Posts Tagged ‘health’

by Katie Forster

Powerful new remedies for the flu could be created using a molecule found in frog slime after scientists discovered it destroys the virus.

Mucus from a colourful species of Indian frog contains a compound that kills influenza, according to a new study published in the scientific journal Immunity.

The frog, called hydrophylax bahuvistara, was discovered in 2015. It is a type of fungoid frog that lives in the forests of south west India and has a striking orange stripe on its upper body.

Researchers captured the frog and collected secretions from its skin after delivering a mild electric shock. They then released the amphibians back into the wild and studied the chemicals in their slime.

Joshy Jacob, a scientist at Emory University in Atlanta, who led the study, said they managed to isolate a small structure called a peptide that kills the flu virus but leaves healthy tissue intact.

“This peptide kills the viruses. It kind of blows them up,” Dr Jacob, an associate professor in microbiology, told NBC News. “There’s no collateral damage,”

Dr Jacob and his team decided to name the compound urumin – after an Indian sword called an urumi with a flexible blade that acts like a whip, used in martial arts from the southern city of Kerala.

Mice vaccinated with urumin were protected against a lethal amount of swine flu virus, also known as Influenza A of H1, which caused a pandemic in 2009.

It’s likely the frog produces the flu-fighting substance in its slime by coincidence, as one of a number of compounds that guard against harmful bacteria and fungi.

The scientists hope their discovery will lead to the development of new drugs to stop outbreaks of influenza, which is highly contagious and can be deadly, especially for the elderly and very young.

They will also continue the search for other frog slime compounds that could be used to treat other viral infections such as hepatitis, HIV and Zika.

The difficulty is finding molecules that attack flu but do not harm healthy cells as well – of the four peptides found in the hydrophylax bahuvistara mucus, only urumin did not kill red blood cells.

“In the beginning, I thought that when you do drug discovery, you have to go through thousands of drug candidates, even a million, before you get one or two hits. And here we did 32 peptides, and we had four hits,” said Dr Jacob.

Urumin is thought to target a viral surface protein called haemagluttinin – the H in H1.

“The virus needs the haemagglutinin to get inside our cells,” said Dr Jacob. “What this peptide does is it binds to the haemagglutinin and destabilises the virus. And then it kills the virus.”

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/frog-slime-flu-virus-compound-blows-up-kills-influenza-hydrophylax-bahuvistara-immunity-a7690141.html

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by Mary Jo DiLonardo

A new study finds that lunchtime strolls can immediately improve your mood, increase relaxation, and make you more enthusiastic about your work.

This doesn’t seem like news. After all, we’ve known forever that walking — and exercise — is good for you. But as the New York Times points out, those fitness studies typically looked at the long-term effects of exercise plans. This new study, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, looks at changes that happen more quickly, from one day to the next or even hour to hour.

For the study, researchers gathered a group of mostly sedentary office workers in the U.K. and asked them to take 30-minute lunchtime walks, three days a week for 10 weeks. Most of the volunteers were middle-aged women, although a handful of men also agreed to take part. All were out of shape, but otherwise emotionally and physically healthy.

The volunteers installed apps on their phones that allowed them to answer questions on the mornings and afternoons that they walked. The researchers used those answers to assess how the volunteers were feeling at the time about life and work, and to measure their feelings about everything from stress and tension to motivation and fatigue.

When the researchers compared the volunteers’ responses on the afternoons when they walked to the afternoons they didn’t walk, there was quite a difference. On the days after a lunchtime amble, the volunteers said they felt less tense, more enthusiastic, more relaxed and able to cope versus on the days when they didn’t walk and even compared to the mornings before they walked.

Those positive feelings may even translate into better worker productivity.

“There is now quite strong research evidence that feeling more positive and enthusiastic at work is very important to productivity,” lead author Cecile Thogersen-Ntoumani, professor of exercise science at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, told the New York Times. “So we would expect that people who walked at lunchtime would be more productive.”

Not surprisingly, the walkers also reaped some positive health benefits from the experiment, making gains in aerobic fitness, for example.

