Health Medicine comes with a smile

Hey! You stole my food!: Abnormal eating behaviors in frontotemporal dementia

Frontotemporal dementia is associated with a wide variety of abnormal eating behaviors such as hyperphagia, fixations on one kind of food, even ingestion of inanimate objects, making an already difficult situation even worse. A new review gathers together the state of the art of what is known in this field, paying particular attention to the brain mechanisms involved. The information may be used for understanding eating disorders in healthy people.

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'Coral zombies' may spell doom for coral reefs around world

Scientists have known for a while that coral reefs around the world are dying, and in a worst-case scenario they were counting on large, healthy-looking corals to repopulate. But a new study shows that these seemingly healthy colonies are 'Coral Zombies' with no reproductive ability, which makes them useless in a recovery effort.

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Primary care physicians primed to help patients be more active

Exercise plays a crucial role in being healthy and preventing disease. Because of their close relationship to patients, primary care physicians (PCPs) can act as a catalyst to help people be more active through physical activity counseling; however, doctors often encounter barriers to being able to properly address inactivity. A new paper offers PCPs implementable strategies to break down those barriers and help their patients get more exercise.

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Mice fed more fiber have less severe food allergies

The development of food allergies in mice can be linked to what their gut bacteria are being fed, reports a new study. Rodents that received a diet with average calories, sugar, and fiber content had more severe peanut allergies than those that received a high-fiber diet. The researchers show that gut bacteria release a specific fatty acid in response to fiber intake, which eventually impacts allergic responses via changes to the immune system.

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Psychiatric diagnostic tools may not be valid for African Americans

African Americans perceive depression as a weakness inconsistent with notions of strength in the community, rather than as a health condition, new research shows. The study results have significant implications for the clinical assessment of depression and for the measurement of depression in community surveys.

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Service robot Floka’s big debut

What must an intelligent apartment provide in order to make everyday life safe, healthy, and comfortable? Robotics experts have developed the service robot Floka. Floka is fitted with a new "social" robotic head that was also developed at CITEC whose facial expressions can signal happiness, worry, interest, or anger.

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Self-learning arm controlled by thought

Scientists are developing a robotic arm prototype and its control algorithm using myoelectric signals. The mechanical limb will independently recognize the motions of its owner and be able to perform all the same motions like a healthy arm. The scientists estimate the final cost of the device of 600 - 1,000 USD.

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Is 'when we eat' as important as 'what we eat'?

In a review of research on the effect of meal patterns on health, the few studies available suggest that eating irregularly is linked to a higher risk of metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and obesity). The limited evidence highlights the need for larger scale studies to better understand the impact of chrono-nutrition on public health, argue the authors of two new papers.

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Coral killers

In a three-year effort to understand the effects of known stressors such as overfishing and nutrient pollution on coral reefs, scientists made a totally unexpected finding: A normally healthy interaction between fish and coral had turned deadly. The new work also shows how rising ocean temperatures are potentially lethal for coral reefs.

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Pneumococcal vaccine watches bacteria, strikes only when needed

Conventional vaccines indiscriminately destroy bacteria and other disease-causing agents. The approach works, but there is growing concern that it creates opportunity other pathogens to harm the body -- similar to antibiotic resistance resulting in new and more potent pathogens. A new, protein-based pneumococcal vaccine takes a different approach. It allows pneumonia-causing bacteria to colonize in the body and -- like a nightclub bouncer -- swings into action only if the bacteria becomes harmful.

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Study reveals if spirituality, religion help parents cope after losing a child

Nothing is more devastating for a parent than the death of a child. Yet, few studies have examined parents’ mental health and personal growth, especially in black and Hispanic parents, following their child’s death in the hospital, and the role of spirituality or religion in helping them cope. Results of a new study reveal important differences in how mothers and fathers cope with the death of a child.

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Psoriasis: Light shed on new details

"A pathological and very complex autoimmune reaction of the skin": This is the definition doctors and scientists use to describe psoriasis, a disease that affects one to three percent of the population. It is characterized by accelerated cell division in the upper dermal layers with proliferated skin cells and an inflammation of the skin beneath. Many different cells are involved in the complex processes: skin cells (keratinocytes) and cells of the immune system, among others T lymphocytes, macrophages, mast cells and others.

