Archive for September, 2009

Multitaskers are Lousy Multitaskers

September 30th, 2009 | 1 Comment | Source: CNN, PNAS

Are you reading this while checking email, chatting on IM, waiting for your purchase to clear PayPal and signing your mum’s birthday card?

JoethemultitaskerIf so, please set all that aside for a moment and take note.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science suggests that people who tend to involve themselves in multiple media-oriented activities at the same time perform relatively poorly on tests requiring them to shift attention from one task to another.

To reach these conclusions, Clifford Nass and colleagues at Stanford administered a survey to 262 college students which elicited a history of media utilization and whether or not they tendened to engage in multiple tasks simultaneously.

They collected information regarding the use of computer games, online video and audio, TV, cell phones, text and instant messaging, and computer software like word processors.

After completing the survey, the students underwent a battery of tests in which they had to evaluate certain colored triangles while ignoring other ones, categorize words, alternate between classifying numbers and letters, and press a certain button when they saw a match between 2 symbols presented at different times.

The scientists found that heavy multitaskers executed these functions more slowly than with those who rarely used more than one medium at a time. The multitaskers, it turned out, were more easily distracted by irrelevant information because they retained it in their short-term memories for a longer period of time.

The difference amounted to about a half-second delay on most tests, a difference large enough to cause noticeable problems in everyday life. (more…)


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Millions Not Gettin’ Enough Vitamin D

September 29th, 2009 | No Comments | Source: Pediatrics, Washington Post

Vitamin D deficiency afflicts millions of US children and increases their risk for bone disorders, diabetes and cardiac disease, according to 2 new studies.

isthatamisprintIn the first study, Michal Melamed and colleagues from Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that 9% of those between ages 1-21 had Vitamin D levels low enough to be called deficient. That’s 7.6 million children, adolescents and young adults.

An astounding 61% more– nearly 51 million people–have slightly below normal levels.  “At first, we couldn’t believe the numbers,” said Melamed. “It’s very worrisome.”

In their nationally representative sample of 6,000 children, the scientists found that girls, adolescents and African Americans were at particular risk. A whopping 59% of teenage African American girls were Vitamin D deficient.

“This appears to be another result of our unhealthy lifestyles, including a sedentary society that doesn’t go out in the sun much,” Melamed told the Washington Post.

The scientists said contributing factors included kids spending too much time watching TV and playing video games, use of long-sleeves and sunscreen when they do go out, and substituting soda for milk and Vitamin D fortified foods.

Ominously, the study revealed that low Vitamin D levels were associated with hypertension and metabolic syndrome, a precursor of diabetes.

In the second study, the NHLBI’s Jared Reis confirmed that Vitamin D deficient individuals were at greater risk for hypertension, hyperglycemia and metabolic syndrome.  Both studies support earlier reports from Weill Cornell Medical College.

nevershoudastoppedthemilkRecently, an expert panel representing the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended markedly increased dietary intake of Vitamin D. The IOM is conducting a review of federal guidelines on the same matter.



The APA and Sexual Identity

September 28th, 2009 | No Comments | Source: Wall Street Journal

Men that seek counseling from Warren Throckmorton are often deeply conflicted. They have read Scripture and prayed with considerable dedication, but they continue to be sexually attracted to other men — a desire that, according to their religious beliefs, is immoral.

The RoadtoHell?Throckmorton, a PhD, teaches psychology at Christian-oriented Grove City College in Pennsylvania. He once was the president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association.

He advises such clients that their impulses are not indicative of mental illness, nor do they represent punishment for a lack of religious faith.  And he tells them he can’t make them straight.

But he also advises them they don’t have to be gay. They can divert their sexuality, or hide it, he says. They can live celibately.

Throckmorton has given such advice for years knowing it ran contrary to the now widely accepted “gay affirming” therapy which encourages folks to embrace their sexuality.

But last month, the American Psychological Association changed course on the mater, stating that it can be ethical for counselors to help selected clients repress or reject gay or lesbian desires if they conflict with their religious beliefs.

