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Placebo effect 'down to genes'

Placebo effect 'down to genes' | The future of medicine and health |
Genetic make-up may be why some people respond to dummy treatment, a study into irritable bowel syndrome finds...
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Booze makes these neurons crave more booze - Futurity

Booze makes these neurons crave more booze - Futurity | The future of medicine and health |
Drinking alcohol changes the shape of “go” neurons, a part of the brain that makes you want to act—in this case, pour another drink—new research shows.

And binge drinking over time makes it easier for these neurons, called D1, to activate, which causes you to crave more booze.

“If these neurons are excited, you will want to drink alcohol,” says Jun Wang, an assistant professor in the neuroscience and experimental therapeutics at the Texas A&M College of Medicine. “You’ll have a craving.”

That is to say, when neurons with D1 receptors are activated, they compel you to perform an action. This then creates a cycle, where drinking causes easier activation, and activation causes more drinking.
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Completely paralyzed man steps out in robotic exoskeleton

Completely paralyzed man steps out in robotic exoskeleton | The future of medicine and health |
Working with a team of UCLA scientists, a man with protracted and complete paralysis has recovered sufficient voluntary control to take charge of a bionic exoskeleton and take many thousands of steps. Using a non-invasive spinal stimulation system that requires no surgery, this is claimed to be the first time that a person with such a comprehensive disability has been able to actively and voluntarily walk with such a device.

Leveraging on research where the UCLA team recently used the same non-invasive technique to enable five completely paralyzed men to move their legs, the new work has allowed the latest subject, Mark Pollock, to regain some voluntary movement – even up to two weeks after training with the external electrical stimulation had ended.

Pollock, who had been totally paralyzed from the waist down for four years prior to this study, was given five days of training in the robot exoskeleton, and a further two weeks muscle training with the external stimulation unit. The stimulated and voluntary leg movements have not only shown that regaining mobility through this technique is possible, but that the training itself provides a range of health benefits in itself, especially in enhanced cardiovascular function and improved muscle tone.
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UK national sperm bank has just nine donors - BBC News

UK national sperm bank has just nine donors - BBC News | The future of medicine and health |
Just nine men are registered as donors a year after the opening of Britain's national sperm bank in Birmingham.

It is now planning a recruitment drive, with chief executive Laura Witjens saying that appealing to male pride may be an effective way to boost donations.

She has suggested a new campaign featuring a cartoon superhero, echoing a successful strategy in Denmark.

A change in UK law in 2005, removing anonymity for sperm donors, is thought to have led to a drop in volunteers.

Ms Witjens said she hoped adopting the "superman" message would help, but it could still take five years before the national sperm bank had enough donors.

She told the Guardian: "If I advertised saying 'Men, prove your worth, show me how good you are', then I would get hundreds of donors.

"That's the way the Danish do it. They proudly say, this is the Viking invasion, exports from Denmark are beer, Lego and sperm. It's a source of pride."
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Diet Advice That Ignores Hunger

Diet Advice That Ignores Hunger | The future of medicine and health |
TOWARD the end of the Second World War, researchers at the University of Minnesota began a legendary experiment on the psychology and physiology of human starvation — and, thus, on hunger. The subjects were 36 conscientious objectors, some lean, some not. For 24 weeks, these men were semi-starved, fed not quite 1,600 calories a day of foods chosen to represent the fare of European famine areas: “whole-wheat bread, potatoes, cereals and considerable amounts of turnips and cabbage” with “token amounts” of meat and dairy.

As diets go, it was what nutritionists today would consider a low-calorie, and very low-fat diet, with only 17 percent of calories coming from fat.

What happened to these men is a lesson in our ability to deal with caloric deprivation, which means, as well, a lesson in any expectations we might have about most current weight-loss advice, and perhaps particularly the kind that begins with “eat less” and “restrict fat.”

The men lost an average of a pound of body fat a week over the first 12 weeks, but averaged only a quarter-pound per week over the next 12, despite the continued deprivation. And this was not their only physiological reaction. Their extremities swelled; their hair fell out; wounds healed slowly. They felt continually cold; their metabolism slowed.