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Addressing antibiotic resistance: Breath analysis aims to reduce unnecessary prescriptions

The overuse of antibiotics gives harmful bacteria the opportunity to evolve into drug resistant strains that threaten health care. To help tackle the problem, scientists have begun a pilot study examining biomarkers exhaled by patients. The team's goal is to develop an efficient (fast, accurate, painless and affordable) test that will assist doctors in prescribing antibiotics only when the treatment is absolutely necessary.

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Study sheds light on uncategorized genetic mutations in cystic fibrosis

A new study on cystic fibrosis sheds light on some the genetic mutations implicated, and the impact for those who carry them. CF is a progressive, genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and limits the ability to breathe over time. According to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, in the United States alone about 12 million people are carriers, and every year 2,500 babies are born with the disease which occurs when the child inherits two defective genes.

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Pubertal timing strongly linked to men's sexual and reproductive health

A new study finds a strong association between late onset of puberty and subsequent semen quality. This is the first study of its kind to investigate the influence of pubertal timing on male reproductive health. 1,068 healthy young Danish men participated in the study and provided information on the timing of puberty. This suggests that timing of pubertal onset may be a fundamental marker of male reproductive health. Men with a history of early puberty were shorter, had a higher BMI and were often smokers or exposed to prenatal tobacco smoke.

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Adults at risk for diabetes double activity levels through healthy lifestyle program

Adults at risk for type 2 diabetes or heart disease or both can substantially increase their physical activity levels through participating in a lifestyle intervention program designed for use in community-settings, such as senior centers or worksites. The analysis also confirmed that season matters, with participants getting more physical activity in the summer, versus winter, months.

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Beneficial effects of exercise change with age

Compared to older people, younger adults experience greater antioxidant benefits from one exercise session, new research shows. According to a new study, age may play a significant role in a cell's ability to respond to that activity.

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Men More Reluctant To Go To The Doctor – And It’s Putting Them At Risk

Health and Medicine
Photo credit: Men seek out male doctors, but are actually more honest with females. from

This is the first article in our series on men’s hidden health conditions. Read today’s article on postnatal depression in men.

Men can expect to die approximately five years sooner than women, and men are more likely to die as a result of unintentional injury and suicide relative to women.

These differences are not well explained by physiological differences between men and women. One possible explanation is that men are more reluctant to go to the doctor – and less likely to be honest once they get there.

We have a cultural script about masculinity that tells men they need to be tough, brave, strong and self-reliant. It’s exemplified in phrases like “be a man” and “man up”. Men learn from an early age if they don’t act in this tough, masculine way they lose their status and respect as men.

There’s a lot of literature linking masculinity to health issues in men.

Our recent study found men who buy into the traditional cultural script about masculinity, and believe they must be brave and self-reliant in order to be respected, had...

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Klinefelter’s Syndrome: Being Unable To Produce Testosterone Has Serious Implications For Men

Health and Medicine
Photo credit: Most men don’t know the normal size of testes. from

This is part of our series on hidden or stigmatised health conditions in men. Read the other articles in the series here.

Klinefelter’s syndrome is a genetic disorder that affects approximately one in 450 males. Each cell in the human body has 23 pairs of chromosomes. The sex chromosomes in a female are XX, and XY in men. Typically, men have 46 chromosomes with an arrangement of 46XY, while those with Klinefelter’s syndrome have a 47XXY arrangement.

The chromosomal arrangement in someone with Klinefelter’s. from

Klinefelter’s syndrome is not commonly diagnosed, with only four in 10 men diagnosed after birth and 10% diagnosed pre-puberty. Klinefelter’s syndrome is not typically diagnosed at birth, although physical characteristics may include a small penis and undescended testicles.

Klinefelter’s syndrome is the most common form of hypogonadism, where men are unable to produce sperm or sufficient levels of the male sex hormone, testosterone. The low levels of testosterone result in the underdevelopment of typical male...

