Archive for May 4th, 2009

Slumdog Begets Slumdog

May 4th, 2009 | No Comments | Source: Economist, PNAS

Virtually every nation on Earth struggles with endemic poverty.

Children of the poor are at greater risk for underachieving as adults regardless of the system of government where they live and the quantity and quality of both social services and educational systems available to them.

where'sournextmealcomingfrom?The problem has been poorly understood until, perhaps, now.

Three years ago, Martha Farah at the University of Pennsylvania demonstrated that the working memories of kids raised in poverty are smaller than those of middle-class children.

Working memory is the capacity to hang on to bits of information for current use; the items on a small shopping list, for example. It is required for solving problems and understanding language, and serves as a gateway to permanent memory.

Now, Cornell University’s Gary Evans and Michelle Schamberg have reported that Farah’s findings are almost certainly caused by the adverse effects of stress on brain development in children.

The scientists examined results from a longitudinal study of 195 participants of both sexes.

They assessed stress using a measure known as the allostatic load which combines the values of 6 parameters: systolic and diastolic blood pressure, serum levels of 3 stress-related hormones, and the BMI.

In all cases, higher values indicate more a more stressful life, and indeed poor kids had higher values than those in the middle class for all 6. (more…)

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Thinning Fat Found in Adults

May 4th, 2009 | No Comments | Source: NEJM, NY Times

Scientists have known for 3 decades that brown fat acted like a furnace in mice, burning calories, generating heat and producing weight loss when stimulated by prolonged exposure to cold temperatures.

brownfatexperimentThey also knew that human infants had a pretty good stock of these mitochondria-leaden cells, but they couldn’t find it in adults, and had assumed it disappeared as a byproduct of normal human development.

Now, scientists armed with PET scanners in 3 laboratories have found the stuff in adults, raising hope we can one day turn it on and trigger weight loss as a result.

The trio of studies appears in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The studies revealed that the quantity of brown fat tended to be higher in females and those who were thin, young, and had lower fasting blood glucose levels. It was lower in those taking beta blockers.

In the first study, Aaron Cypess and colleagues at Harvard reviewed over 1,000 PET scans performed for various reasons to localize brown fat deposits in adults. It turned up in unexpected locations like the side of the neck, upper back and near the spine and collarbone.

In the second study of 24 healthy male volunteers, van Marken Lichtenbelt and colleagues at Maastricht University showed that PET scans turned up negative for brown fat until subjects were placed in a chilly room for a few hours. Retesting the chilled subjects revealed brown fat in all but one.

This phenomenon was confirmed in a third study of 5 healthy adults by Vertanin and colleagues at the University of Goteborg.

The scientists now want to lean more about how to activate brown fat, and determine whether people would respond to such a provocation by simply eating more, which would pretty much nullify any beneficial effects.

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