APAThe APA has 150,000 members. Its new guidelines call for counselors to assure clients that homosexuality is not an illness and that gay people can lead happy, productive lives. Counselors are also supposed to emphasize that therapy can’t change sexual orientation.

But, the APA adds, for clients who believe that affirming gay orientation is sinful, counselors should help them reject, to the extent possible, those attractions. This might mean learning to deflect sexual impulses, living celibately, or reshaping one’s struggle with sexual desire into an opportunity to grow closer to God.

“We have to acknowledge that, for some people, religious identity is such an important part of their lives, it may transcend everything else.” said Judith Glassgold, who chaired the APA’s task force on the issue.

The task force had been formed in response to the growing prominence of sexual orientation “change therapists” who state it’s possible to alter sexual preference. After reviewing the literature, the task concluded that such claims are bogus.


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Possible Cause of Colic Identified

September 25th, 2009 | No Comments | Source: BurrillReport, Pediatrics

wtfFor legions parents that have endured far too many sleepless nights trying to console colicky babies, relief might be on the way.

Scientists think they’ve identified a bacterium that causes the nerve-racking condition, in which otherwise healthy babies scream for hours.

Colic affects nearly 15% of all infants in the US.

Pediatrics professor J. Marc Rhoads and colleagues at the University of Texas are proposing that Klebsiella is the culprit. The gram-negative bacterium resides in the gastrointestinal tracts of humans of every age, but in colicky babies only, the bug seems to trigger an inflammatory reaction in the intestines.

In non-colicky babies, Klebsiella causes no such disturbance.

Previous theories held that babies receiving cow’s milk were more likely to suffer from colic, but research on the matter has failed to support that claim. The colicky babies in Rhoads’ study for example, included some who were fed breast milk and some who received formula.

Rhoads speculated that colic might actually be a precursor to other gastrointestinal maladies ranging from  irritable bowel syndrome to Celiac disease. “Inflammation in the gut of colicky infants closely compared to levels in patients with inflammatory bowel disease,” he told BurrillReport.

The write-up appears in Pediatrics.

Typicially, pediatricians prescribe hypoallergenic formulas for the treatment of colic, but as harried parents can attest, the approach is often ineffective.

whatsallthefussabout?Rhoads believes his teams’ discovery might eventually save lives.

“Colic can be a dangerous situation for a baby. The parent’s frustration over the crying can lead to maternal frustration, post-partum depression, and even thoughts of harming the baby,” he told Burrill.

“More than half of infanticides fall into the age category of colic. We may be able to prevent deaths if we can find a treatment.”




September 24th, 2009 | 1 Comment | Source: Washington Post

As US officials continue wrangling over the merits of abstinence-only sex education, their British counterparts have settled on an altogether different message.

objectofdesireIn two new leaflets, the NHS tells elderly Brits that it’s “never too late to experiment” with sex and advises teens that sex every day “keeps the doctor away.”

British tabloids, which frequently publish photos of topless women, ran like rabbits with the story.

“Urging (teens) to enjoy their own bodies is a bit like encouraging cows to eat grass or birds to fly,” laughed the Independent.

“It’s much more fun than an apple a day,” mused the Sun.

The leaflet for older folks provides information about contraception and dating agencies. 2,000 copies were distributed to GP’s offices, libraries and health centers. It is also available on the NHS Web site.

The leaflet for teenagers, which is titled, “Pleasure,” was released by the NHS to teachers, parents and youth workers. It suggests that in addition to 5 portions of fruits and vegetables, and 30 minutes physical activity 3 times per week, some form of sexual activity “twice a week” might be healthy as well.

The leaflet prompted outraged parents to flood NHS message boards and educators to charge that the NHS encouraged promiscuity.

The UK has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in Western Europe.

neverseenabetterpornsiteSteve Slack, the director of the NHS’s Center for HIV & Sexual Health and a coauthor of the guides, defended them in a statement saying that one objective was to encourage teens to delay sexual intercourse until they were ready and confident they would enjoy it.