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Can Bad Posture Give You A Hunchback?

Health and Medicine
Photo credit: Having a bad posture is believed to be one of the contributing factors of postural hunchback. from

The most common position of our spines throughout most of the day is a rounded or hunched one. Modern activities, such as using a smartphone, tablet or laptop, cause us to bend our neck and upper back.

If you don’t change your activity and move in a different way, the stiffness can build, making it harder to straighten your spine. This can contribute to developing a hunched back.

Hunchback Or Hunched Back?

A hunchback – medically termed kyphosis or hyperkyphosis in the extreme – is an abnormal forward curvature in the upper back.

There are many types, such as the severe form of an inherited bone disease called Scheuermann’s. This is likely what Quasimodo – or the Hunchback of Notre Dame – would have suffered from. Around 0.4% to 8% of the population are thought to suffer from Scheuermann’s disease.

The most common form, though, is a postural hunchback that commonly occurs in older age due to long-term effects of posture and gravity on the spine. It looks like a rounded curve of the upper back, near the...

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Can A Lack Of Love Be Deadly?

Health and Medicine
Photo credit: Love and affection are as important as food, water and shelter. jamesgoodmanphotography/flickr, CC BY

I taught myself about orphanages 12 years ago, not actually because of my work as a human biologist but because of my daughter. She was born in 2004 and her first 14 months of life were spent in an orphanage in China.

I am well acquainted with the vast body of research that shows the physical and psychological harms of deprived environments. Orphanages can arguably be placed under this category along with other places such as refugee camps and some hospitals where children lack close contact and attention. Deprivation comes in many shapes and forms: lack of food, diseases, maltreatment, and child abuse are some of the harms that come to mind. However, I would argue that deprivation of love can be just as deadly.

When I started researching orphanages and child health I read the classic works of paediatrician Harry Bakwin, psychologist John Bowlby and psychiatrist Harry Edelston. At the beginning of the 20th century, in the US and the UK, the death rates among infants placed in orphanages, nurseries, and foundling hospitals...

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Expert Committee Finds Genetically Engineered Crops Are As Safe To Eat As Conventionally Bred Plants

Health and Medicine
Photo credit: Soybean is one of the most common genetically engineered crops. Viacheslav Rubel/Shutterstock

An expert committee of scientists has released its conclusion of a comprehensive analysis looking into the safety of genetically engineered (GE) foods. It found that there doesn’t seem to be any difference between them and conventionally bred crops, and that genetically modified organisms pose no greater threat to the environment, either.

The experts note that there are difficulties in establishing long term trends, but that the only immediate risk posed by the food stuffs related to major pests developing resistance to the genetically engineered crops. They also found that there was no significant increase in productivity from GE crops. 

They found that modern advances in genetic engineering are blurring the once clear lines that distinguished between GE and conventionally bred organisms. With the development of new techniques, such as the precision gene editing procedure of CRISPR, there is expected to be an explosion over the coming years in terms of new genetically engineered crops entering the market, and as it differs to older,...

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Magic Mushrooms Shown To Ease Severe Depression In Groundbreaking Study

Health and Medicine
Photo credit: afgooey74/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

For up to 9,000 years, humans have been reaping the spiritual, psychological, and recreational benefits of psilocybin mushrooms. But for years, exploring its possibilities within the world of medicine has been hampered by tight legal regulations and – no doubt – its association with countercultures. However, a pioneering study in the U.K. has boasted promising results in using the psychedelic drug to treat depression. 

The trial at Imperial College London gave 12 people psilocybin, the active component in “magic mushrooms.” These six men and six women had all been diagnosed with moderate or severe depression for a significant amount of time – an average of 17.8 years – and had previously undertaken unsuccessful attempts at other treatments.

The study, recently published in The Lancet Psychiatry, showed that all the patients experienced a notable improvement in their symptoms within three weeks of taking the psychedelic trip. Three months on, five patients were in complete remission, reporting no signs or symptoms of depression.

This stands in comparison to the 20 percent remission rate of people...