More troubling were the psychological effects. The men became depressed, lethargic and irritable. They threw tantrums. They lost their libido. They thought obsessively about food, day and night. The Minnesota researchers called this “semi-starvation neurosis.” Four developed “character neurosis.” Two had breakdowns, one with “weeping, talk of suicide and threats of violence.” He was committed to the psychiatric ward. The “personality deterioration” of the other “culminated in two attempts at self-mutilation.” He nearly detached the tip of one finger and later chopped off three with an ax.
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Study delivers bleak verdict on validity of psychology experiment results

Study delivers bleak verdict on validity of psychology experiment results | The future of medicine and health |
A major investigation into scores of claims made in psychology research journals has delivered a bleak verdict on the state of the science.

An international team of experts repeated 100 experiments published in top psychology journals and found that they could reproduce only 36% of original findings.

The study, which saw 270 scientists repeat experiments on five continents, was launched by psychologists in the US in response to rising concerns over the reliability of psychology research.
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Overthinking could be driving creativity in people with neurotic disorders

Overthinking could be driving creativity in people with neurotic disorders | The future of medicine and health |
People who suffer from neuroticism – a condition characterised by anxiety, fear and negative thoughts – are extremely tuned in to looking for threats. For that reason, you may expect them to perform well in jobs requiring vigilance: stunt pilots, aviators and bomb defusement. Yet, the evidence suggests they are actually more suited to creative jobs.

Exactly what drives neuroticism and the creativity it is associated with is not known. But researchers have now come up with a theory which suggests that it could be down to the fact that people who score highly on neuroticism tests, meaning they are prone to anxiety or depression, tend to do a lot of thinking – often at the expense of concentrating at the task at hand.
Past, present and future

The hypothesis, which is yet to be experimentally verified, is an extension of what we already know. People who have neurotic traits typically look for things to worry about (a mechanism dubbed “self-generated thinking”). For example, people who get depressed are consumed by such self-generated negative thoughts that they forget what they are supposed to be doing. In other words, they are not very tuned in to the ”here and now”, which is pretty important if you need somebody to concentrate on defusing a bomb.

What the new research helps to do is explain the underlying brain mechanisms that interfere with “on the job thinking”. A certain amount of brain arousal is great for concentration but too much interferes with clear thinking and that’s what you want when performing stunts, flying planes, and disposing of bombs.

So where does the creativity come in? The authors argue that people who engage in self-generated thinking are creative because they are not rooted in reality – they are away with the fairies. Indeed, they may resist attempts to get them to concentrate on reality whilst they focus on their own thoughts. It is hardly a surprise, then, that their ideas can be new, whacky and original.

So while people scoring high on neuroticism may struggle with a lot of stress, they can still have a successful working life. They may actually be able to find creative solutions to problems that didn’t exist in the first place, and in the process come with some pretty useful and imaginative stuff. Rather like Billy Liar, in his escape from his tedious existence conjuring up some fairly exciting daydreams.
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‘Tricorder’-style handheld MouthLab detects patients’ vital signs, rivaling hospital devices | KurzweilAI

‘Tricorder’-style handheld MouthLab detects patients’ vital signs, rivaling hospital devices | KurzweilAI | The future of medicine and health |
Inspired by the Star Trek tricorder, engineers and physicians at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have developed a hand-held, battery-powered device called MouthLab that quickly picks up vital signs from a patient’s lips and fingertip.

Updated versions of the prototype could replace the bulky, restrictive monitors now used to display patients’ vital signs in hospitals and actually gather more data than is typically collected during a medical assessment in an ambulance, emergency room, doctor’s office, or patient’s home.

The MouthLab prototype’s measurements of heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, breathing rate, and blood oxygen from 52 volunteers compared well with vital signs measured by standard hospital monitors. The device also takes a basic electrocardiogram. The study was published in the September issue of the Annals of Biomedical Engineering.