Unfortunately, the researchers told the Times, many of the volunteers didn’t believe they’d be able to continue walking once the study ended, primarily because they were expected to work through their lunch breaks.

http://www.mnn.com/health/fitness-well-being/stories/why-you-need-walk-lunchtime

Feeling run down? Have a case of the sniffles? Maybe you should have paid more attention to your smartwatch.

No, that’s not the pitch line for a new commercial peddling wearable technology, though no doubt a few companies will be interested in the latest research published in PLOS Biology for the next advertising campaign. It turns out that some of the data logged by our personal tracking devices regarding health—heart rate, skin temperature, even oxygen saturation—appear useful for detecting the onset of illness.

“We think we can pick up the earliest stages when people get sick,” says Michael Snyder, a professor and chair of genetics at Stanford University and senior author of the study, “Digital Health: Tracking Physiomes and Activity Using Wearable Biosensors Reveals Useful Health-Related Information.”

Snyder said his team was surprised that the wearables were so effective in detecting the start of the flu, or even Lyme disease, but in hindsight the results make sense: Wearables that track different parameters such as heart rate continuously monitor each vital sign, producing a dense set of data against which aberrations stand out even in the least sensitive wearables.

“[Wearables are] pretty powerful because they’re a continuous measurement of these things,” notes Snyder during an interview with Singularity Hub.

The researchers collected data for up to 24 months on a small study group, which included Snyder himself. Known as Participant #1 in the paper, Snyder benefited from the study when the wearable devices detected marked changes in his heart rate and skin temperature from his normal baseline. A test about two weeks later confirmed he had contracted Lyme disease.

In fact, during the nearly two years while he was monitored, the wearables detected 11 periods with elevated heart rate, corresponding to each instance of illness Snyder experienced during that time. It also detected anomalies on four occasions when Snyder was not feeling ill.

An expert in genomics, Snyder said his team was interested in looking at the effectiveness of wearables technology to detect illness as part of a broader interest in personalized medicine.

“Everybody’s baseline is different, and these devices are very good at characterizing individual baselines,” Snyder says. “I think medicine is going to go from reactive—measuring people after they get sick—to proactive: predicting these risks.”

That’s essentially what genomics is all about: trying to catch disease early, he notes. “I think these devices are set up for that,” Snyder says.

The cost savings could be substantial if a better preventive strategy for healthcare can be found. A landmark report in 2012 from the Cochrane Collaboration, an international group of medical researchers, analyzed 14 large trials with more than 182,000 people. The findings: Routine checkups are basically a waste of time. They did little to lower the risk of serious illness or premature death. A news story in Reuters estimated that the US spends about $8 billion a year in annual physicals.

The study also found that wearables have the potential to detect individuals at risk for Type 2 diabetes. Snyder and his co-authors argue that biosensors could be developed to detect variations in heart rate patterns, which tend to differ for those experiencing insulin resistance.

Finally, the researchers also noted that wearables capable of tracking blood oxygenation provided additional insights into physiological changes caused by flying. While a drop in blood oxygenation during flight due to changes in cabin pressure is a well-known medical fact, the wearables recorded a drop in levels during most of the flight, which was not known before. The paper also suggested that lower oxygen in the blood is associated with feelings of fatigue.

Speaking while en route to the airport for yet another fatigue-causing flight, Snyder is still tracking his vital signs today. He hopes to continue the project by improving on the software his team originally developed to detect deviations from baseline health and sense when people are becoming sick.

In addition, Snyder says his lab plans to make the software work on all smart wearable devices, and eventually develop an app for users.

“I think [wearables] will be the wave of the future for collecting a lot of health-related information. It’s a very inexpensive way to get very dense data about your health that you can’t get in other ways,” he says. “I do see a world where you go to the doctor and they’ve downloaded your data. They’ll be able to see if you’ve been exercising, for example.

“It will be very complementary to how healthcare currently works.”

https://singularityhub.com/2017/02/07/wearable-devices-can-actually-tell-when-youre-about-to-get-sick/?utm_source=Singularity+Hub+Newsletter&utm_campaign=1fcfffbc06-Hub_Daily_Newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_f0cf60cdae-1fcfffbc06-58158129


By Lisa Rapaport

Women who have a sunny outlook on life may live longer than their peers who take a dimmer view of the world, a recent study suggests.

