Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

NASA’s Twins Study: A great control, but a sample size of one

April 11th, 2019
Image of an astronaut with Earth behind him in a window.

Enlarge / Scott Kelly returned from space with a lot of blood and stool samples. They've now told the tale of the changes he underwent during his time on the International Space Station. (credit: NASA)

The US has big plans for putting humans in space. In doing so, it will be building on our experience at the International Space Station, which is approaching the 20th anniversary of the arrival of its first occupants. Some of that experience comes in the form of knowledge of habitation and operations in low gravity. But a large chunk of it is in the form of understanding what time in space does to the human body.

Today, NASA is releasing detailed results of its most audacious experiment yet: sending one half of a pair of identical twin astronauts into space and carefully monitoring both of them for a year. Three years after astronaut Scott Kelly returned to Earth, and a year after some horrifically speculative press coverage, a paper in today's issue of Science provides excruciating detail on the changes Kelly's body experienced over a year in orbit. While many of the problems highlighted in the new paper had been identified previously, the results aren't exactly good news for the US' long-term exploration plan.


Over the course of many long-term stays in space, the US and Russia have identified a number of health issues caused by extended stays in minimal gravity. Some of them are pretty simple to correct. Without gravity's constant pull, bones and muscles don't experience the resistance that helps keep them robust. A careful exercise plan, however, can minimize these issues. Less easy to minimize is the fact that the body's internal water content shifts upwards—about two liters of fluid move to the upper body over the short term. Among the consequences are eye problems that can persist after the astronaut returns to Earth.

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Posted in Biology, Health, mark kelly, NASA, science, scott kelly, Spaceflight, twins study | Comments (0)

The nutrition study the $30B supplement industry doesn’t want you to see

April 11th, 2019
The nutrition study the $30B supplement industry doesn’t want you to see

Enlarge (credit: Getty | Roberto Machado Noa)

A decade-long observational study of more than 30,000 people finds that certain vitamins and minerals may help extend your life and keep you from dying of cardiovascular disease—but only if you get those beneficial nutrients from foods, not supplements.

The study, published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine, is yet another to find that taking supplemental vitamins and minerals—either individually or in multivitamins—offers no discernible benefits in terms of reducing risks of death generally or death from cardiovascular disease and cancers, specifically. Simply put, popping pills can’t take the place of eating a healthy diet—an unflashy takeaway that likely won’t please the massive, $30 billion supplement industry.

Moreover, the study didn’t just find a lack of benefits from supplements. It also found potential harms. Getting high doses of calcium (1,000 mg or more per day) from supplements—but not from foods—was linked to higher cancer mortality risks in the study. Likewise, people taking vitamin D supplements who didn’t have vitamin D deficiencies may have higher risks of all-cause mortality and death from cancers.

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Posted in cancer, cardiovascular disease, diet, Health, micronutrients, mortality, nutrition, science, supplements, vitamins | Comments (0)

Blood of the young won’t spare rich old people from sadness and death, FDA says

February 19th, 2019
Still image from a Hammer horror film in which a vampire (Christopher Lee) sucks blood from an attractive female victim.

Enlarge / Not so fast, says the FDA. (credit: Getty | Silver Screen Collection)

The US Food and Drug Administration issued an alert Tuesday, February 19, warning older consumers against seeking infusions of blood plasma harvested from younger people. Despite being peddled as anti-aging treatments and cures for a range of conditions, the transfusions are unproven and potentially harmful.

In a statement, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and the director of FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, Peter Marks, wrote:

Simply put, we're concerned that some patients are being preyed upon by unscrupulous actors touting treatments of plasma from young donors as cures and remedies.

Establishments in several states are now selling young blood plasma, which is the liquid portion of blood that contains proteins for clotting. The sellers suggest that doses of young plasma can treat conditions ranging from normal aging and memory loss to dementia, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, or post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the FDA.

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Posted in Aging, blood, fda, Health, mouse studies, science | Comments (0)

High-tech toilet seat monitors your heart as you sit on the can

February 19th, 2019

If developing heart disease scares the poo out of you, this new monitor may be just the thing.