Early warning for non-doctors

“We see it as a ‘check-engine’ light for humans,” says the device’s lead engineer, Gene Fridman, Ph.D., an assistant professor of biomedical engineering and of otolaryngology–head and neck surgery at Johns Hopkins. “It can be used by people without special training at home or in the field.” He expects the device may be able to detect early signs of medical emergencies, such as heart attacks, or avoid unnecessary ambulance trips and emergency room visits when a patient’s vital signs are good.
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Digital pen technique can diagnose dementia faster and earlier

Digital pen technique can diagnose dementia faster and earlier | The future of medicine and health |
Noting that most current methods of diagnosing cognitive diseases can only detect impairment after the disorders have taken hold, researchers at MIT have combined digital pen technology and some custom software to develop an objective model for early detection.

The new system, still in its concept stage, is a development on the Clock Drawing Test (CDT) that doctors use to screen for illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. In this test patients are asked to draw a clock face showing the time as 10 minutes past 11, and then asked to copy a pre-drawn clock face showing the same time. The results are then examined for signs of problems by a doctor.

Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) swapped out the ink pen used in current tests for the Anoto Live Pen, a digitizing ballpoint pen that, with the help of a built-in camera, can measure its position on the paper more than 80 times a second. Rather than only relying on the final drawing for subjective analysis by medical practitioners, the pen can pick up on all the patient's hesitations and movements.

Working at Lahey Hospital and Medical Center, the CSAIL researchers helped produce analysis software for the Live Pen version of the test, resulting in what the team calls the digital Clock Drawing Test.
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Obesity drug may be on the horizon after study pinpoints genetic mechanism

Obesity drug may be on the horizon after study pinpoints genetic mechanism | The future of medicine and health |
Nearly half of all Europeans are genetically predisposed to obesity. The condition is a worldwide epidemic affecting more than half a billion people and rising every year in most countries.

Despite this, we know little about the genetic origin of the condition and have no good medical treatment for it other than bariatric surgery. But now a genetic study seems to have cracked the mystery – raising hopes for more efficient treatment.

The global obesity crisis is often blamed on an increasingly sedentary life style and poor eating habits. However, studies have shown that 70-80% of the differences between people in body fat are due to their genes (this is called the heritability).

The first large-scale genetic studies for obesity were launched in 2007, after the initial mapping of the human genome. And one gene, dubbed FTO, made the headlines by popping its head above the other 20,000 genes in the pack. For the past eight years, despite finding nearly 100 other genes linked to obesity, FTO and the area around it have remained the top signals. But scientists around the world have struggled to understand how the gene works and whether it really is behind obesity.
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The verdict is in: feel-good exercise hormone irisin is real

The verdict is in: feel-good exercise hormone irisin is real | The future of medicine and health |
Scientists in the US have found that a feel-good exercise hormone called irisin does indeed exist in humans, putting to bed long-disputed claims that it is a myth.

The research team, led by Bruce Spiegelman from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, used mass spectrometry to look for irisin in blood samples of individuals after exercise, finding that these people had released the exercise hormone from their body, which activates fat cells to increase energy turn over.

The research was published today in the journal Cell Metabolism.

“Concentrations are present in sedentary individuals and are significantly increased in individuals undergoing aerobic interval training,” the researchers said in the paper.

“We therefore also confirm our earlier report of irisin being regulated by endurance exercise in humans.”
Working out, feeling good

Irisin received a lot of attention recently because of divisions in the scientific community about whether or not it actually existed.

Irisin’s discovery in 2012 was exciting because scientists had potentially found one reason why exercise keeps us healthy.

When irisin levels were increased in mice, their blood and metabolism improved. Results from human studies are still mixed as to what kinds of exercise raise irisin, but data suggest that high-intensity training protocols are particularly effective.

Professor Mark Febbraio, Head of the Cellular and Molecular Metabolism Laboratory and Head of the Diabetes and Metabolism Division at the Garvan Institute for Medical Research, said that the form of mass spectrometry used in the new study was far more accurate and reliable in measuring irisin.

“Using state-of-the-art technology, the researchers have proven beyond doubt that irisin is real. It settles the argument,“ said Professor Febbraio, who was not involved in the research.

