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Sep 30
Moderate alcohol consumption may increase risk of atrial fibrillation
Moderate alcohol consumption may change the structure of the heart in ways that increases the risk of atrial fibrillation leading to a stroke, a study suggests.

Atrial fibrillation is a known risk factor for stroke and the irregular pumping of blood can lead to clots, which may travel to the brain and cause a stroke.

"There is growing evidence that moderate alcohol intake may be a risk factor for atrial fibrillation, the most common heart rhythm disturbance in the world, but the mechanism by which alcohol may lead to atrial fibrillation is unknown," said Gregory Marcus, researcher at the University of California, San Francisco.

Marcus and his colleagues in the study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association looked at damage to the left atrium of the heart as a possible pathway between alcohol and atrial fibrillation.

The researchers evaluated data from more than 5,000 adults collected over several years including echocardiograms, medical history and self-reported alcohol intake.

The study participants who are in their 40s to 60s, reported on average just over one drink per day. The overall rate of atrial fibrillation in the group was 8.4 cases per 1,000 persons per year -- meaning over a 10-year period, eight out of 100 persons were likely to develop atrial fibrillation.

Every additional drink per day was associated with 0.16 millimetre enlargement of the left atrium, highlighting a possible site of physical damage caused by drinking.

The new findings also shed light on the complex relationship between alcohol and heart health.

Research has shown that moderate drinking can reduce the risk of heart attack while increasing the risk of atrial fibrillation.

Marcus's team captured this theory and found that patients in counties permitting alcohol sales were more likely to have atrial fibrillation but less likely to have heart attacks and congestive heart failure.

"Alcohol's abilities to protect and harm the heart likely operate through different mechanisms and vary from person to person," Marcus added.

Sep 28
Unknown exposure to second-hand smoke may cause early death
US researchers have identified a new biomarker which revealed that known and unknown exposure to second-hand smoke may lead to an increased risk of mortality in non-smokers.

Serum cotinine -- a metabolite of nicotine -- when used as a biological marker of exposure to second-hand smoke was found to have associations to overall and cause-specific mortality in non-smokers.

Increased levels of serum cotinine in blood were significantly also associated with all types of cancers, and heart disease, the researchers said.

"The study found that non-smokers are exposed to second-hand smoke without even realising it," said Raja Flores, Professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, US.

Non-smoking individuals' cotinine blood levels accurately determined their exposure and subsequent risk of lung cancer and other smoking-related disease, Flores said.

"Using cotinine level to measure exposure to second-hand smoke has important public health implications, because increasing the scope of smoke-free environments would likely decrease cotinine levels in the general population and ultimately death," added Emanuela Taioli, Director at Mount Sinai.

Further, exposure to second-hand smoke is unequally distributed in the population, the researchers said, adding that children, people living in poverty, and those who rent their housing are disproportionately affected and most vulnerable.

The study, published in the journal Carcinogenesis, provides a more accurate way to gauge second-hand smoke exposure.

It also presents a strong case for more stringent limits on smoking and increased preventive screenings for those more likely to have been exposed to second-hand smoke.

For the study, the team examined 20,175 non-smokers. After adjustment for sex, education, race/ethnicity, body mass index, and smoking habits, their analysis showed a significant increase in years of life lost across cotinine concentrations.

In the adjusted analysis, the lowest quartile of cotinine concentration -- below the detectable level -- was associated with 5.6 years of life lost while the highest quartile was linked to 7.5 years of life lost.

A stricter legislation establishing smoke-free areas, together with education efforts in low-income and minority communities, is imperative, the researchers concluded.

Sep 26
Fish oil helps to boost brain functioning, improves mood
A new study finds that fish oil helps to boosts brain functions and also improves mood as it contains Omega-3 fatty acids.

Fish oil helps athletes and soldiers to manage intense training better.

The finding suggests that low concentration of fish oil in the blood and also lack of physical activity may contribute to the high levels of depressed mood among soldiers returning from combat.

Fish oil content is especially important for soldiers due to the consistent training and physical regiments performed in and out of combat and risk of traumatic brain injury.

Researchers worked with 100 soldiers to identify which factors affected the moods of those returning from combat for the study.

The study was published in the journal Military Medicine.

