Although I find highly objectionable the way most laboring mothers and their newborns are treated in America today, I'm still in favor of most newborn screening. It did hurt to hear my grandchildren's cries as they received the heel stick required to get blood for the testing, but it was over quickly and their mommy was able to soothe them immediately. The advantage of discovering or ruling out certain devastating, but treatable, conditions is worth the small trauma. I'm not happy about the idea that such screening is often mandatory, but the idea itself is a good one.So I was naturally interested in reading this article on the March of Dimes' call for still more newborn testing. I'm not sure how I feel about that, not knowing anything about many of the conditions they want to include. What inspired me to write was another example of the futility of trying to get more than general information out of a news report, even one with hyperlinks. (More)
Television has long been called the "idiot box," but here is more evidence that being a couch potato harms the brain as well as the body. Unfortunately, in this case reading is just as bad as watching TV.The Swedish experiment was actually about depression. Previous studies have shown that the hippocamus region of the human brain shrinks in depressed people. In this study, exercise was shown to have a significant anti-depressant effect in rats, and promoted dramatic neuron growth in the hippocampus. (If you, like me, wonder how on earth they can tell if a rat is depressed, read the article.) (More)
I can rarely resist passing on good news like this. Most reports of the benefits of chocolate, especially dark chocolate, come with all sorts of caveats that the harm done by the fat and sugar might negate the benefits of the polyphenols. This German study, however, showed that a mere 6.3 gram daily dose of dark chocolate (another article said it was 50% cacao) had no negative effects yet resulted in a clinically significant drop in blood pressure among patients with blood pressures in the range of 130/85 to 160/100.It's good to know my daughter is looking after my health, having given me for my birthday a 100 gram bar of 72% cacao "extra dunkle Schokolade" Swiss chocolate. Let's see, at that dosage it should last me about 15 days.... Right!
A new study indicates that a combination of high fat, high sugar, and high stress is what piles on dangerous abdominal fat. A high-stress life with a good diet is not a problem, as far as belly fat goes, and a a bad diet is not as much of a problem if stress levels are low. At least if you're a mouse.
This should be good news, since both diet and our response to stress can be controlled. However, the tone of the article bothers me, as it focuses on the medical and pharmaceutical possibilities the study raises. Not that these are necessarily wrong, but it misses the big picture.
I've also noticed a fad among dentists lately: selling mouth guards to protect the teeth of those whose stress response includes grinding their teeth at night. Again, there's nothing wrong with that. Sometimes you have to treat the symptoms.However, treating symptoms while ignoring the disease itself can be irresponsible. It's true there's been a lot of hot air spilled on the subject of our bad diets, but a high level of stress still seems to be considered inevitable, even a badge of courage and a mark of success. Why aren't we paying more attention to preventing unnecessary stress in the first place, and to ways of controlling and moderating our response to unavoidable stress?
I find it amusing that President Bush gets blamed for anything that goes wrong, including hurricanes. But even I am incensed about this one. Whatever his personal opinion might be—if he's aware of the situation at all—he surely bears part of the blame for the following insanity, because the president is ultimately responsible for the actions of his administration. (More)
Remember the story of the guy who got in trouble for (correctly) using the word "niggardly"?
Porter's boss once called him on the carpet for "using words I don't understand."
Among the more bizarre stories of the day, here's a study that claims to be able to predict your child's future SAT performance based on the relative lengths of his fingers. Those whose ring fingers are longer compared with their index fingers are statistically likely to do better on the math portion, and those with the reverse situation to do better on the verbal. This supposedly reflects prenatal testosterone/estrogen exposure.
It's a lot harder to measure finger length than I thought. I finally settled on measuring from the knuckle, and it seems my ring finger is a bit longer than my index. It's true, I did very well on the math portion of the SAT. But I did even better on the verbal, so I must have measured wrong. :)
The researchers plan to expand their studies into "other cognitive and behavioral issues, such as technophobia, career paths and possibly dyslexia."
My hearing is very good, probably better than that of many my age because I didn't ruin it in my teens with headphones and loud music. But I still find that I can understand what people say better if I can see their faces. Now I know why.
