pulmonary oedema. Cardiologists from Musgrove Park Hospital, Taunton, writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, say the condition, which causes an excess collection of watery fluid in the lungs, is likely to become more common with the increase in participation in endurance sports. Increasing numbers of cases are being reported in community triathletes and army trainees. Episodes are more likely to occur in highly fit individuals undertaking strenuous or competitive swims, particularly in cold water.

Dr David MacIver, lead author, said: “Swimming-induced pulmonary oedema is a well-documented but relatively rare condition that may be misdiagnosed. If an accurate diagnosis and appropriate advice are not given individuals are at increased risk of future life threatening episodes and drowning.”

Dr MacIver and colleagues suggest that the unique combination of strenuous swimming, cold water and a highly trained individual can lead to a mismatch in the ventricles’ stroke volume as the heart beats, resulting in the accumulation of fluid in the lungs.

“If the athlete is in open water and unable or unwilling to rest while there is ongoing stroke volume difference, pulmonary oedema can take place with potentially fatal consequences”, said Dr MacIver. “An increased awareness of the risk of swimming-induced pulmonary oedema among participants, organisers and medical personnel is important, especially as many may have swum before in the same conditions without experiencing symptoms.”


Swimming-induced pulmonary oedema in two triathletes: a novel pathophysiological explanation (DOI: 10.1177/0141076814543214:) by Helen Casey, Amardeep Ghosh Dastidar and David MacIver will be published by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine at 00:05hrs (UK time) on Friday 24 October 2014. Source

Posted in Fitness: Endurance Training, Fitness: Swimming, Sports Medicine, Triathlon | Leave a comment

The pleasure of learning new words

In a study published in the journal Current Biology, researchers from the University of Barcelona (UB), the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) and the Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg (Germany) have experimentally proved that human adult word learning exhibit activation not only of cortical language regions but also of the ventral striatum, a core region of reward processing. Results confirm that the motivation to learn is preserved throughout the lifespan, helping adults to acquire a second language.

Researchers determined that the reward region that is activated is the same that answers to a wide range of stimuli, including food, sex, drugs or game. “The main objective of the study was to know to what extent language learning activates subcortical reward and motivational systems”, explains Pablo Ripollés, PhD student at UB-IDIBELL and first author of the article. “Moreover, the fact that language could be favoured by this type of circuitries is an interesting hypothesis from an evolutionary point of view”, points out the expert.

According to Antoni Rodríguez Fornells, UB lecturer and ICREA researcher at IDIBELL, “the language region has been traditionally located at an apparently encapsulated cortical structure which has never been related to reward circuitries, which are considered much older from an evolutionary perspective”. “The study —he adds— questions whether language only comes from cortical evolution or structured mechanisms and suggests that emotions may influence language acquisition processes”.

Subcortical areas are closely related to those that help to store information. Therefore, those facts or pieces of information that awake an emotion are more easily to remember and learn.

Motivation for learning a second language

By using diffusion tensor imaging, UB-IDIBELL researchers reconstructed the white matter pathways that link brain regions in each participant. Experts were able to correlate the number of new words learnt by each person during the experiment with a low myelin index, a measure of structure integrity. Results proved that subjects who presented higher myelin concentrations in the structures that carry information to the ventral striatum —in other words, those that are best connected to the reward area— were able to learn more words.

“Results provide a neural substrate of the influence that reward and motivation circuitries may have in learning words from context”, affirms Josep Marco Pallarès, UB-IDIBELL researcher. The activation of these circuitries during word learning suggests future research lines aimed at stimulating reward regions to improve language learning in patients with linguistic problems.

The fact that non-linguistic subcortical mechanisms, which are much older from an evolutionary perspective, work together with language cortical regions —which appeared latter— suggests new language theories trying to explain how reward mechanisms have influenced and supported one of our primal urges: the desire to acquire language and to communicate.

Experiment with words and gambling

Researchers carried out an experiment with thirty-six adults who participated in two magnetic resonance sessions. On the first one, functional magnetic resonance was used to measure participants’ brain activity while they perform two different tasks. This technique enables to detect accurately what brain regions are active while a person is performing a certain activity. In the first task, participants must learn the meaning of some new words from context in two different sentences. For instance, subjects saw on a screen the sentences: “Every Sunday the grandmother went to the jedin” and “The man was buried in the jedin”. Considering both sentences, participants could learn that the word jedin means “graveyard”. Then, participants completed two runs of a standard-event-related money gambling task.

