Posts made in December 2019

Change of heart: Vets say dogs’ cardiac problems are linked to grain-free food

January 1, 2020

Debbie Turner remembers the shock when a veterinary specialist said her beloved dog, Kanga Lu, had severe heart damage. NBC News reports. For weeks, Kanga had been experiencing odd symptoms— including fatigue, breathing problems and what her local vet assumed were seizures. But now Turner was being told that the Maltese-Chihuahua mix was in late-stage heart failure. The seizures, it turned out, had been fainting spells.

“So I’m sitting with what I thought was a healthy six-year-old dog that was having minor seizures, and now I find out she might only have three months to live,” said Turner, 66, of Orlando, Florida.

She was heartsick and it turned out that something she had done out of love for her pet–buying what she believed to be the very best commercially available food—was doing the damage.

The first question the specialist had asked Turner when she brought in Kanga—whose blood pressure had skyrocketed—was, “Do you feed her grain-free dog food?” The answer was yes.

NBC News is now reporting that Turner is one of a growing list of pet owners whose healthy sounding dog food may have somehow led to a serious heart problem in their pets called dilated cardiomyopathy.

The Food and Drug Administration last year announced a possible link between the condition, which can cause heart failure; and grain-free pet foods, which replace grains with ingredients like peas, lentils ,or potatoes.

By April, the agency said that it had received 524 reports of 560 dogs and 14 cats diagnosed with DCM that appeared to be related to diet. In June, the FDA took the unusual step of listing the 16 brands of dog foodamong them, such popular brands as Blue Buffalo, Natural Balance, NutriSource, Nutro, and Rachael Ray Nutrishnder investigation.

It’s still not known exactly how certain pet foods may be damaging pet hearts, but researchers have found some clues. Possible culprits include deficiencies in certain compounds necessary for heart health, as well as diets with exotic ingredients.

In dogs and cats developing DCM, the “walls of the heart become thin, and its ability to pump blood decreases,” Dr. Bruce Kornreich, a veterinary cardiologist and director of the feline health center at the Veterinary College of Cornell told NBC News. “If this continues, your pet can end up with chronic heart failure.”

DCM is a known genetic issue for certain large breeds of dogs, including great Danes, German shepherds, and Doberman pincers. But when the FDA and veterinarians around the country started to see dogs of all sizes developing this kind of heart damage several years ago, they grew alarmed.

The number of cases of DCM are likely to rise, experts say.

“We continue to see dogs coming into our hospital affected by this problem,” Dr. Lisa Freeman, a veterinary nutritionist and professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, told the network news outlet. “It’s not going away.”

Unfortunately, Freeman said, the solution is probably not going to be a simple one, and the suspect foods are not just those described as “grain free.” She and others are now investigating a broader class of foods, dubbed “BEG” foods: ones that are made by boutique companies, contain exotic ingredients, or are grain-free.

The FDA echoes Freeman’s concerns about a complex solution. “At this time, it is not clear what it is about some diets that may be connected to DCM in dogs, but FDA believes it may be multi-factorial,” said Monique Richards, an FDA spokesperson. “There are multiple possible causes of DCM.”

Research contact: @NBCNews

Going out with a bang-up ad campaign: VW bids farewell to the Beetle on New Year’s Eve

January 1, 2020

Volkswagen is saying goodbye to the Beetle during the last moments of 2019 with a little help from a Beatles song, actor Kevin Bacon, the late pop artist Andy Warhol, and Bravo’s Andy Cohen, Advertising Age reports.

A nostalgia-laden animated ad called “The Last Mile” will get a significant push during New Year’s Eve TV programming, with airings on ABC, CNN, as well as digital billboard buys on Times Square. The spot, by Johannes Leonardo, depicts the iconic car’s role in the life of a man who is shown growing old with the Beetle, which ended production earlier this year after a run that began in the 1930s. Along the way, the ad works in references to the Beetle’s outsized role in pop culture.

The soundtrack—a rendition of the Beatle’s “Let it Be” sung by Chicago-area children’s choir Pro Musica Youth Chorus—is a nod to the car’s appearance on the Abbey Road album cover, Ad Age notes.

Bacon appears in animated form as Ren, the Beetle-driving character he played in  the 1984 movie Footloose. An animated version of Warhol quickly appears (at the 1:01 mark, snapping a photo of the Beetle) in a nod to a painting the pop artist did of the car.

The ad also includes a reference to VW’s classic “Think Small” and “Lemon” ad campaigns from the 1960s by the agency Doyle Dane Bernbach.