Previous studies using commercially available kits called “ELISA” kits detected the presence of irisin, by recognising an antigen, in samples, which could produce inconsistent results with irisin, he said.
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Remote tribe has antibiotic resistance genes - Futurity

Remote tribe has antibiotic resistance genes - Futurity | The future of medicine and health |
Scientists have found antibiotic resistance genes in the bacterial flora of a South American tribe who have never been exposed to antibiotic drugs.

The findings suggest that bacteria in the human body have had the ability to resist antibiotics since long before such drugs were ever used to treat disease.

The research stems from the 2009 discovery of a tribe of Yanomami Amerindians in a remote mountainous area in southern Venezuela. Largely because the tribe had been isolated from other societies for more than 11,000 years, its members were found to have among the most diverse collections of bacteria recorded in humans.

Within that plethora of bacteria, though, the researchers have identified genes wired to resist antibiotics.
DebbyBruck's comment, August 22, 10:54 PM
This is such a wonderful article... so telling about the ability of human beings to adapt to challenges in our environments even to the point of being able to resist that which is "anti-life" in an unnatural way. Thank you for sharing!
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“Brainy” mice raise hope of better treatments for cognitive disorders - University of Leeds

“Brainy” mice raise hope of better treatments for cognitive disorders - University of Leeds | The future of medicine and health |
Researchers have created unusually intelligent mice by altering a single gene and as a result the mice were also less likely to feel anxiety or recall fear.

The study, led by the University of Leeds and Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, is published today in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

It sheds light on the molecular underpinnings of learning and memory and could form the basis for research into new treatments for age-related cognitive decline, cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia, and other conditions.

The researchers altered a gene in mice to inhibit the activity of an enzyme called phosphodiesterase-4B (PDE4B), which is present in many organs of the vertebrate body, including the brain.

In behavioural tests, the PDE4B-inhibited mice showed enhanced cognitive abilities.

They tended to learn faster, remember events longer and solve complex exercises better than ordinary mice.

For example, the “brainy mice” showed a better ability than ordinary mice to recognise another mouse that they had been introduced to the day before. They were also quicker at learning the location of a hidden escape platform in a test called the Morris water maze.

However, the PDE4B-inhibited mice also showed less recall of a fearful event after several days than ordinary mice.
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A Surprise Source of Life’s Code | Quanta Magazine

A Surprise Source of Life’s Code |  Quanta Magazine | The future of medicine and health |
Genes, like people, have families — lineages that stretch back through time, all the way to a founding member. That ancestor multiplied and spread, morphing a bit with each new iteration.

For most of the last 40 years, scientists thought that this was the primary way new genes were born — they simply arose from copies of existing genes. The old version went on doing its job, and the new copy became free to evolve novel functions.

Certain genes, however, seem to defy that origin story. They have no known relatives, and they bear no resemblance to any other gene. They’re the molecular equivalent of a mysterious beast discovered in the depths of a remote rainforest, a biological enigma seemingly unrelated to anything else on earth.

The mystery of where these orphan genes came from has puzzled scientists for decades. But in the past few years, a once-heretical explanation has quickly gained momentum — that many of these orphans arose out of so-called junk DNA, or non-coding DNA, the mysterious stretches of DNA between genes. “Genetic function somehow springs into existence,” said David Begun, a biologist at the University of California, Davis.
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Life expectancy climbs worldwide but people spend more years living with illness and disability | KurzweilAI

Life expectancy climbs worldwide but people spend more years living with illness and disability | KurzweilAI | The future of medicine and health |
The good news: as for 2013, global life expectancy for people in 188 countries has risen 6.2 years since 1990 (65.3 to 71.5). The bad news: healthy life expectancy (HALE) at birth rose by only 5.4 years (56.9 to 62.3), due to fatal and nonfatal ailments (interactive visualization by country here).

In other words, people are living more years with illness and disability. Ischemic heart disease, lower respiratory infections, and stroke cause the most health loss around the world.

That’s according to a study published in the medical journal The Lancet on August 27, conducted by an international consortium of researchers working on the Global Burden of Disease study, led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.