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Green Light Could Help With Migraines

Health and Medicine
Photo credit: If you're suffering from migraines, it might be time to see this light. art of sun/Shutterstock

It is not news that light is usually painful to migraine sufferers. According to new research, however, a narrow range of wavelengths can actually ease the pain.

Light-induced pain, dubbed photophobia, is associated with 80 percent of migraine attacks. The need to lock oneself away in a dark room prevents people with migraines from participating fully in life, sometimes for days on end. “It is their inability to endure light that most often disables them," said Harvard Professor Rami Burstein in a statement.

Previous research found that blind migraine patients are sensitive to blue light, but immune to the effects of other colors, inspiring Burstein to study how different colors affect sighted migraine sufferers. He tested this by exposing 69 brave patients to different colored light and asking them to rate the intensity of their headache.

Burstein found that light at both ends of the spectrum was problematic, with 80 percent of people in the trial reporting increased pain when exposed to either red or blue light. The brighter the...

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Why You Shouldn’t Wrap Your Food In Aluminum Foil Before Cooking It

Health and Medicine
Photo credit: Proceed with caution when using foil for cooking. Shutterstock

If you’re baking fish, roasting vegetables or preparing a piece of meat for dinner tonight, chances are that you’ll wrap your food in aluminium foil. What you may not realise is that some of the foil will leach into your meal – and this could be bad for your health.

Research that I conducted with a group of colleagues has explored the use of aluminium for cooking and preparing food. Aluminium doesn’t just appear in foil: it is the most popular cookware material used by people in developing countries. Pots and pans are lined with it and it is found in some kitchen utensils like large serving spoons. Copper used to fulfil this role, but over time it’s been replaced by aluminium because it is cheaper to mass produce and easier to clean.

But while cooking your food in aluminium pots or pans isn’t a bad thing, placing it in foil and putting it in the oven is problematic. This is especially true with acidic or spicy food that’s prepared at high temperatures.

Aluminium and health

Human bodies can excrete small amounts of aluminium very efficiently. This means that minimal...

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African Scientists A Step Closer To Testing For TB In A Matter Of Minutes

Health and Medicine
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Tuberculosis ranks alongside HIV/AIDS as a leading cause of death worldwide. According to the World Health Organisation, 1.5 million people died from TB in 2014. The challenges in tackling the disease include the facts that people are tested too late and that the turnaround for most tests is long. To remedy this a point-of-care rapid diagnostic test for TB has been developed by a multinational team of scientists led by researchers at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. One of its co-inventors, Professor Gerhard Walzl, spoke to The Conversation Africa’s health and medicine editor Candice Bailey.

How have TB tests been done up until now and what are the challenges?

There are three main tests that are currently in use.

A culture test – the most sensitive – requires people to produce a sputum sample that is sent to a centralised laboratory where a culture test is done. A positive result shows up after ten days. A confirmed negative result takes up to 42 days.

The problem with this test is that it is only available in centralised laboratories, which means patients must make several trips to a hospital or health...

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New Melanoma Drug Hailed As “A Step Forward” In Battle Against Deadly Skin Cancer

Health and Medicine
Photo credit: Melanoma occurs when the skin's pigment-producing cells become cancerous. Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock

The results of a clinical trial into the effectiveness of a new immunotherapy drug for a deadly form of skin cancer are set to be presented at an upcoming conference, with researchers hailing the study as “a step forward” in the quest to overcome the affliction.

Melanoma is a condition whereby the skin’s pigment-producing cells – called melanocytes – become cancerous. Often spreading to other parts of the body, the disease typically has a very low survival rate. According to Caroline Robert, who led the study, prior to 2011 the average melanoma sufferer lived for less than one year.

The difficulty in treating the disease owes to the fact that cancer is simply a mass of malfunctioning body cells, rather than an external pathogen. Because the body’s immune system contains a number of mechanisms that prevent it from destroying its own cells – ensuring it only targets alien invaders – it does not attack these cancerous cells.

For example, a protein called programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) is found on the surface of white blood...