Cohen appears at the 1:03 mark, on the receiving end of a “punch buggy”—the old road trip game that calls for a punch on the arm upon spotting a Beetle. The Bravo personality will co-host CNN’s New Year’s Eve coverage. He teased the ad on Instagram with a paid post encouraging followers to post pictures of their own Beetles, the news outlet said..

It’s part of a larger influencer campaign that will include postings from other Beetle enthusiasts. The TV ad will also run during NBC’s January 1 coverage of the National Hockey League’s “Winter Classic;” as well as during college football programming, including the Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl.

Research contact: @adage

Team Trump interrogated EU aides to find out who ‘liked’ a Chelsea Clinton tweet

January 1, 2020

On the evening of July 10, 2017, staffers at the U.S. embassy in Brussels—the official office of the ambassador to the European Union—received an odd call from the seventh floor of the State Department back in Washington, D.C., The Daily Beast reports.

The office of then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was irate. Someone in Brussels with access to the mission’s Twitter account had liked the wrong tweet. It had set off alarm bells inside the Beltway.

And it wasn’t just any tweet. It was one written by Chelsea Clinton and sent to @realDonaldTrump in a public spat that soon trended on the Internet.

That week, Trump had drawn criticism for his decision to let his daughter, Ivanka, fill his seat at the G-20 meeting of top economic powers in Hamburg, Germany, The Daily Beast notes.

After days of the pile-on, Trump took to Twitter on the morning of July 10 to claim his decision to have Ivanka represent the United States at the G-20 was “very standard” and that Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany agreed.

However—no more than 15 minutes later—he switched his tone, and began attacking Clinton, as well as the press. Clinton shot back: “It would never have occurred to my mother or my father to ask me. Were you giving our country away? Hoping not.”

Her tweet garnered more than half a million likes—including one from the account for the U.S. mission to the European Union, The Daily Beast reports.

And according to an exclusive report by the news outlet, that single “like” from within the administration kickstarted a weeks-long investigation, prompted by the secretary’s office, into exactly whom at the Brussels mission had access to the Twitter account and had hit “like” on Clinton’s tweet.

At least ten people were interviewed about whether they, as administrators of the account, had mistakenly or deliberately pressed the “like” button. All of them denied it, sources told The Daily Beast.

One individual familiar with the exchanges said the secretary of state’s top managers in Washington “wanted blood” and called Brussels numerous times demanding the name of the culprit.

U.S. officials in Belgium were never able to give Tillerson’s office a name and soon after, the embassy restructured the Twitter account and limited access to just two individuals.

The concern from the secretary’s office over social-media messaging continued after Tillerson and into the era of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, two U.S. officials at American embassies overseas told the news outlet.

The micromanaging is still causing headaches for staffers and officials at top American outposts who are trying to navigate the task of pleasing both the State Department and the White House simultaneously—a mission that at times requires two completely different strategies, those sources said.

It is unclear if Trump—who is famously thin-skinned about criticism or even mean tweets from prominent critics—himself was aware of this intra-administration kerfuffle over the Clinton tweet, but some of his lieutenants certainly were.

One former aide commented, “[The Chelsea Clinton incident] was another little thing that fueled suspicions  [within the administration] and reminded…officials in the White House that there were a lot of people … who clearly hated Donald Trump.”

However, amid all the paranoia that surface after the exchange, one inescapable truth surfaced: It would hardly be the only time—and it certainly will not be the last—when the State Department bends itself out of shape over anti-Trump activity on Twitter.

Research contact: @thedailybeast

Thirsty for knowledge: Hydration may impact cognition in older women

December 31, 2019

A new study conducted at Pennsylvania State University suggests that both dehydration and overhydration may impact cognitive function in older women.

For the study, Penn State researchers investigated whether hydration levels and water intake among older adults was linked to their scores on several tests designed to measure cognition. They found that, among women, lower hydration levels were associated with lower scores on a task designed to measure motor speed, sustained attention, and working memory. No such link was found for men.

“The study gives us clues about how hydration and related drinking habits relate to cognition in older adults,” said Dr. Hilary Bethancourt, a postdoctoral scholar in biobehavioral health and first author on the study. “This is important because older adults already face increased risk of cognitive decline with advancing age and are often less likely than younger adults to meet daily recommendations on water intake.”

Dr. Asher Rosinger, director of the Water, Health and Nutrition Lab at Penn State, said the researchers found similar results when the participants were overhydrated.