“The world has made great progress in health, but now the challenge is to invest in finding more effective ways of preventing or treating the major causes of illness and disability,” said Professor Theo Vos of IHME, the study’s lead author.

For dozens of countries — including Botswana, Belize, and Syria — healthy life expectancy in 2013 was not significantly higher than in 1990. In some of those countries, including South Africa, Paraguay, and Belarus, healthy life expectancy has actually dropped (by as much as 10 years) since 1990.

Causes of health loss

The fastest-growing global cause of health loss between 1990 and 2013 was HIV/AIDS, which increased by 341.5%. But this dramatic rise masks progress in recent years; since 2005, health loss due to HIV/AIDS has diminished by 23.9% because of global focus on the disease. Ischemic heart disease, stroke, low back and neck pain, road injuries, and COPD have also caused an increasing amount of health loss since 1990.The impact of other ailments, such as diarrheal diseases, neonatal preterm birth complications, and lower respiratory infections, has significantly declined.

Across countries, patterns of health loss vary widely. The countries with the highest rates of DALYs are among the poorest in the world, and include several in sub-Saharan Africa: Lesotho, Swaziland, Central African Republic, Guinea-Bissau, and Zimbabwe. Countries with the lowest rates of health loss include Italy, Spain, Norway, Switzerland, and Israel.

The number of DALYs due to communicable, maternal, neonatal, and nutritional disorders has declined steadily, from 1.19 billion in 1990 to 769.3 million in 2013, while DALYs from non-communicable diseases have increased steadily, rising from 1.08 billion to 1.43 billion over the same period.
mediadd's curator insight, September 3, 12:37 PM

Nuestra esperanza de vida es mayor, pero con más discapacides y enfermedades

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GM embryos: time for ethics debate, say scientists

GM embryos: time for ethics debate, say scientists | The future of medicine and health |
Leading UK research funders are calling for an urgent national debate on the ethics of genetically modifying human embryos and other tissues to prevent serious diseases.

The plea has been prompted by scientists’ rapid progress in developing a powerful tool called genome editing, which has the potential to transform the treatment of genetic conditions by rewriting the DNA code of affected cells.

Although UK law bans genetic modification of embryos for clinical uses, it is permitted in research laboratories under licence from the fertility regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) – provided the embryos are destroyed after 14 days.

In a position statement published on Wednesday, five leading biomedical funders declare support for genome-editing research and certain therapies that might follow, such as infusions of modified immune cells that are tailor-made to attack patients’ tumours.
But they add that altering the DNA of human sperm and eggs, known as “germ cells”, and human embryos should become the focus of a broad ethical debate that fully explores the potential benefits and pitfalls of the procedure.
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Bioengineered heart tissue can be stuck together like Velcro

Bioengineered heart tissue can be stuck together like Velcro | The future of medicine and health |
A new system for growing heart tissue in the lab may make future heart, liver, and lung repair much easier. University of Toronto scientists have developed asymmetrical honeycomb-shaped 2D meshes of protein scaffolding that stick together like Velcro and imitate the environments in which tissue and muscle cells grow in the body.

The meshes are made from a flexible polymer called POMaC (which is short for this mouthful: "poly(octamethylene maleate (anhydride) citrate)"). T-shaped posts bonded onto the top of the mesh act like the tiny hooks on velcro strips – they loop through the holes in a mesh placed above and lock the two together. The researchers tested with both two and three-sheet-thick mesh scaffolds in a variety of configurations (i.e. with them lined up in different ways).

"As soon as you click them together, they start beating," says project lead Milica Radisic, referring to the way the heart muscle cells contract together and bend the polymer meshes. "And when we apply electrical field stimulation, we see that they beat in synchrony."

The way the scaffold bends and stretches as it "beats" helps the heart cells grow tougher and more robust, which makes them more likely to survive the ravages of life in an actual heart. That's the long-term plan – to get these flexible, modular mesh scaffolds producing artificial tissue that can be used to repair damaged hearts.