Engineers at Rochester Institute of Technology have designed a high-tech toilet seat that effortlessly flushes out data on the state of your cardiovascular system. The tricked-out porcelain throne measures your blood pressure, blood oxygen level, and the volume of blood your heart pumps per beat (stroke volume)—taking readings every time you sit down to catch up on some reading of your own. The engineers, led by David Borkholder, recently published a prototype of the seat in the open-access journal JMIR mHealth and uHealth.

According to the inventors, the seat’s daily data dump could make patients and their doctors privy to early warning signs of heart failure, potentially helping to prevent further deterioration and avoid costly hospital stays. Moreover, the seat could ease in-home monitoring for heart patients, who often strain to consistently track their tickers with other, non-toilet-based monitors.

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Posted in BCG, blood, cardiovascular disease, ECG, Health, heart, heart failure, heart monitor, medical devices, oxygenation, science, sensors, toilet | Comments (0)

Ebola outbreak reaches city of 1 million residents

December 14th, 2018
Ebola treatment center at the Hospital in Beni, North Kivu Province.

Enlarge / Ebola treatment center at the Hospital in Beni, North Kivu Province. (credit: MONUSCO/Alain Coulibaly)

The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has spread to a city of nearly 1 million residents. There are now 30 confirmed cases and 15 deaths in the city of Butembo reported in the latest update provided by the World Health Organization (WHO). The number of cases in the city center is still low, according to Doctors Without Borders, but that number is rising quickly in more outlying districts and suburbs.

The outbreak, which has been going on since August, has so far resulted in 467 confirmed cases and a further 48 probable cases. More than half of the cases have resulted in death (including those of 17 health workers), while 177 patients have recovered, including a newborn baby.

Limited containment

The rate of transmission is beginning to slow down in Beni, a smaller city approximately 36 miles north of Butembo that has the highest number of reported cases so far. But “the outbreak is intensifying in Butembo and Katwa,” writes the WHO, “and new clusters are emerging elsewhere.”

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Posted in ebola, Health, medicine, science | Comments (0)

The fight against measles has taken a turn for the worse

November 30th, 2018
A baby hospitalized with measles in the Philippines, in an outbreak following 2013's typhoon Haiyan.

Enlarge / A baby hospitalized with measles in the Philippines, in an outbreak following 2013's typhoon Haiyan. (credit: CDC Global)

In 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO) set some ambitious goals for measles worldwide. By 2015, they wanted to reduce the number of deaths caused by measles by 95 percent compared to 2000. They set similarly ambitious targets for vaccination rates and measles infections.

The world has not reached these goals. And between 2016 and 2017, there was an alarming uptick in measles cases worldwide, according to a joint report by the WHO and CDC. “Complacency about the disease and the spread of falsehoods about the vaccine in Europe, a collapsing health system in Venezuela, and pockets of fragility and low immunization coverage in Africa are combining to bring about a global resurgence of measles after years of progress,” said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, in a statement about the report.

Overall, between 2000 and 2017, there has been a lot of progress: annual global deaths have decreased 80 percent, from 545,174 to 109,638. Over this time period, measles vaccination has prevented approximately 21 million deaths globally, compared to a hypothetical world with no measles vaccines (in this world, the death rate would have been a lot higher in 2000, too). The number of cases reported annually plummeted from 145 cases per million people to just 25—although the goal was five cases per million. And 85 percent of people globally had received the first dose of the measles vaccine in 2017, compared to 72 percent in 2000.

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Posted in Health, medicine, science, vaccination | Comments (0)

US life expectancy continues to move in reverse

November 29th, 2018
Cemetry in Craftsbur in Autumn Season, Common, Vermont, New England

Enlarge / Cemetry in Craftsbur in Autumn Season, Common, Vermont, New England (credit: Enn Li Photography | Getty Images)

In 1900, the average person in the US could expect to live just 47.3 years. Throughout the 20th century, that figure climbed rapidly, topping 70 years for the first time in 1961 and reaching 78.9 years in 2014, suggesting 80 was only a matter of time.

Then in 2015, there was a downturn—a small one, to 78.8 years. A single year might be a blip, but the reasons for the increase in death rate (including obesity and drug overdoses) suggested that might not be the case. Data released today by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics points to a continuing downward trend: life expectancy in 2017 was 78.6 years, down from 78.7 years in 2016.