“We found a trend suggesting overhydration may be just as detrimental to cognitive performance as dehydration for older adults,” said Rosinger, who was senior author on the study. “Because of this, being in the ‘sweet spot’ of hydration seems to be best for cognitive function, especially for tasks requiring sustained attention.”

Rosinger said the findings suggest older adults may want to pay close attention to their hydration status, by both consuming enough liquids to avoid dehydration as well as ensuring adequate electrolyte balance to avoid overhydration.

“Because older adults may not necessarily feel thirsty when their body is reaching a state of underhydration and may be taking diuretics that can increase salt excretion, it is important for older adults and their physicians to better understand the symptoms of being both under- and overhydrated,” said Rosinger.

Researchers have long suspected that dehydration may have an effect on cognitive performance. However, previous studies have largely focused on young, healthy people who are dehydrated after exercise and/or being in the heat.

Bethancourt said that because exercise and elevated ambient and body temperatures can have their own, independent effects on cognition, she and the other researchers were interested in the effects of day-to-day hydration status in the absence of exercise or heat stress, especially among older adults.

“As we age, our water reserves decline due to reductions in muscle mass, our kidneys become less effective at retaining water, and hormonal signals that trigger thirst and motivate water intake become blunted,” Bethancourt said. “Therefore, we felt like it was particularly important to look at cognitive performance in relation to hydration status and water intake among older adults, who may be underhydrated on a regular basis.”

For the study, the researchers evaluated data from the Centers for Disease Control’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, in which they looked at a nationally representative sample of 1,271 women and 1,235 men ages 60 and older.

Participants gave blood samples and reported all foods and drinks they had consumed the previous day. The researchers calculated hydration status based on concentrations of sodium, potassium, glucose, and urea nitrogen in participants’ blood. Total water intake was measured as the combined liquid and moisture from all beverages and foods.

The subjects also completed three tasks designed to measure different aspects of cognition, with the first two measuring verbal recall and verbal fluency, respectively.

A final task measured processing speed, sustained attention, and working memory. Participants were given a list of symbols, each matched with a number between one and nine. They were then given a list of numbers one through nine in random order and asked to draw the corresponding symbol for as many numbers as possible within two minutes.

Bethancourt said that when they first plotted the average test scores across different levels of hydration status and water intake, there appeared to be a distinct trend toward higher test scores in relation to adequate hydration and/or meeting recommended water intake. However, much of that was explained by other factors.

“Once we accounted for age, education, hours of sleep, physical activity level, and diabetes status—and analyzed the data separately for men and women— the associations with hydration status and water intake were diminished,” Bethancourt said. “A trend toward lower scores on the number-symbol test among women who were categorized as either underhydrated or overhydrated was the most prominent finding that remained after we accounted for other influential factors.”

The study has been published in the European Journal of Nutritiion.

Research contact: @penn_state

Pentagon memo warns that DNA kits pose ‘personal and operational risks’

December 31, 2019

The Pentagon is advising members of the military not to use consumer DNA kits—saying the information collected by private companies could pose a security risk, according to a memo co-signed by the Defense Department’s top intelligence official, Yahoo News has exclusively reported.

A growing number of companies—among them,  23andMe, Ancestry, and MyHeritagesell testing kits that provide consumers with a DNA profile, if they send in a cheek swab or saliva sample. They claim that their DNA profile offer insights into the buyer’s ancestry and possible medical risks—and even can even identify previously unknown family members.

The boom in popularity of such kits has raised ethical and legal issues, since some companies have shared this data with law enforcement, or sold it to third parties. Yahoo notes. But the latest to express its concerns publicly is the Defense Department.

“Exposing sensitive genetic information to outside parties poses personal and operational risks to Service members,” says the December 20 memo signed by Joseph D. Kernan, the undersecretary of defense for Intelligence, and James N. Stewart, the assistant secretary of defense for Manpower.

The memo — which says that some DNA kit companies have been targeting military personnel with discounts — appears to have been distributed widely within the Defense Department. The memo was obtained by Yahoo News.

These [direct-to-consumer] genetic tests are largely unregulated and could expose personal and genetic information, and potentially create unintended security consequences and increased risk to the joint force and mission,” states the memo.

The memo provides few details on how genetic profiles could endanger security, other than noting that potential “inaccuracies” in health information could pose a risk to military personnel, who are required to report medical issues. Most of the health reports provided by DNA companies typically pertain to medical risks, such as a predisposition to cancer, rather than diagnosing a condition.