"If you had these little building blocks, you could build the tissue right at the surgery time to be whatever size that you require," Radisic says. Surgeons could then graft the scaffold onto the patient's heart, and after a few months the patient would be left with a repaired heart (and no scaffold, as that gradually gets absorbed by the body as harmless waste).
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Cognitive scientists discover clues in the brain to an extraordinary memory glitch in healthy people

Cognitive scientists discover clues in the brain to an extraordinary memory glitch in healthy people | The future of medicine and health |
Imagine living a healthy, normal life without the ability to re-experience in your mind personal events from your past. You have learned details about past episodes from your life and can recite these to family and friends, but you can’t mentally travel back in time to imagine yourself in any of them.

Cognitive scientists from Baycrest Health Sciences’ Rotman Research Institute in Toronto had a rare opportunity to examine three middle-aged adults (two from the U.S., the other from the U.K.) who essentially live their lives in the “third person” because of a condition known as lifelong severely deficient autobiographical memory (SDAM).

The intriguing findings are posted online in the journal Neuropsychologia, ahead of the print edition.

“Many of us can relate to the idea that people have different abilities when remembering events. What is unique about these individuals is that they have no personal recollection,” said Dr. Brian Levine, senior scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute, and senior author on the paper.

“Even though they can learn and recall information normally and hold down professional careers, they cannot re-experience the past with a vivid sense of personal reliving. It’s as if their past was experienced in the third person.”
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Electromagnetic hypersensitivity: science behind 'gadget allergy' (Wired UK)

Electromagnetic hypersensitivity: science behind 'gadget allergy' (Wired UK) | The future of medicine and health |
A French woman has won a court-ordered disability grant after claiming to suffer from a 'gadget allergy' due to electromagnetic radiation.

Marine Richard, who lives in the mountains of southwest France to avoid electronics, said that the ruling was a "breakthrough" for people who claim to suffer from Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS).

Sufferers say they experience symptoms including headaches, nausea, tiredness and 'tingling' sensations when exposed to electromagnetic radiation from cellphones, WiFi or even just batteries, screens and other elements of technology which give off electromagnetic radiation. In the UK several forums and groups exist to help self-identified sufferers, including ES UK

Richard's disability allowance was granted by the court in Toulouse, though the ruling does not mean that EHS is formally considered an illness.

Scientific studies have not demonstrated a clear link between the type of radiation emitted by household gadgets and health problems in humans. EHS is not a recognised condition in the UK, and Public Health England has said there is no evidence that these low-level fields damage health. The government does recognise the minor health impacts of some very high-level electromagnetic radiation exposure however, such as from power lines.
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No, You Do Not Have to Drink 8 Glasses of Water a Day

No, You Do Not Have to Drink 8 Glasses of Water a Day | The future of medicine and health |
If there is one health myth that will not die, it is this: You should drink eight glasses of water a day.

It’s just not true. There is no science behind it.

And yet every summer we are inundated with news media reports warning that dehydration is dangerous and also ubiquitous.

These reports work up a fear that otherwise healthy adults and children are walking around dehydrated, even that dehydration has reached epidemic proportions.

Let’s put these claims under scrutiny.

I was a co-author of a paper back in 2007 in the BMJ on medical myths. The first myth was that people should drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. This paper got more media attention (even in The Times) than pretty much any other research I’ve ever done.

It made no difference. When, two years later, we published a book on medical myths that once again debunked the idea that we need eight glasses of water a day, I thought it would persuade people to stop worrying. I was wrong again.
Many people believe that the source of this myth was a 1945 Food and Nutrition Board recommendation that said people need about 2.5 liters of water a day. But they ignored the sentence that followed closely behind. It read, “Most of this quantity is contained in prepared foods.”
Nicolas Chevrey's curator insight, August 28, 4:22 AM

Déshydratation : l'épidémie estival ! certains mythes ont la vie dure !

Cynthia Cardenas's curator insight, September 1, 12:52 AM

The author of this article goes into detail about the myth "You should drink eight glasses of water everyday." Aron Carol a pediatrician proves to his audience that water is in other foods. According to his research he goes into detail about how he decides if children are dehydrated by the amount of their urine measurement. It is accurate to say that some children need to be better hydrated than others. Aron Carol ends with an important point, that people need to drink water depending on what food they have consumed that has water, it also depends on how big the person is, as well as where the person lives. I believe that this is information that should be taken in consideration when thinking about what everyone says that is true. This article is a reliable source because the New York Times is internationally influential as it is distributed world wide through news papers.