The experiment revealed that when subjects inferred and memorized the meaning of a new word, brain activity in the ventral striatum was increased. Indeed, the same ventral striatum activation was observed when earning money in gambling. Therefore, to learn the meaning of a new word activates reward and motivational circuitries like in gambling activities. Moreover, it was observed that word learning produce an increase of brain activity synchronization between the ventral striatum and cortical language regions.

Researchers Pablo Ripollés, Josep Marco Pallarès and Antoni Rodríguez Fornells, from the Cognition and Brain Plasticity Group of the Department of Basic Psychology of UB and IDIBELL, developed the study together with researchers from the Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg, led by Dr Toemme Noesselt. Source

Posted in Human Behavior: Learning, Science: Evolution | Leave a comment

Quarantine Islands: The New York City Epidemics of 1892

In Quarantine!, Howard Markel traces the course of the typhus and cholera epidemics that swept through New York City in 1892.

The story is told from the point of view of those involved—the public health doctors who diagnosed and treated the victims, the newspaper reporters who covered the stories, the government officials who established and enforced policy, and, most importantly, the immigrants themselves.

Drawing on rarely cited stories from the Yiddish American press, immigrant diaries and letters, and official accounts, Markel follows the immigrants on their journey from a squalid and precarious existence in Russia’s Pale of Settlement, to their passage in steerage, to New York’s Lower East Side, to the city’s quarantine islands.

At a time of renewed anti-immigrant sentiment and newly emerging infectious diseases, Quarantine! provides a historical context for considering some of the significant problems that face American society today. Source: Amazon


Posted in Infectious Diseases: Ebola, World Health: Counterfeit Drugs, World Health: Typhus | Leave a comment

Mindfulness benefits cardiovascular health: new evidence

Self-aware people have better heart health, a new study suggests.

People who are mindful score higher on healthy heart indicators, according to recent findings published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine from Brown University researchers. The team looked at whether having something called “dispositional mindfulness”—which means you’re the type of person who’s very aware and attentive to what you’re feeling and thinking at any given moment—was a factor for heart health. They found a pretty significant connection: people with high mindfulness scores had an 83% greater prevalence of good cardiovascular health.

Having dispositional mindfulness doesn’t necessarily mean you’re regularly practicing mindfulness processes, like meditation. For some people, being more present is a natural part of their personality. For the rest of us, some say, it can be learned.

In the study, the researchers asked 382 people to evaluate statements that measure their level of mindfulness. Participants responded to statements like “I find it difficult to stay focused on what’s happening in the present”on a six point scale ranging from “almost always” to “almost never.” The participants who scored highest with the best mindfulness scores also had very healthy scores when it came to the seven American Heart Association indicators for cardiovascular health. Those include avoiding smoking, being physically active, having a healthy body mass index, consuming decent amounts of fruits and vegetables, and maintaining good cholesterol, blood pressure and fasting blood glucose levels. More

Posted in Alternative Medicine, Heart Health, Mindfulness | Leave a comment

Most U.S. adults fail to meet recommended daily levels of 10 key nutrients, with the disabled doing worst

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A new study finds that most U.S. adults fail to meet recommended daily levels of 10 key nutrients, and those with disabilities have even worse nutrition than average.

An estimated 10 to 25 percent of U.S. adults fit into one or more category of disability, from those who have difficulties with activities of daily living, such as dressing, bathing and eating, to those who cannot use their legs or struggle to accomplish routine tasks, such as money management or household chores.

To determine how these physical or mental difficulties can affect nutrition, University of Illinois researchers analyzed two waves of self-reported food and supplement consumption data from 11,811 adults, more than 4,200 of whom qualified as disabled. The team drew the data from the 2007-2008 and 2009-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, which are conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics.

“We conducted statistical analyses to compare people with and without disabilities in terms of nutrient intake,” said University of Illinois kinesiology and community health professor Ruopeng An, who led the effort. He and his colleagues report their findings in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics.

“We found that American people consume much lower amounts of nutrients than are recommended,” An said. “For example, only 11.3 percent of people meet the daily recommended intake of fiber. Only 4.7 percent of adults consume recommended amounts of potassium.”

A large majority of U.S. adults also fall short of recommended intakes of vitamin A, vitamin C , vitamin D, calcium and iron, An said. They also eat more saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium than recommended, he said.