"We looked at how physical activity levels and performance measures were related to mood state and resiliency. What we found was the decrease in physical activity and the concentration of fish oil and Omega-3s in the blood were all associated with resiliency and mood," said Richard Kreider, Researcher at the Texas A and M University.

The study originated from research that examined Omega-3 fatty acid levels of soldiers who committed suicide compared to non-suicide control and found lower Omega-3 levels in the blood were associated with increased risk of being in the suicide group.

According to the researchers, these findings are significant toward addressing some of the issues many soldiers face.

"The mental health of soldiers is a serious concern and it is exciting to consider that appropriate diet and exercise might have a direct impact on improving resiliency," said Nicholas Barringer, Researcher at the Texas A and M University.

In order to properly measure soldiers physically, Kreider and Barringer developed a formula that has the potential to assist in effectively screening soldiers with potential post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) ahead of time.

The formula measures a number of factors including fitness and psychometric assessments, physical activity and additional analysis.

"By improving resiliency in service members, we can potentially decrease the risk of mental health issues. Early identification can potentially decrease the risk of negative outcomes for our active service members as well as our separated and retired military veterans," Barringer added.

"The military is using some of our exercise, nutrition, and performance-related work and the findings may help identify soldiers at risk for depression when they return from combat tours," Kreider added.

The study mentioned that by working to identify such high-risk issues faced by soldiers, it can set a precedent that will benefit not only the military leadership, but also the general public.

Sep 22
Nicotine sans tobacco may ward off Alzheimer's disease: Study
Nicotine - when given independent of tobacco - could help protect the brain as it ages and even ward off neuro-degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's or Alzheimer's disease, US researchers have said.

The ability of nicotine - an important component of cigarettes - to be neuro-protective may be partly due to its well-known ability to suppress appetite, said Ursula Winzer-Serhan, Associate Professor at the Texas A&M University in the US, in a paper published in the Journal of Toxicology.

In the study, researchers added nicotine to drinking water of three different groups of mice and at three different concentrations (low, medium and high) corresponding to occasional, low and medium smokers, respectively, in comparison to a control group that did not receive any nicotine.

The two groups that received nicotine at low and medium doses did not show any levels of the drug in their blood and experienced no changes in food intake, body weight or number of receptors in the brain where nicotine acts.

Conversely, the group that received the highest concentration of nicotine ate less, gained less weight and had more receptors, indicating that at higher doses, the drug gets into the brain where it can impact behaviour.

But, even at high doses, it didn't seem to have worrying behavioural side effects like making the individuals more anxious, study said.

It did not produce a negative change in behaviour, in fact, the high levels of nicotine made the animal models less anxious, Winzer-Serhan added.

Previous studies had confirmed that tobacco products are bad for the health, and even the new e-cigarettes may have harmful toxins.

"Even if these weren't very preliminary results, smoking affects in so many health problems that any possible benefit of the nicotine would be more than cancelled out," Winzer-Serhan said.

However, it is also unclear if nicotine's effects are related only to its ability to suppress appetite, or if there are more mechanisms at work.

Still, researchers cautioned people not to purchase nicotine-containing products just yet.

"At the end of the day, we haven't proven that this addictive drug is safe. I want to make it very clear that we're not encouraging people to smoke," Winzer-Serhan noted, adding "smoking is only one possible route of administration of the drug, and our work shows that we shouldn't write-off nicotine completely."

Sep 16
Our brain can effectively combat effects of ageing
Old age may slow down memory and other physical and cognitive skills, but the brain has the remarkable potential to reduce these effects, a study has found.

In order to process the information that we receive every day, our brain builds categories into which we sort everything that makes up the world around us.

The study found that this process of categorisation changes as we age. The brains of elderly struggle to categorise and rapidly switch focus from one to another.

"Older people find it harder to switch from one strategy to the other," said Sabrina Schenk, neuroscientist at Ruhr-Universitat Bochum (RUB) in Germany.

But, their brains compensate by paying more attention to detail than younger adults, the study said.

While the young adults spread their attention wide and gather information from different sources, the elderly focus their attention, looking more at detail, the researchers explained.

"To a certain extent, the brain is able to slow down negative effects of ageing by increasing its level of attentiveness," Schenk added.

In the study, the participants were asked to sort circles with varying colour combinations into one of two categories.

Some of the circles were very similar to each other; others were distinctly different. To which category the circles belonged was indicated by a feedback during the test.