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How to optimise your brain's waste disposal system

How to optimise your brain's waste disposal system | The future of medicine and health |
The human brain can be compared to something like a big, bustling city. It has workers, the neurons and glial cells which co-operate with each other to process information; it has offices, the clusters of cells that work together to achieve specific tasks; it has highways, the fibre bundles that transfer information across long distances; and it has centralised hubs, the densely interconnected nodes that integrate information from its distributed networks.

Like any big city, the brain also produces large amounts of waste products, which have to be cleared away so that they do not clog up its delicate moving parts. Until very recently, though, we knew very little about how this happens. The brain’s waste disposal system has now been identified. We now know that it operates while we sleep at night, just like the waste collectors in most big cities, and the latest research suggests that certain sleeping positions might make it more efficient.
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Thumb ring diagnoses sexually-transmitted diseases

Thumb ring diagnoses sexually-transmitted diseases | The future of medicine and health |
Although most people with multiple sexual partners know that being checked for STDs is the responsible thing to do, many don’t do so because of the stigma associated with going to the clinic. That’s why a Silicon Valley-based startup has developed the Hoope ring. It’s worn on the thumb, and can reportedly diagnose diseases such as syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia and trichomoniasis in less than a minute.

Users start by using Hoope’s electric pulse generator to numb their skin. They then press a button on the ring, which causes its single-use retractable needle to come out. That needle is then used to draw a blood sample, which is carried by capillary action to the ring’s lab-on-a-chip.

There, the blood flows through four microfluidic channels, in which it’s exposed to different antigens that have been synthesized to catch antibodies associated with each of the targeted diseases. If any of those antibodies are present and thus captured, an electrochemical reaction occurs which is detected by the onboard electronics.

The Hoope then wirelessly transmits the data to an app on the user’s smartphone, which tells them what disease has been detected, and where in their community they can go for treatment.
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How Changeable Is Gender?

How Changeable Is Gender? | The future of medicine and health |
THANKS to Caitlyn Jenner, and the military’s changing policies, transgender people are gaining acceptance — and living in a bigger, more understanding spotlight than at any previous time.

We’re learning to be more accepting of transgender individuals. And we’re learning more about gender identity, too.

The prevailing narrative seems to be that gender is a social construct and that people can move between genders to arrive at their true identity.

But if gender were nothing more than a social convention, why was it necessary for Caitlyn Jenner to undergo facial surgeries, take hormones and remove her body hair? The fact that some transgender individuals use hormone treatment and surgery to switch gender speaks to the inescapable biology at the heart of gender identity.

This is not to suggest that gender identity is simply binary — male or female — or that gender identity is inflexible for everyone. Nor does it mean that conventional gender roles always feel right; the sheer number of people who experience varying degrees of mismatch between their preferred gender and their body makes this very clear.

In fact, recent neuroscience research suggests that gender identity may exist on a spectrum and that gender dysphoria fits well within the range of human biological variation. For example, Georg S. Kranz at the Medical University of Vienna and colleagues elsewhere reported in a 2014 study in The Journal of Neuroscience that individuals who identified as transsexuals — those who wanted sex reassignment — had structural differences in their brains that were between their desired gender and their genetic sex.
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New antibiotic found in 'horse poop' mushroom - Futurity

New antibiotic found in 'horse poop' mushroom - Futurity | The future of medicine and health |
A fungus that grows on horse dung contains a protein that can kill bacteria.

The substance, known as copsin, has the same effect as traditional antibiotics, but belongs to a different class of biochemical substances. Copsin is a protein, whereas traditional antibiotics are often non-protein organic compounds.

The researchers led by Markus Aebi, a mycology professor at ETH Zurich, discovered the substance in the common inky cap mushroom Coprinopsis cinerea. Aebi and colleagues were interested in understanding how this fungus and various bacteria affect each other’s growth.