Meanwhile, 71 year-old Bob Ainsley was quoted in several British newspapers saying: “We don’t need a leaflet to tell us we can still have sex.”



Surgeons Can’t Get Enough

September 23rd, 2009 | No Comments | Source: BurrillReport, J. Am. Coll. Surgeons

More than a third of surgical residents think that regulations designed to limit their work schedules to a maximum of 80 hours per week represent a “significant barrier” to their training. And 43% of them want to work more hours than the regulations permit.

morningroundsTo reach these conclusions, Jacob Moalem and colleagues at the University of Rochester distributed a Web-based survey to all surgical residents and associate members of the American College of Surgeons.

Of the nearly 600 respondents, 41% said the rules were a “considerable or moderate barrier” to their training. Less than a third said the rules did not hinder their training. An additional 27% said the rules were a minimal barrier.

Senior residents were more likely to view work time restrictions as a barrier to their training, regardless of whether they trained at small, medium, or large programs.

The write-up appears in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.

“Surgeons are expressing a desire and a need to learn more in a compact time frame,”  Moalem told BurrillReport. “Senior surgery residents should be given the chance to control their own schedules as they continue to refine their technical skills and transition into independent practice.”

The regulations had been implemented to address resident burn-out and improve patient safety. It had been the norm for surgical residents to log 100+ hours per week before the change.

The regulations have been shown to increase the number of hours residents sleep each week, and there have been anecdotal reports that their personal lives have improved, but their effect on caseload, academic performance, and board scores is not well understood.

Beyond this, some studies have suggested that the shorter work-weeks have led to more communication errors caused by more frequent patient handoffs, according to the scientists.


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China’s Thought Police Nail Web Sites

September 22nd, 2009 | No Comments | Source: NY Times

Chinese news Web sites have been given secret orders by the government to require that new users log on using their true identities if they want to post comments, reversing existing policies allowing them to weigh in on stories anonymously.

theworldaccordingtochinaNews portals like Sina, Sohu and Netease began implementing the change about a month ago after receiving a confidential order from the State Council Information Office, a Chinese government agency that supervises the Internet.

Chinese authorities said the directive was part of an initiative to foster “social responsibility” and “civility” among users, according to the New York Times.

The chief editor of one portal, who requested anonymity, said the reason for the so-called real-name system was that, “the influence of public opinion on the Net is still too big.”

China’s online community includes 340 million people and is the world’s largest.

The new initiative is the just the latest effort to squelch freedom of speech in China. Earlier this year, Chinese officials shut down more than a thousand sites in a supposed war on “vulgarity,” shuttered liberal Web sites on grounds they spread “harmful information,” and temporarily blocked access to popular social media outlets like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

They also blocked Internet service to the Xinjiang region after deadly clashes erupted there between ethnic Uighurs and Han Chinese this summer.

In addition, China’s government had also attempted to require all computer makers to install “pornography-filtering software” that could be controlled centrally, but were forced to back off when various trade organizations protested and hackers revealed the software could also be used to interdict politically offensive material as well.

The State Council Information Office’s edict does not impact previously registered users. It also does not appear to impact most blogs or government news outlets like Xinhua and People’s Daily.



Can OTC Drugs Control Diabetes?

September 21st, 2009 | No Comments | Source: BurrillReport

Two over-the-counter medicines used to treat itchy eyes and runny noses might be effective treatments for obesity and Type 2 diabetes, according to a pair of papers in Nature Medicine.

zaditorThe allergy drugs Zaditor and cromolyn are immune system modulators, and scientists have come to believe there’s a link between immune system activity and these common conditions. 
In the first study, Guo-Ping Shi, a biochemist from Brigham and Women’s Hospital noticed a plethora of mast cells—which normally facilitate wound healing by increasing blood flow to the site and are also implicated in the etiology of asthma and allergic reactions—in the fat tissue of obese and diabetic humans and mice. 

cromolyn1Shi  showed that Zaditor or cromolyn could quell mast cell activity in this tissue and that was associated with  reduced body weight and more easily controlled diabetes in mice. 
Following this, Shi showed that genetically engineered mice that could not produce mast cells did not become obese or develop diabetes, even while being fed a high calorie diet which produced these conditions in normal mice.
“The best thing about these (2 allergy drugs) is that (they’re) safe for people,” Shi explained to BurrillReport. “The remaining question now is: Will this also work for people?”
She intends to test the drugs on obese and diabetic primates as a next step.