Researchers analyzed data collected over eight years on about 70,000 women and found that the most optimistic people were significantly less likely to die from cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease or infections during the study period than the least optimistic.

“Optimistic people tend to act in healthier ways (i.e., more exercise, healthier diets, higher quality sleep, etc.), which reduces one’s risk of death,” said one of the study’s lead authors, Kaitlin Hagan, a public health researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard University in Boston.

“Optimism may also have a direct impact on our biological functioning,” Hagan added by email. “Other studies have shown that higher optimism is linked with lower inflammation, healthier lipid levels and higher antioxidants.”

Hagan and colleagues examined data from the Nurses Health Study, which began following female registered nurses in 1976 when they were 30 to 55 years old. The study surveyed women about their physical and mental health as well as their habits related to things like diet, exercise, smoking and drinking.

Starting in 2004, the survey added a question about optimism. Beginning that year, and continuing through 2012, researchers looked at what participants said about optimism to see how this related to their other responses and their survival odds.

Researchers divided women into four groups, from least to most optimistic.

Compared with the least optimistic women, those in the most optimistic group were 29 percent less likely to die of all causes during the study period, the researchers report in the American Journal of Epidemiology, December 7th.

Once they adjusted the data for health habits, greater optimism was still associated with lower odds of dying during the study, though the effect wasn’t as pronounced.

Still, the most optimistic women had 16 percent lower odds of dying from cancer during the study, 38 percent lower odds of death from heart disease or respiratory disease, 39 percent lower odds of dying from stroke and a 52 percent lower risk of death from an infection.

While other studies have linked optimism with reduced risk of early death from cardiovascular problems, this was the first to find a link between optimism and reduced risk from other major causes, the study authors note.

One limitation of the study is the possibility that in some cases, underlying health problems caused a lack of optimism, rather than a grim outlook on life making people sick, the authors point out.

They also didn’t include men, though previous research has found the connection between optimism and health is similar for both sexes, said the study’s other lead author, Dr. Eric Kim, also of Brigham and Women’s and Harvard.

Despite the lack of men in the study, the findings still suggest that it may be worthwhile to pursue public health efforts focused on optimism for all patients, Kim said by email.

That’s because even though some people may have a less positive outlook on life for reasons beyond their control like unemployment or a debilitating illness, some previous research suggests that optimism can be learned.

“Negative thinking isn’t the cause or the only contributor to these illnesses,” said Dr. Susan Albers, a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio who wasn’t involved in the study. “Mindset is just one factor, but the results of the study indicate they are a significant one and can’t be ignored.”

Some people can develop optimism when it doesn’t come naturally, Albers added by email.

“It is worth tweaking your mindset as much as taking your medicine,” Albers said. “Work with a counselor, join with a friend, hang up optimistic messages, watch films and movies with a hopeful, positive message, find the silver lining in the situation.”

http://www.psychcongress.com/news/optimistic-women-may-live-longer

The mechanics of laughter

Posted: November 28, 2016 in laughter
Tags: , ,

When the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed March 20 the International Day of Happiness, it was more than a frivolous feel-good holiday. The aim was to inspire 100 million to promote the universal goal of happiness and well-being around the world.

And while the U.N. admirably frames the day as way to talk about a more “inclusive, equitable and balanced approach” to the economic growth that can lead to more global happiness, we’re taking another approach. We’re talking laughter.

But there’s a funny thing about laughter: It’s so much more than an indication of happiness.

Laughing serves a social function. Some suggest that the first human laughter was a group ­gesture of relief at the passing of danger; and since laughter relaxes the biological fight-or-flight response, laughter may indicate trust in one’s company.

Likewise, many researchers think that laughter is connected to bonding.

“Laughter occurs when people are comfortable with one another, when they feel open and free. And the more laughter, the more bonding within the group,” says cultural anthropologist Mahadev Apte.

Behavioral neurobiologist and expert laughter researcher (that’s a thing) Robert Provine believes that laughter serves as a social signal. And indeed, other scientists concur; studies show that people are 30 times more likely to laugh in social settings than when they are alone.

The social science of laughter

Laughter is part of a universal human language. It is understood across cultures … and unlike words and syntax, which we have to learn, we are born with the capacity for giggles and tittering.