The picture for those who are disabled is even bleaker. Disabled American adults were even less likely than those without a disability to meet recommended dietary levels of saturated fat, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and potassium, the researchers report. The only exceptions (for intake of vitamin A, vitamin C and fiber) were among people with the lowest level of disability, whose intakes were comparable to non-disabled adults, An said.

“In general, people with disabilities are also disadvantaged nutritionally compared with people without disabilities, even though the bar is already so low,” he said.

Those with the most severe physical and mental challenges were also the least likely to eat well, An said. This makes sense if one considers the challenges they must overcome to obtain, prepare and eat a healthy diet, he said.

“Physically, financially and mentally, they have different barriers to accessing healthy food,” he said.

A trip to the grocery store can be a challenge for anyone who uses a cane, walker or wheelchair to get around. Some cannot grasp small items, open cans or jars, or stand at a countertop to prepare foods. Some have difficulty chewing or digesting certain foods, or may be restricted to a liquid diet. Or they use medications that affect their appetite or ability to taste foods, An said.

“Dietary supplement use moderately improved vitamin C, vitamin D and calcium intakes,” the researchers reported.

“Policymakers and activists for the disabled traditionally have focused primarily on improving transportation options and the physical accessibility of buildings, roads, paths and parking lots,” An said. “Now it’s time for them to turn their attention to the nutritional challenges that confront people with disabilities.” Source

Posted in Nutrition is Medicine, Nutrition: Malnutrition, Nutrition: Supplements, Poverty, Public Health | Leave a comment

Paperwork consumes one-sixth of US physicians’ time and erodes morale: Study

The average U.S. doctor spends 16.6 percent of his or her working hours on non-patient-related paperwork, time that might otherwise be spent caring for patients. And the more time doctors spend on such bureaucratic tasks, the unhappier they are about having chosen medicine as a career.

These are some of the findings of a nationwide study by Drs. Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein, internists in the South Bronx who serve as professors of public health at the City University of New York and lecturers in medicine at Harvard Medical School. The study was published this week in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Health Services.

Woolhandler and Himmelstein analyzed confidential data from the 2008 Health Tracking Physician Survey (the most recent data available), which collected information from a nationally representative sample of 4,720 physicians who practiced at least 20 hours per week.

They found that the average doctor spent 8.7 hours per week, or 16.6 percent of their working time, on administration. This excludes patient-related tasks such as writing chart notes, communicating with other doctors and ordering lab tests. It includes tasks such as billing, obtaining insurance approvals, financial and personnel management, and negotiating contracts.

In total, patient-care physicians spent 168.4 million hours on such administrative tasks in 2008. The authors estimate that the total cost of physician time spent on administration in 2014 will amount to $102 billion.

Career satisfaction was lower for physicians who spent more time on administration. “Very satisfied” doctors spent, on average, 16.1 percent of their time on administration. “Very dissatisfied” doctors spent 20.6 percent of their time on such tasks.

Among various specialties, psychiatrists spent the most time on administration (20.3 percent), followed by internists (17.3 percent) and family/general practitioners (17.3 percent). Pediatricians spent the least amount of time (14.1 percent) on non-patient-related administrative tasks and also were the most satisfied group of doctors.

While solo practice was associated with more administrative work, small group practice was not. Doctors practicing in groups of 100 or more actually spent more time (19.7 percent) on such tasks than those in small groups (16.3 percent).

Interestingly, the authors note that physicians who used electronic health records spent more time (17.2 percent for those using entirely electronic records, 18 percent for those using a mix of paper and electronic) on administration than those who used only paper records (15.5 percent).

“Although proponents of electronic medical records have long promised a reduction in doctors’ paperwork,” they write, “we found the reverse is true.”

The authors cite data showing that physicians in Canada spend far less time on administration than do U.S. doctors, and attribute the difference to Canada’s single-payer system, which has greatly simplified billing and reduced bureaucracy.

They point out that the only previous nationally representative survey of this kind was carried out in 1995, and that study showed that administration and insurance-related matters accounted for 13.5 percent of physicians’ total work time. Other, less representative studies, also suggest the bureaucratic burden on physicians has grown over the past two decades.

“American doctors are drowning in paperwork,” said lead author Dr. Woolhandler. “Our study almost certainly understates physicians’ current administrative burden. Since 2008, when the survey we analyzed was collected, tens of thousands of doctors have moved from small private practices with minimal bureaucracy into giant group practices where bureaucracy is rampant. And under the accountable care organizations favored by insurers, more doctors are facing HMO-type incentives to deny care to their patients, a move that our data shows drives up administrative work.”