Research contact: @YahooNews

Yale psychiatrist: Pelosi ‘has the right’ to submit Trump to an ‘involuntary evaluation’

December 31, 2019

Ya think? Bandy X. Lee, a professor of Forensic Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine who also serves as president of the World Mental Health Coalition, is again sounding the alarm about President Donald Trump’s mental health—and warning that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is not doing enough to respond to the danger it poses, Salon reports.

Lee actually began warning about the dangers posed by the president’s mental health before his election. She then edited the book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President and convened a conference on the president’s mental health at Yale shortly after the president’s inauguration.

In addition, she recently joined psychiatrists across the country in calling for the House Judiciary Committee to convene a panel of mental health experts to weigh in on the ongoing impeachment proceedings.

Worried by the tone and content of President Trump’s tweets, Lee  has gone so far as to “translate” some of them on her own Twitter feed, which she described to Salon as a “public service.” Lee said she wants her “translations” to help readers see past Trump’s efforts to muddle reality with his “negative influence.”

She recently “translated” Trump’s scorching six-page letter to Pelosi  in a Medium post.— noting that the president had accused the speaker of trying to “steal the election” ahead of the House vote to impeach him.

Arguing that the letter effectively served as a “confession,” Lee said that Trump’s letter was an example of the president projecting his own motives onto Pelosi. But Lee warned that Pelosi has not done enough to respond to the president.

“As a coworker, she has the right to have him submit to an involuntary evaluation, but she has not,” Lee told Salon. “Anyone can call 911 to report someone who seems dangerous, and family members are the most typical ones to do so. But so can coworkers, and even passersby on the street. The law dictates who can determine right to treatment, or civil commitment, and in all 50 U.S. states this includes a psychiatrist.

While Lee told Salon that Pelosi’s strategy of withholding the articles of impeachment from the Senate has been effective, she also warned that the delay risks making Trump even more dangerous.

“I am beginning to believe that a mental health hold, which we have tried to avoid, will become inevitable,” Lee said.

Among the most troubling symptoms? “First, Lee told Salon, he is highly unwell, which I am glad many finally seem to see now. More specifically, you can tell how unwell he is by the degree he cannot deviate from his defenses: mainly, denial and projection. We often say he is “doubling down.” A truly sick person will be unable to show any tolerance of ambiguity, doubt or flexibility in thinking. The letter, like his lengthy interviews or his chronic tweeting over years, is unable to show any variation from the characteristic rigidity of pathology.

She noted, “Some people will dispute the ethics of disclosing what I see, and my response is: danger. We are legally bound to break patient confidentiality for safety reasons, and a president is not even a patient.”

Research contact: @Salon

Let your hair down: Amazon’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ TV sequel is casting very hirsute actors

December 30, 2019

If you have hair in places where most people don’t, you might have a shot at a role on a television series! The casting agents behind Amazon’s coming Lord of the Rings production are seeking “hairy, hairy people” with “wrinkles and lots of them, please” to play orcs, who are the foot soldiers of the Dark Lords’ armies, according to a report by Canoe.

The new show—which already is one of the most highly anticipated series in the production pipeline—has already received its season two renewal, Tom’s Guide reports, although there’s no official premiere date yet for season one.

There’s no such thing as a bad hair day on this set: The Independent reports that a casting call said potential actors could be  super short (under 5 feet) or super tall (think: 6-foot-5) with unique “character faces” and “hairy, hairy people of all ages and ethnicities.”

It continues: “HAIR HAIR HAIR – if you have natural red hair, white hair, or lots and lots of freckles.”

In addition, the casting agents would be open to “stocky, mean-looking bikers” and circus performers “who can juggle, Canoe says.

Truck driver Justin Smith told The Wall Street Journal  that he answered the casting call—emphasizing  that he’ “perfect,” because “I’ve got more than missing teeth; I’ve got none. I’m short,and I’ve got red hair.” Smith is still waiting for an audition callback.

Set as a prequel to the film series, the TV show will star Joseph Mawle, Markella Kavenagh, and Ema Horvath. Mawle—likely most well-known for playing Benjen Stark on HBO’s Game of Thrones—will have a starring role, Variety confirmed in October.

Research contact: @Canoe

Pedal pusher: ‘Peloton husband’ gives real-life girlfriend an exercise bike for Christmas

December 30, 2019

Some people just love “feeling the burn”—even if that extends beyond muscles to public opinion. In fact, the much-maligned Peloton Husband featured in the company’s polarizing holiday commercial isn’t back-pedaling on his choice of gift, according to a report by The Chicago Tribune/TNS.