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Global early warning system for infectious diseases

Experts call for the creation of a global early warning system for infectious diseases. Such a system would use computer models to tap into environmental, epidemiological and molecular data, gathering the intelligence needed to forecast where disease risk is high and what actions could prevent outbreaks or contain epidemics.

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Low-salt diets may not be beneficial for all, study suggests

A large worldwide study has found that, contrary to popular thought, low-salt diets may not be beneficial and may actually increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and death compared to average salt consumption. The study suggests that the only people who need to worry about reducing sodium in their diet are those with hypertension (high blood pressure) and have high salt consumption.

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Flawed data behind regulation of high-risk women's health devices

Some high-risk medical devices used in obstetrics and gynecology were approved by the FDA based on flawed data and were not effective in clinical trials, according to a recent study. The investigators assessed the regulation of women's health devices approved by the FDA in the last 15 years. The agency's approvals should be based on clinical studies more rigorous than currently required, both before and after the devices go to market, the authors said.

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A tool to support public health decisions on Zika virus predicts most planned interventions to be cost-effective

A new study presents a cost-effectiveness tool that can help guide decisions regarding resource allocation to fund interventions targeted at curtailing the ongoing Zika virus outbreak. Analyses using the tool suggest that proposed funds to combat Zika in the US and other countries would be cost-effective, based on quantification of the serious health conditions associated with Zika infection.

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Rural, low-income moms rely on nature activities for family health but don't always have access

Research shows that spending just 20 minutes in nature can promote health and well-being. Although the assumption may be that living in rural areas provides ample opportunities for recreation in nature, many rural, low-income mothers, who rely on outdoor activities to promote health and well-being for themselves and their families, face obstacles in accessing publicly available outdoor recreation resources.

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Pathogen: Temperature influences gene expression, life cycle in vibrio cholerae

Vibrio cholerae infects roughly four million people annually, worldwide, causing severe diarrheal disease, and killing an estimated 140,000 people. Its success as a pathogen belies the challenges this bacterium faces. The waters this bacterium inhabits when it's not infecting H. sapiens can be 40 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than our normal body temperature. Now a team of investigators provides new insights into how different temperatures in the bacterium's environment control expression of genes required for life at those temperatures.

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Why Aren’t More People Vegetarian?

Health and Medicine
Photo credit: A wise choice? Africa Studio/

“I’m vegetarian.” “I’m vegan.” These statements typically will be met with a range of reactions, varying from bafflement to praise. But what makes people adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet? How are vegetarians and vegans viewed by the rest of society? And why don’t more people become vegetarian?

The ethics of eating

About 12% of the UK’s population is vegetarian or vegan. Many people adopt a vegetarian diet for health reasons, yet those that do appear to be less committed to their diet than those who reject meat for ethical reasons. So what is it about being ethically motivated that supports stronger commitments?

You often hear that people who shun meat for ethical reasons possess a greater capacity for empathy than those who don’t. Indeed, there is some evidence that ethically-motivated vegetarians and vegans score higher than omnivores on standard measures of empathy (for example, the empathy quotient).

Ethically-minded vegetarians and vegans also seem to have an expansive “circle of moral concern”, meaning that they think that many animals, including farm animals, deserve...

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Cherry Concentrate Can Lower Blood Pressure As Much As Drugs, Our Study Finds

Health and Medicine
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Drinking cherry concentrate can lower systolic blood pressure for up to three hours, our latest study found. If tart Montmorency cherry concentrate was a drug, it would probably get FDA approval.

Tart Montmorency cherries are rich in a number of plant compounds that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. In cell and animal models, cherry extracts have been shown to have a range of cardiovascular health effects.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the biggest killer, globally. In Europe, CVD is the leading cause of death in adults and is responsible for nearly half (48%) of all deaths. And in the US, 25% of deaths are attributed to CVD – that’s about 610,000 premature deaths each year. Raised blood pressure is the greatest risk factor for cardiovascular disease and even small reductions in blood pressure can have a big impact on mortality rates.

Blood pressure is recorded as two numbers. Systolic blood pressure (the top number) measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts, and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) measures the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats...

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