Dr. Himmelstein commented: “Our crazy health financing system is demoralizing doctors and wasting vast resources. Turning health care into a business means we spend more and more time on billing, insurance paperwork and the bottom line. We need to move to a simple, nonprofit national health insurance system that lets doctors and hospitals focus on patients, not finances.”


“Administrative work consumes one-sixth of U.S. physicians’ working hours and lowers their career satisfaction,” Steffie Woolhandler, M.D., M.P.H., and David U. Himmelstein, M.D. International Journal of Health Services, Vol. 44, No. 4.

Physicians for a National Health Program is a nonprofit research and education organization of more than 19,000 doctors who support single-payer national health insurance. PNHP had no role in funding or otherwise supporting the study described above. Source

Posted in Health Care: Costs, Health Care: Electronic Health Records, Health Care: Hospitals, Health Care: Medical Errors, Health Care: Reform | Leave a comment

Herbal medicines could contain dangerous levels of toxic mold

Amsterdam, October 23, 2014 – Herbal medicines such as licorice, Indian rennet and opium poppy, are at risk of contamination with toxic mould, according to a new study published in Fungal Biology. The authors of the study, from the University of Peshawar, Pakistan say it’s time for regulators to control mould contamination.

An estimated 64% of people use medicinal plants to treat illnesses and relieve pain. The herbal medicine market is worth $60 billion globally, and growing fast. Despite the increasing popularity of herbal medicine, the sale of medicinal plants is mostly unregulated.

The new study analyzes toxic mould found on common medicinal plants in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, where the majority of people use herbal medicine. They found that around 43% of the plants were naturally contaminated with toxins, produced by moulds that could be harmful to human health. 30% of the samples contained aflatoxins, which are carcinogenic and linked to liver cancer, and around 26% were contaminated with ochratoxin A, which is toxic to the liver and kidneys, and can suppress the immune system.

“It’s common to use medicinal plants in our country and to buy from local markets and shops,” said Ms. Samina Ashiq, one of the authors of the study from the University of Peshawar. “There’s a common misconception that just because they’re natural, the plants are safe. We knew from experience that this wasn’t the case, but we wanted to really test it and quantify the contamination.”

Ms. Ashiq and the team analyzed 30 samples of plants known for their medicinal properties, including licorice, Indian rennet and opium poppy. They found that 90% of the samples were contaminated with mould, and the levels exceeded permissible limits in 70% of the samples.

They then grew the moulds to find out if they produced toxins that could be harmful to human health. 19% of the moulds produced aflatoxins, and 12% produced ochratoxin A. Overall, 31% of the moulds growing on the plants they tested produced harmful toxins.

“These results are a clear indicator that we need more stringent regulation in place,” continued Ashiq. “There is a real public health concern due to the lack of effective surveillance of the quality, safety and efficacy of these medicinal plants. It’s time for regulators to step in and set limits to protect people who want to use herbal medicines like these.”

The plants can become contaminated at each stage of production: during growth, handling, collection, transportation and storage. Those that are exported for sale may be contaminated before they reach their destination. In Pakistan and many other countries, these plants are primarily sold on markets where hygiene is not top priority.

“By setting limits to fungal contamination of these plants, Pakistan and other countries would be better able to export to places that do have controls in place. Hygienic processing and sale of medicinal plants is essential to protect people, and also if the economy is to benefit from the booming herbal medicine industry,” added Ms. Ashiq.


This article is “Evaluation of mycotoxins, mycobiota, and toxigenic fungi in selected medicinal plants of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan” by Bashir Ahmada, Samina Ashiqa, Arshad Hussainb, Shumaila Bashirc, Mubbashir Hussaind (DOI: DOI: 10.1016/j.funbio.2014.06.002), Fungal Biology, published by Elsevier. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1878614614000981 Source

Posted in Alternative Medicine, Environmental Health: Mold, Traditional Chinese Medicines | Leave a comment

Music therapy reduces depression in children and adolescents: new study

Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast have discovered that music therapy reduces depression in children and adolescents with behavioural and emotional problems.

In the largest ever study of its kind, the researchers in partnership with the Northern Ireland Music Therapy Trust, found that children who received music therapy had significantly improved self-esteem and significantly reduced depression compared with those who received treatment without music therapy.