This involved cultivating the fungus in a laboratory along with several different types of bacteria. It was found that C. cinerea is able to kill certain bacteria. Further research demonstrated that the copsin produced by the mushroom is responsible for this antibiotic effect.

Copsin belongs to the group of defensins, a class of small proteins produced by many organisms to combat microorganisms that cause disease. The human body also produces defensins to protect itself against infections. They have been found, for example, on the skin and in the mucous membranes.

For Aebi, the main focus of this research project was not primarily on applications for the new substance.
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FTO, The Obesity Gene Decrypted: What You Need To Know

FTO, The Obesity Gene Decrypted: What You Need To Know | The future of medicine and health |

A gene called FTO has been a major blip on the obesity radar since 2007 – but we hadn’t yet figured out how the connection applied. Thanks to a number of lab mice, we now know that FTO directly affects how the body decides to store energy.

More specifically, a defect in this gene causes significantly more energy to be converted into fat rather than being burned as fuel. In effect – two otherwise identical subjects with identical habits would have significantly different levels of weight gain based entirely on this gene.

Intrigued by the implication, MIT scientists used DNA editing technology to switch on and off the gene in lab mice. Mice with the fully activated gene showed much higher metabolism rates and remained lean and fit regardless of diet.

There are several types of fat in the human body – brown fat, white fat, subcutaneous fat and visceral fat for example – and not all of them are harmful to your health.

White fat has two jobs – first to store energy, and second to produce hormones that are passed into the bloodstream. A particularly important hormone produced by white fat cells is adiponectin. Also known as GBP-28 or AdipoQ, adiponectin is a protein hormonethat plays a role in preventing Type 2 Diabetes among other things. Studies have shown however that in overweight people, production of this hormone is reduced.

Brown fat helps you stay warm, and actually burns white fat to produce energy. We have more of it as children than later in life, and there’s far less of it than white fat in general. Even in lean, healthy adults the ratio of white fat to brown fat is likely to be 100 to 1 by weight.  If properly stimulated, just 2 ounces of brown fat could burn up to 500 calories in a day.

When your body decides to create new fat cells, the choice of brown or white depends largely on a pair of genes that control thermogenesis (energy burn) – and these genes are directly affected by the FTO gene which acts like a “master switch”.

In essence, defective FTO genes cause your body to produce more white fat – while good ones cause your body to produce more brown fat.

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Systematic review shows 'smart drug' modafinil does enhance cognition

Systematic review shows 'smart drug' modafinil does enhance cognition | The future of medicine and health |
The drug modafinil was developed to treat narcolepsy (excessive sleeping), but it is widely used off-licence as a ‘smart drug’ to promote cognitive enhancement, where qualities such as alertness and concentration are desired to assist someone with, for example, exam preparation. Past studies on sleep-deprived individuals have shown a strong positive effect of modafinil on these functions, but there has been less attention and scientific consensus on the drug’s overall effectiveness as a cognitive enhancer in people that are not sleep-deprived – presumably the majority of people taking it.

Now, a new systematic review, published online in the peer-reviewed journal European Neuropsychopharmacology shows that modafinil does indeed confer significant cognitive benefits in this group, at least on a particular subset of tasks.

Dr Ruairidh Battleday and Dr Anna-Katharine Brem from the University of Oxford and Harvard Medical School evaluated all research papers on cognitive enhancement with modafinil from January 1990 to December 2014. They found 24 studies dealing with different benefits associated with taking modafinil, including planning and decision making, flexibility, learning and memory, and creativity.

Unsurprisingly, they found that the performance-enhancing capacity of modafinil varied according to the task. What emerged was that the longer and more complex the task tested, the more consistently modafinil conferred cognitive benefits.

Modafinil made no difference to working memory, or flexibility of thought, but did improve decision-making and planning. Very encouragingly, the 70% of studies that looked at the effects of modafinil on mood and side effects showed very little overall effect, although a couple reported insomnia, headache, stomach ache or nausea (which were also reported in the placebo group).
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