In the second study, Joslin endocrinologist Steven Schoelson and colleagues showed that fat tissue in obese and diabetic subjects contained fewer regulatory T cells than that in normal-weight humans and mice.  
moregoodnews4himThe paucity of these cells created an overabundance of macrophages and other inflammation-generating cells in the fat tissue of obese and diabetic subjects.
“It’s possible that the inflammation caused by macrophages results in insulin resistance,” Shoelson told Burrill.

“And it’s likely that (regulatory T cells) are keeping the macrophages in check in normal fat tissue, thus preventing inflammation.”



Micro Chips you can Swallow

September 18th, 2009 | No Comments | Source: Wall Street Journal

iainttakinthatstuffHere’s an idea that might not be too hard to swallow. Proteus Biomedical, a Silicon Valley start-up has developed a tiny microchip that can be attached to pills and signal caregivers when patients have swallowed them.

At the same time, sensing devices on the skin can relay information regarding the patients vital signs using wireless technology.

The combo technology could help physicians monitor compliance with prescribed dosing, assure the patient takes the proper dose, and provide early warning about untoward physiologic effects.

The chips have been shown to be safely digestible. In commercial production, they would cost less than a penny per pill.

Proteus is one of many companies using micro chips and wireless technology to create new medical tools. Triage Wireless, for example is testing a wearable device that can transmit continuous blood pressure readings in hospitalized patients, while Corventis has a sensor that measures respiration, fluid status and movement.

The potentially huge health care market for wireless devices has prompted larger companies to enter the fray as well. Qualcomm for example, is developing chips that can be used in various wearable medical applications.

Similarly, Intel is developing “magic carpet” devices to be deployed in the homes of senior citizens to track movement and prevent falls, a major cause of morbidity in the elderly.

Wireless networks, of course, are already in widespread use to support the 4 billion cell phones sold to date. The same networks can be used to transmit medical data.

According to Eric Topol, a Scripps Institute cardiologist, remote monitoring devices could save $10.1 billion in the care of patients congestive heart failure alone.



Assassinations R Us

September 17th, 2009 | No Comments | Source: Washington Post

Last month, it was disclosed that the CIA once hired Blackwater USA, the private security contractor, to carry out an assassination program targeting suspected top members of al-Qaeda.

CIAcontractorThe ensuing debate about whether such activities ought to be outsourced has been on a low-boil ever since. 

The ruckus has been exacerbated by Blackwater’s thug-like reputation which it earned after its employees got into the habit of shaking down Iraqi civilians not to mention allegedly slaying 17 of them in Baghdad back in 2007.

The Justice Department indicted 5 Blackwater guards last year in connection with that incident.

Some lawmakers don’t like the idea of outsourcing intelligence operations from government employees.

Diane Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, recently told the Washington Post for example, that she has “believed for a long time that the intelligence community is over-reliant on contractors to carry out its work.”

That may be, but there is no legal prohibition against doing so.

“Actual intelligence analysis, actual intelligence collection are permissible activities for contractors under current OMB guidance,” former CIA director Michael Hayden told the Post.

“The CIA views contractors as essential to the accomplishment of its mission, bringing unique skills that the agency may need only for limited periods of time,” CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano said in a statement.

In case you’re looking for them in the Yellow Pages by the way, Blackwater recently renamed itself Xe Services. Its founder, Erik Prince, financially backs Republican political candidates and causes.

After the US invaded Iraq in 2003, Prince’s company secured several contracts to protect US personnel, including a $21 million no-bid contract to protect Paul Bremer, who headed the US led Coalition Provisional Authority at the time.

Next year, Blackwater won a $1 billion, 5-year State Department contract to guard US diplomats and dignitaries worldwide.



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