The study, which was funded by the Big Lottery fund, also found that those who received music therapy had improved communicative and interactive skills, compared to those who received usual care options alone.

251 children and young people were involved in the study which took place between March 2011 and May 2014. They were divided into two groups – 128 underwent the usual care options, while 123 were assigned to music therapy in addition to usual care. All were being treated for emotional, developmental or behavioural problems. Early findings suggest that the benefits are sustained in the long term.

Professor Sam Porter of the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Queen’s University, who led the study, said: “This study is hugely significant in terms of determining effective treatments for children and young people with behavioural problems and mental health needs.”

Dr Valerie Holmes, Centre for Public Health, School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences and co-researcher, added: “This is the largest study ever to be carried out looking at music therapy’s ability to help this very vulnerable group, and is further evidence of how Queen’s University is advancing knowledge and changing lives.”

Ciara Reilly, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Music Therapy Trust, said: “Music therapy has often been used with children and young people with particular mental health needs, but this is the first time its effectiveness has been shown by a definitive randomised controlled trial in a clinical setting. The findings are dramatic and underscore the need for music therapy to be made available as a mainstream treatment option. For a long time we have relied on anecdotal evidence and small-scale research findings about how well music therapy works. Now we have robust clinical evidence to show its beneficial effects.”

The research team will now look at the data to establish how cost-effective music therapy is in relation to other treatments. Source

Posted in Mental Health: Depression, Music, Music Therapy | Leave a comment

Sex-loving, meat-eating reptiles have shorter lives

The health risks and benefits of vegetarianism have long been discussed in relation to the human diet, but newly published research reveals that it’s definitely of benefit to the reptile population. That, and being less sexually active! The research team investigated how longevity of 1,014 species of scaled reptiles is influenced by key environmental characteristics and by their feeding and sexual habits.

Snakes and lizards who want to live longer should abstain from sex until late in life, and be vegetarian, according to new research which investigated how reproductive intensity and diet affects reptile lifespan.

An international team of researchers investigated how longevity of scaled reptiles (Lepidosaurs) is influenced by key environmental characteristics and by their feeding and sexual habits.

Based on a worldwide study, involving 1,014 species including 672 lizards and 336 snakes, it was found that a higher frequency of laying or giving birth and early sexual maturation are associated with shortened longevity.

The results have been published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography.

Co-author Dr Daniel Pincheira-Donoso, from the School of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln, UK, said: “We observed that more sex (or at least more pregnancies) means shorter life, very much like the rock star adage ‘live fast, die young’. Along the same lines, the study revealed that reptiles which sexually mature at a younger age will likely have shorter lives, while those who prefer to delay sexual maturity will probably live longer. And lastly, we found that vegetarians live longer than their carnivorous counterparts. Vegetal food is an intrinsically low-nutrition food, so we think that those who have these diets experience a reduction in reproductive rates, which in turn increases their lifespan.”

The results support key predictions from life-history theory and suggest that reproducing more slowly and at older ages and being herbivorous result in increased longevity.

For each species, the team collected literature on body size, earliest age at first reproduction, field body temperature of active individuals, reproductive mode, clutch or litter size and brood frequency, diet and activity time.

They found that long-living scaled reptiles are generally characterised by ‘slow’ life-history traits: delayed and infrequent reproduction, smaller clutches, larger hatchlings and colder body temperatures. High investment in reproduction, expressed in frequent, large clutches is correlated with short life – but species with large eggs compared to their size live longer.

The team also discovered that herbivores live longer than similar-sized carnivores. Ingestion of a protein-rich diet (meat) may lead to faster growth, earlier and more intense reproduction and hence to shortened longevity. Herbivorous individuals probably consume poorer food, so reach maturity later and live longer. It could also be that hunting is more risky than collecting fruits and vegetables.

Future experiments could test this by feeding a set of species with different diets and exploring the consequences for growth and time to maturity.

In summary, the results support fundamental predictions of life-history theory by showing a link between age at first reproduction, rate of reproduction and longevity.

This study provides the first, large-scale, comparative study of longevity in ectothermic or ‘cold-blooded’ animals and opens many avenues for further research on the attributes that govern longevity in this group. The results support evolutionary theories of aging in a large group of animals which are not often studied in this context – aging studies usually compare among different mammal (or bird) species, or use experiments with few species of small insects, such as fruit flies. Source

Posted in Science Updates | Leave a comment