The researchers not only documented the participants' answers, they also recorded their brain waves via an electroencephalogram (EEG) and used an eye tracker to trace their line of vision.

The results showed that both young and older participants had no difficulties categorising the similar looking circles -- the learning mechanism of both groups were comparable.

It was only in the later stages of the experiment, when distinct looking circles where shown, that differences between the groups became apparent.

Older participants found it more difficult to categorise these exceptions than their younger counterparts.

The measurements of brain waves also showed that the elderly develop a particular selective attentiveness.

In other words, they pay more attention to details and look more closely than younger people. This was also confirmed by the eye tracker, the researchers concluded in the paper published in the journal Neuropsychologia.

Sep 15
Memory loss not only indicant in Alzheimer's diagnosis
Researchers should not rely on the clinical symptoms of memory loss alone to diagnose Alzheimer's disease because there could be other indicants of the neurodegenerative disease that do not initially affect memory, says a new study.

There are more than just one symptom of Alzheimer's disease. These could be language problems, disruptive individual behaviour and personality disorder -- even judgement of someone's concept of the position of objects in space, said researchers at Northwestern University, in Evanston, of Illinois, in the US.

If it affects personality, it may cause lack of inhibition. For example, someone who was shy might one day go up to the grocery store clerk -- who is a complete stranger -- and try to hug or even kiss her.

This all depends on what part of the brain is affected by Alzheimer's, the study said.

However, "these individuals are often overlooked in clinical trial designs and thus miss out on opportunities to participate in the experiments formulated to treat Alzheimer's", said lead author and Associate Professor Emily Rogalski at Northwestern University.

"Such individuals are often excluded because they don't show memory deficits, inspite of sharing the same disease (Alzheimer's) that's causing their symptoms," Rogalski added.

In the study, the authors identified the clinical features of individuals with primary progressive aphasia (PPA) -- a rare dementia that causes progressive declines in language abilities due to Alzheimer's disease.

During the initial phase of PPA, memory and other thinking abilities are relatively intact. Also, PPA can be caused either by Alzheimer's disease or another neurodegenerative disease family called Frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD).

The study demonstrated that knowing an individual's clinical symptoms was not enough to determine whether PPA was due to Alzheimer's or any other neurodegenerative disease -- where progressive loss of structure or function of neurons, including death of neurons happen.

Therefore, an amyloid positron emission tomography (PET) scan -- an imaging test -- should be taken.

PET scan tracks the presence of amyloid -- an abnormal protein whose accumulation in the brain is a hallmark of Alzheimer's.

PET scan should be used in early life to determine the likelihood of Alzheimer's disease pathology in later life, the researchers said in the study published online in the journal Neurology.

Sep 10
Brain regions that builds panoramic memory identified
Neuroscientists have identified two brain regions that are involved in creating panoramic memories and help us to merge fleeting views of our surroundings into a seamless, 360-degree panorama.

As we look at a scene, visual information flows from our retinas into the brain, which has regions that are responsible for processing different elements of what we see, such as faces or objects.

"Our understanding of our environment is largely shaped by our memory for what's currently out of sight," said lead author Caroline Robertson, post doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US.

The study found the hubs in the brain where your memories for the panoramic environment are integrated with your current field of view.

The researchers suspected that areas involved in processing scenes -- the occipital place area (OPA), the retrosplenial complex (RSC), and parahippocampal place area (PPA) -- might also be involved in generating panoramic memories of a place such as a street corner.

Brain scans conducted on study participants revealed that when participants saw two images that they knew were linked, the response patterns in the RSC and OPA regions were similar.

However, this was not the case for image pairs that the participants had not seen as linked.

This suggests that the RSC and OPA, but not the PPA, are involved in building panoramic memories of our surroundings, the researchers said.

"Our hypothesis was that as we begin to build memory of the environment around us, there would be certain regions of the brain where the representation of a single image would start to overlap with representations of other views from the same scene," Robertson added.

For the study, the team used immersive virtual reality headsets, which allowed them to show people many different panoramic scenes, the researchers showed participants images from 40 street corners in Boston's Beacon Hill neighbourhood.

The images were presented in two ways. Half the time, participants saw a 100-degree stretch of a 360-degree scene, but the other half of the time, they saw two noncontinuous stretches of a 360-degree scene.