When we laugh, it happens unconsciously. We don’t think, “Hey, that’s funny, I’ll respond by laughing.” Although we can consciously be “in the moment” of our laughter, we can’t make true laughter just happen.

And while laughter isn’t always sparked by happiness, it often ends up there. Some experts believe that laughter is used to process things that are difficult to understand. Consider the nervous laughter during an intense event or the seemingly out-of-place laughter during funerals. These are the moments in life where things don’t make sense, and laughter is the behavior that evolved to respond to such times.

In these cases, maybe laughter can be best considered a defense against suffering and despair; as Psychology Today notes when addressing the topic of tittering, “If we can joke about a disappointing or traumatic event, we’ll often find ourselves feeling that what’s happened to us isn’t so bad and that we’ll be able to get through it.”

And then, happiness ensues.

Interestingly, researchers have found that a way a person laughs is a good indicator of his or her social power. People with high status tend to laugh louder and higher in pitch with fewer inhibitions, while people with lower status have laughter that is shorter, lower in pitch and more airy. The study, which was published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, found that it observers can immediately pick up on someone’s social standing by listening to how he or she laughs.


Laughter and your brain

While we know that ce­rtain regions of the brain host certain functions, researchers have found that the production of laughter happens in various parts of our gray matter. The relationship between laughter and the brain is not fully understood, but some things are known. Although emotional responses are thought to be distinct to specific sections of the brain, laughter appears to be created by a circuit that runs through numerous areas. Furthermore, the limbic system — the complex network of nerves beneath the cerebral cortex that deals with instinct and mood — seems to be central in the process of laughing.

The average human laughs 17 times a day, and aside from stress-induced laughter, most laughter is a reaction to humor. Upon a funny scenario, more than a dozen facial muscles contract and the zygomatic major muscle becomes stimulated, resulting in a smile. The epiglottis interferes with the larynx and disrupts the respiratory system just enough so that air intake becomes irregular, making the laugher gasp.

When things really get going, the tear ducts are activated, leaving many of us laughing until we cry.

Provine did a study on the sonic structure of laughter and found that all human laughter consists of basic short notes repeated every 210 milliseconds. Laughter can be comprised of “ha”s or “ho”s, he says, but not both. Provine also says that we have a “detector” that reacts to laughter by triggering other neural circuits in the brain, which ends up generating more laughter. This explains how sometimes when we start laughing, we can’t stop; why this seems to happen so frequently in church and lecture halls has yet to be determined.

A wonderful thing about laughing – aside from just the pure pleasure of it – are the health benefits bestowed by the act; it can actually change your body. Consider the following:

It can stimulate your heart, lungs, muscles and endorphin release by enhancing your oxygen intake.

It relieves your stress response, leading to feelings of increased pleasantness.

It can tame tension by stimulating circulation and helping muscle relaxation, both of which help reduce some physical symptoms of stress.

It may improve your immune system. The Mayo Clinic tells us that negative thoughts “manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity.” Conversely, positive thoughts release neuropeptides that help conquer stress and possibly other stress-related illness.

It potentially soothes pain by encouraging the body to produce its own natural painkillers.

And perhaps loveliest of all; laughter is infectious. The simple act of laughing can help not only you, but those around you. It’s the best kind of contagion.

http://www.mnn.com/health/fitness-well-being/stories/happiness-101-the-mechanics-of-laughter

by Lambeth Hochwald

It’s been hammered into our heads to brush twice a day, floss once (though that’s up for debate) and maybe rinse with a fluoride mouthwash. But recently, another chore has been suggested as an addition to our dental routine: tongue scraping. But is this ayurvedic practice that dates back to ancient India really worth your while?

We went to two experts to find out if you should start your day scraping your tongue.

Dental hygienist Sam Williamson, owner of Teeth Whitening Belfast in Ireland, recommends the practice to all of his patients.

“Most of my clients don’t realize the effectiveness of tongue scraping until they actually do it and see all the gunk that comes off their tongue,” he says. “The tongue is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, but although we take care of our teeth and our gums regularly, we don’t pay nearly as much attention to our tongue.”