A Canadian study indicates that there is a signficant visual component of language understanding even amongst hearing people. The four-month-old babies in the study were able to distinguish when adults in a silent video were speaking English and when they were speaking French.The eight-month-old babies could do the same, but only if they were being raised in a bilingual French/English environment.
Or hospitals in general, if you can help it. I realize they perform a vital service, and I really am thankful for doctors and hospitals. But sometimes I think they've completely lost touch with reality.
Check out this article about an Ontario woman who gave birth. In her First Nation (Native American) culture, burying the placenta is an important ritual. But the hospital wouldn't let her take her placenta home. In the end, she finally received it, but only after it had been sterilized and passed through the hands of a funeral home!This woman's complaint has a chance of making some change in the Canadian hospital policies, because of her Native status. But Native Americans, and Canadians, are not the only ones who want to bury or otherwise use the placenta. Why does the hospital think it has the right to keep the placenta? Apparently because we gave them that right. But if they don't want to drive even more parents to the friendlier options of midwives and home birth, pehaps they should rethink the issue.
Well, no, not really. Sunscreen has an important role in preventing sunburn and sking problems. But I've long thought that we are now going overboard to avoid the sun, and this article on vitamin D deficiency encourages that belief. It turns out that vitamin D is valuable for far more than preventing rickets, and the recommended daily dose is probably much too low. A few interesting quotes from the article (since I know it will become inaccessible after a while):
A series of recent studies has found that vitamin D, the so-called sunshine vitamin—once thought to be critical only to bone health—is useful throughout the body to strengthen the immune system and control cell growth. Yet researchers estimate that as many as half of all Americans are likely deficient in the nutrient.
It was the title that struck me:
Study spotlights prenatal beef consumption
I found the image of tiny babies-in-utero chowing down on hamburgers quite amusing.
But the results of a study by researchers at my former employer, the University of Rochester Medical Center, are not funny at all. Men whose mothers ate a lot of beef during their pregnancy were found to have a risk of fertility problems three times greater than normal, with 25% below normal sperm counts. If this is due, as many suspect, to the hormones fed to beef cattle, there is good reason to believe that girl babies are adversely affected as well.I'm no vegetarian, but organic meat is looking more and more to be worth the exorbitant cost.
I remember the response, too.
You've probably seen the commercials. Over the last few months, it's been almost impossible not to see them. They parade endlessly across our screens—a multitude of women of all ages, from all backgrounds—and they all have the same urgent message to share: "Tell someone that human papillomavirus causes cervical cancer. Tell someone. Tell someone. Tell someone."(More)
To which I can only respond, "We tried."
Now it's Chinese food that's bad for you! I'm especially sad that they singled out my family's favorite, General Tso's Chicken. And how about this:
This report slams Chinese food for both high sodium and high calorie content. What's critically missing is any mention of portion size. I don't know anyone who thinks that the plates they serve you at Chinese restaurants were meant to be consumed by one person, and I'm sure both the calorie and the sodium numbers would look much better if analyzed for reasonably-sized portions. Eating less makes a lot more sense than following this advice: "[Stay] away from duck sauce, hot mustard, hoisin sauce, and soy sauce." Could you then still call it Chinese food???
[E]ating an order of lemon chicken, which is battered and then deep-fried, is like eating three fried McDonald's McChicken sandwiches then washing them down with a 32-oz. Coke.
This article on making moral judgments is a good example of the kind of false dilemma that drives me crazy. It reminds me of those soul-tearing questions sometimes inflicted on schoolchildren—by each other, and even by teachers—such as "If your house were burning and you could only save one parent, which would you choose, your mom or your dad?" I remember teaching my own kids that "I don't answer ridiculous questions" is a perfectly acceptable response.
The dilemma posed in the experiment is this: "Someone you know has AIDS and plans to infect others, some of whom will die. Your only options are to let it happen or to kill the person. Do you pull the trigger?" The premise, "your only options are to let it happen or to kill the person" is spurious, since there are always other options. They could at least have set up a more plausible scenario, such as a sniper shooting steadily into a crowded schoolyard and you having a gun trained on the sniper—do you shoot him? But even in that case one can shoot to disable, even though there's a chance your shot will end up fatal.
What they discovered about the responses of people with a particular type of brain damage may be important in helping those people and their families, but it's hard to see any general application that can come from false premises. (More)