That dip of 0.1 years, every year for the last three years, is not a huge trend when taken on its own. But it suggests that the decrease in 2015 was more than a blip—and it points to unfolding stories about health and death in the United States. Those small-seeming numbers also translate to meaningful real-world figures: there were 69,255 additional deaths in 2017 compared to 2016.

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Posted in Health, life expectancy, medicine, science | Comments (0)

Plot twist: Mitochondrial DNA can come from both parents

November 28th, 2018
Mitochondria (red) and cell nucleus (blue) of two connective tissue cells prepared from mouse embryo.

Enlarge / Mitochondria (red) and cell nucleus (blue) of two connective tissue cells prepared from mouse embryo. (credit: Institute of Molecular Medicine I, University of Düsseldorf)

The vast majority of our DNA—the chromosomes in the nucleus of each cell—is just what you’d expect: a mix of genetic material from both mother and father. But mitochondria are an exception. They contain a relatively tiny amount of DNA, and in nearly all mammals and even unicellular organisms, that DNA comes strictly from the mother. We've even used that fact to trace the spread of humanity around the globe.

But in 2002, researchers in Copenhagen reported a jaw-dropping finding. In an effort to work out why one of their patients had extreme fatigue during exercise despite seeming healthy in many respects, they started examining his mitochondria—the energy-generating power stations living in each cell. What they found floored them: the man had mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) that matched both his father's and his mother's.

Since 2002, no other cases of paternally inherited mtDNA have been reported in humans, despite several research groups actively looking. But a paper in this week’s PNAS reports mtDNA inherited from both parents in 17 different people from three families. This kind of inheritance is still extremely rare and seems potentially linked to mitochondrial disease, but the robust confirmation of it in humans is huge news for biology and medicine.

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Posted in Genetics, Health, medicine, science | Comments (0)

Trash your romaine lettuce and don’t eat any in restaurants, says the CDC

November 21st, 2018
Romaine lettuce, looking innocuous.

Enlarge / Romaine lettuce, looking innocuous. (credit: Chimpr / Flickr)

Step away from the salad, advises the CDC. Specifically, you should stay away from romaine lettuce in every possible form: baby romaine, spring mix, whole heads, precut, the works. An outbreak of pathogenic E. coli across 11 states and Canada has been traced to romaine lettuce, an echo of a similar outbreak that happened at the same time last year.

The warning extends to lettuce in restaurants, shops, and your home, and the CDC recommends taking no risks: if you think you bought the lettuce before the current outbreak, trash it anyway. If you’re not sure it’s romaine, trash it anyway. If you had romaine in your fridge, they recommend washing down the entire fridge with warm, soapy water; and, if you're inclined to be extra cautious, a bit of diluted liquid bleach to follow.

Why the high level of alarm? The outbreak is caused by a particularly nasty strain of E. coli that can, in some cases, lead to a type of kidney failure; it’s not to be trifled with. So far, 32 people in the US got sick between October 8 and 31, of whom 13 have been hospitalized. In Canada, six people have been hospitalized out of a reported 18 cases. So far, no deaths have been reported. Because of how long it can take before the CDC gets wind of a case, the agency thinks it won’t yet know about cases happening since the first few weeks of November, so those numbers will probably change.

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Posted in food poisoning, Health, medicine, science | Comments (0)

New anti-gonorrhea drug called “metal as f–k”

November 15th, 2018
Image of someone opening a condom.

Enlarge / It's still best to avoid needing antibiotics. (credit: Wyoming Dept. of Health)

In the battle against gonorrhea, antibiotics have been forced into a rapid and devastating retreat. In the early 1990s, three different antibiotics were available as treatments recommended by the CDC. Resistance to one of these options was detected in the late ‘90s; since then, one after another, treatment options bit the dust. Now, resistance to all available treatment is growing.

“We are facing the real danger of multidrug-resistant, nearly untreatable gonorrhea,” wrote Susan Blank and Demetre C. Daskalakis in the New England Journal of Medicine last week. On its own, this is a very serious public health concern; taken together with the sharp uptick in the number of reported cases of gonorrhea in the US, it’s alarming.

A second paper published last week offers some hope: in a small trial, a new antibiotic did well against gonorrhea. The drug, called zoliflodacin, has a different way of attacking bacteria, making it a useful new option against antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea. A much larger clinical trial is now in the cards.

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Posted in antibiotic resistance, Health, medicine, science | Comments (0)