After showing participants these panoramic environments, the researchers then showed them 40 pairs of images and asked if they came from the same street corner.

Participants were much better able to determine if pairs came from the same corner if they had seen the two scenes linked in the 100-degree image than if they had seen them unlinked, said the paper appearing in the journal Current Biology.

Sep 05
Low birth-weight kids less active in adulthood
Children born with a low birth weight are less likely to be good at sports at school, or to engage in exercise later in life, a study has found. The findings showed that those with a low birth weight were less likely to take part in exercise and sports across adulthood, from 36 to 68 years.

Although previous studies have shown that a low birth weight can affect sporting ability and exercise levels at a younger age, however, this is the first study that has revealed how low birth relates to exercising ability across adulthood and also later in life, the researchers said.

In the study, the researchers have classified participants with low birth weight - those who weighed up to 5.5 pounds, or 2.5 kg - at their birth.

It was found that such participants, when around 13-year-old, were more likely to be rated as below-average at playing sports in school.

"It's important that parents, teachers and doctors recognise that those born with low birth weight might require more support than others in order to achieve sustained physical activity throughout their lives," said lead author Ahmed Elhakeem, researcher at the University College London.

The researchers said given that the babies born with low birth weight have an increased chance of survival into adulthood at the study will have greater public health implication for present and future generations.

For the study, the team involved data of 2,739 participants from London's Medical Research Council's (MRC) national survey for health and development.

Sep 03
New cattle virus officially named influenza D
A new influenza virus that affects cattle has an official name -- influenza D, as proposed by South Dakota State University researchers -- including one of Indian origin -- who discovered it.

The executive committee of the International Committee of Taxonomy of Viruses approved naming the new virus influenza D, Professor Feng Li said in a university statement on Thursday.

It was named Influenza D virus because of its distinctness from other influenza types -- A, B and C.

Though South Dakota State University alumnus Ben Hause isolated the virus from a diseased pig in 2011, he later found that cattle were the primary reservoir for influenza D.

Hause identified and characterised the new virus as part of his doctoral research under Li's tutelage.

This is the first influenza virus identified in cattle, Li explained.

Li and Professor Radhey Shyam Kaushik secured a US National Institutes of Health grant for nearly $400,000 to study the biology, genetics and evolution of the new virus.

Ultimately, the goal is to determine whether influenza D, which has 50 per cent similarity to human influenza C, can cause problems in humans, according to Kaushik.

However, he noted, "the virus has not been shown to be pathogenic in humans. No one should be afraid of this".

The research group showed that influenza D is spread only through direct contact and proved a guinea pig can be used as an animal model to study the virus.

Influenza D antibodies have been identified in blood samples from sheep and goats, but the virus does not affect poultry.

Studies are underway to compare the virulence among the bovine and swine influenza D strains and human influenza C using the guinea pig model.

"If the virus can undergo reassortment in combination with a closely related human influenza virus, it may be able to form a new strain that could pose more of a threat to humans," Kaushik explained.

Sep 02
Childhood emotions may affect performance in adulthood
Childhood emotional experiences of individuals can have long lasting consequences in adulthood while they perform a task, a study revealed.

In a the study published in the online journal, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, the researchers stated that emotional bond shared with parents in early childhood generates our ability to regulate emotions as adults.

"But not everyone's actions are impacted by emotions to the same extent. Some of us had emotionally responsive caregivers or parents in childhood, while others didn't," said Christine Heinisch, researcher at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany.

According to the attachment theory in Psychology, childhood experiences influences the ability to regulate emotions as adults.

"We expected those having problems with emotional regulation to make more errors in performing a task - and one significant variable influencing this is our attachment experience," Heinisch added.

To test this theory, they conducted a study on adults with different childhood experiences and performed a task of identifying a target letter from among a series of flashing letters.

This task was administered under conditions that evoked a positive, neutral or negative emotional state. The researchers then assessed task performance and analysed electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings of brain function in their subjects.

Subjects who did not have emotionally responsive caregivers in childhood (insecure-attached) had more trouble performing under emotionally negative conditions than the others (secure-attached).

They also had lower brain activity in response to the target letter under negative conditions than secure-attached subjects.

The lower task performance correlated with inefficient strategies for emotional regulation seen in insecure-attached adults.

This could mean that a greater share of cognitive resources was allocated for regulating emotions, and consequently, less was available for performing the task.