The bacteria on your tongue is one of the main causes of bad breath, so scraping it regularly can significantly improve your breath over time. In fact, a recent study showed about 85 percent of all bad breath cases begin in the mouth and half are caused by bacteria residue on the tongue. Brushing your tongue is “the best way to ensure that your breath stays fresh throughout the day,” Williamson says.

Kimberly Harms, DDS, a dentist in Farmington, Minnesota, and a spokesperson for the American Dental Association, says “your taste buds in the back are made for bacteria to hide.” And when your mouth has a lot of bacteria in it, you can taste it. “That sour taste is often due to bacteria,” she says.

If you often suffer from dry mouth, this quick health routine can help that, too. “If you’re not producing enough saliva when you chew, you my have digestive issues,” Williamson says. “Scraping can help.”

How to do it

“A scraper is an efficient way to remove all that’s coating your tongue,” Harms says. Here are four things to keep in mind as you scrape:

1. Buy a dedicated tongue scraper (they cost as little as $6) that comes in plastic or metal and is usually shaped like the letter U.

2. Always be gentle — scraping your tongue should never hurt.

3. Scrape only five to 10 times, Harms suggests.

4. Don’t go too deep. “Since we have a gag reflex, be sure not to put the scraper too far back in your mouth,” she adds.

“It’s a wonderful thing,” Harms says. “We don’t like to praise things without research but tongue scraping makes sense. If you’re successful at brushing twice a day and flossing daily, great. Do that first. Consider tongue scraping a great adjunct to good oral hygiene.”

http://www.mnn.com/health/fitness-well-being/stories/what-you-need-know-about-tongue-scraping

By David Robson

You might expect a great philosopher to look past our surface into the depths of the soul – but Ancient Greek thinkers were surprisingly concerned with appearance. Aristotle and his followers even compiled a volume of the ways that your looks could reflect your spirit.

“Soft hair indicates cowardice and coarse hair courage,” they wrote. Impudence, the treatise says, was evident in “bright, wise-open eyes with heavy blood-shot lids”; a broad nose, meanwhile, was a sign of laziness, like in cattle.

Sensuous, fleshy lips fared little better. The philosophers saw it as a sign of folly, “like an ass”, while those with especially thin mouths were thought to be proud, like lions.

Today, we are taught not to judge a book by its cover. But while it is wise not to set too much by appearances, psychologists are finding that your face offers a window on our deepest secrets. Even if you keep a stony poker face, your features can reveal details about your personality, your health, and your intelligence.

“The idea is that our biology, like genes and hormone levels, influences our growth, and the same mechanisms will also shape our character,” explains Carmen Lefevre at Northumbria University.

Consider the face’s bone structure – whether it is relatively short and wide or long and thin. Lefevre has found that people with higher levels of testosterone tend to be wider-faced with bigger cheekbones, and they are also more likely to have more assertive, and sometimes aggressive, personalities.

The link between face shape and dominance is surprisingly widespread, from capuchin monkeys – the wider the face, the more likely they are to hold a higher rank in the group’s hierarchy – to professional football players. Examining the 2010 World Cup, Keith Welker at the University of Boulder, Colorado, recently showed that the ratio of the width and height of the footballers’ faces predicted both the number of fouls among midfielders, and the number of goals scored by the forwards.

(To calculate this yourself, compare the distance from ear-to-ear with the distance between the top of your eyes, and your upper lip. The average ratio of width-to-height is around 2 – Abraham Lincoln was 1.93)

It may even clue you in to a politician’s motives. Using volunteers to rate former US presidents on different psychological attributes, Lefevre found that face shape seemed to reflect their perceived ambition and drive. John F Kennedy had a thicker-set face than 19th Century Chester Arthur, for instance. Such analyses of historical figures are perhaps best taken with a pinch of salt, however, and it has to be said that other traits, such as cooperation and intelligence, should be equally important for success.

As you might expect, your health and medical history are also written in your countenance – and the detail it offers is surprising. The amount of fat on your face, for instance, provides a stronger indication of your fitness than more standard measures, such as your body mass index. Those with thinner faces are less likely to suffer infections, and when they do, the illness is less severe; they also tend to have lower rates of depression and anxiety, probably because mental health is often closely related to the body’s fitness in general.

How could the plumpness of your cheeks say so much about you? Benedict Jones at the University of Glasgow thinks a new understanding of fat’s role in the body may help explain it. “How healthy you are isn’t so much about how much fat you have, but where you have that fat,” he says. Pear-shaped people, with more weight around the hips and bottom but slimmer torsos, tend to be healthier than “apples” with a spare tyre around the midriff, since the adipose tissue around the chest is thought to release inflammatory molecules that can damage the core organs. Perhaps the fullness of your face reflects the fatty deposits in the more harmful areas, Jones says. Or it could be that facial fat is itself dangerous for some reason.

Besides these more overt cues, very subtle differences in skin colour can also reveal your health secrets. Jones and Lefevre emphasise this has nothing to do with the tones associated with ethnicity, but barely-noticeable tints that may reflect differences in lifestyle. You appear to be in more robust health, for instance, if your skin has a slightly yellowish, golden tone. The pigments in question are called carotenoids, which, as the name suggest, can be found in orange and red fruit and veg. Carotenoids help build a healthy immune system, says Lefevre. “But when we’ve eaten enough, they layer in the skin and dye it yellow. We exhibit them, because we haven’t used them to battle illness.” The glow of health, in turn, contributes significantly to your physical attraction – more so, in fact, than the more overt tones that might accompany a trip to the tanning salon.

A blush of pink, meanwhile, should signal the good circulation that comes with an active lifestyle – and it might also be a sign of a woman’s fertility. Jones has found that women tend to adopt a slightly redder flush at the peak of the menstrual cycle, perhaps because estradiol, a sex hormone, leads the blood vessels in the cheek to dilate slightly. It may be one of many tiny shifts in appearance and behaviour that together make a woman slightly more attractive when she is most likely to conceive.

As Jones points out, these secrets were hiding in plain sight – yet we were slow to uncover them. At the very least, this knowledge helps restore the reputation of “physiognomy”, which has suffered a somewhat chequered reputation since Aristotle’s musings. Tudor king Henry VIII was so sceptical of the idea that he even banned quack “professors” from profiting from their readings, and its status took a second bashing in the early 20th Century, when it was associated with phrenology – the mistaken idea that lumps and bumps on your head can predict your behaviour.

But now the discipline is gaining credibility, we may find that there are many more surprises hiding in your selfies. Intriguingly, we seem to be able to predict intelligence from someone’s face with modest accuracy – though it’s not yet clear what specific cues make someone look smart. (Needless to say, it is not as simple as whether or not they wear glasses.) Others are examining the “gaydar”. We often can guess someone’s sexual orientation within a split-second, even when there are no stereotypical clues, but it’s still a mystery as to what we’re actually reading. Further research might explain exactly how we make these snap judgements.

It will also be interesting to see how the link between personality, lifestyle and appearance changes across the lifetime. One study managed to examine records of personality and appearance, following subjects from the 1930s to the 1990s. The scientists found that although baby-faced men tended to be less dominant in their youth, they grew to be more assertive as the years wore on – perhaps because they learnt to compensate for the expectations brought about by their puppyish appearance.

More intriguingly, the authors also found evidence of a “Dorian Gray effect” – where the ageing face began to reflect certain aspects of the personality that hadn’t been obvious when the people were younger. Women who had more attractive, sociable, personalities from adolescence to their 30s slowly started to climb in physical attractiveness, so that in their 50s they were considered better-looking than those who had been less personable but naturally prettier. One possibility is that they simply knew how to make the best of their appearance, and that their inner confidence was reflected on subtle differences in expression.

After all, there is so much more to our appearance than the bone structure and skin tone, as one particularly clever study recently demonstrated. The scientists asked volunteers to wear their favourite clothes, and then took a photo of their face. Even though the clothes themselves were not visible in the mugshots, impartial judges considered them to be considerably more attractive than other pictures of the participants. The finding is particularly striking, considering that they were asked to keep neutral expressions: somehow, the boosted self-esteem shone through anyway.

Our faces aren’t just the product of our biology. We can’t change our genes or our hormones – but by cultivating our personality and sense of self-worth, they may begin to mirror something far more important.

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20150312-what-the-face-betrays-about-you