After he was skewered for inflicting the Peloton bike on his reluctant-seeming “wife” in the viral ad—which attracted widespread criticism for being sexist and culturally insensitive—on Christmas Day, he gave his real-life girlfriend one of the exercise bikes.

“Here’s hoping this goes over better the second time. … Merry Christmas to my actual girlfriend (pls don’t leave me),” actor Sean Hunter, a.k.a. @pelotonhusband, wrote Wednesdaym, December 25, on Instagram—sharing a picture of himself and his girlfriend posing with the pricey bike.

The Vancouver, Canada-based elementary school teacher defended himself in Psychology Today when the ad went viral and he and his costar, Monica Ruiz, were roasted on social media.

“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. My five seconds of air time created an array of malicious feedback that is all associated with my face. My friend texted me today declaring that I’m ‘a symbol of the patriarchy,'” Hunter said. “As my face continues to be screen shot online, I wonder what repercussions will come back to me.”

Only some of that criticism cycled back after his Christmas Day reveal, with feedback calling out the real-life gift as a Peloton-backed publicity stunt and others praising his levity for bringing the narrative full circle.

Although Peloton defended the “The Gift That Gives Back” spot as a way “to celebrate that fitness and wellness journey,” the company said it was “disappointed in how some have misinterpreted this commercial.”

On Thursday, however, it endorsed Hunter’s gifting idea, commenting on his post, “Looks like a successful Christmas gift to us! We hope you love it, and we’re so glad you’re a part of the Peloton family!”

Meanwhile, Ruiz blamed her brief but nervous smile in the ad for kick-starting the controversy earlier this month. “I think it was my fault. My eyebrows looked worried, I guess?” Ruiz said on the “Today” show.  “People were like, ‘She looks scared!'” she said, laughing. “I’m telling you, it was my face. That was the problem. And it just exploded from there.”

Ruiz fared a little better than her costar did amid the backlash. The actress was commissioned by Ryan Reynolds’ Aviation Gin company for a follow-up ad spoofing her Peloton appearance and has landed a gig on CBS’ daytime drama  The Bold and the Beautiful.

Research contact: @chicagotribune

Trump retweets article that ‘outs’ impeachment whistleblower

December 30, 2019

On December 26, Donald Trump retweeted an article that had appeared in the Washington Examiner earlier this month—allegedly revealing the name of “the whistleblower” who had filed a complaint about the president’s dealings with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The whistleblower made his or her report after a July 25 phone call between the U.S. and Ukraine leaders, during which Trump purportedly extorted Zelensky—withholding nearly $400 million in congressionally approved military aid and a White House meeting until Zelensky agreed to publicly announce an investigation into the 2016 election; as well as into dealings in Ukraine by Democratic candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

According to a report by Mediaite, the Thursday night email represented the first time that Trump had exposed the name of the whistleblower in any manner.

Trump apparently was “goaded” into retweeting the Washington Examiner story after the whistleblower’s attorney, Mark Zaid, slammed Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) for her attacks on the informant and called on her to step down from the Senate whistleblower caucus.

When the president’s reelection team, known as the Trump War Room, jumped in to defend Blackburn, Trump also took to Twitter.

Now, there is bound to blowback for Trump. Several conservative outlets to date have identified the person alleged to be the whistleblower. No major news organization has yet reported the name.

Angry tweets from Americans followed the president’s revelation—many asking for another article of impeachment to be drafted for his “outing” of the whistleblower.

Research contact: @Mediaite

Sick puppies: CDC probes outbreak of illnesses linked to pet stores

December 26, 2019

Like all forms of love, “puppy love” occasionally can lead to malaise—even in the true, physical sense. In fact, more than two dozen people have been sickened by bacteria linked to pet store puppies, with the germs resistant to first-line antibiotics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced and NBC News has reported.

The agency is investigating the outbreak of Campylobacter jejuni in 13 states–with 30 cases reported as of December 17.. Four people had to be hospitalized, but no one has died. The illnesses have been reported throughout the year, with patients ranging in age from 8 months to 70 years.

In interviews, ill people answered questions about the foods they ate and any animal contact in the week before they became ill. Ninety-nine percent of people reported contact with a puppy in the week before illness started, and 87% reported they had contact with a puppy from Petland stores, or had contact with a person who became sick after contact with a puppy from a Petland store. Twenty-five ill people worked at Petland stores.

The bacteria is closely related to germs that infected more than 100 people during a 2016–2018 Campylobacter outbreak, which was also linked to pet store puppies, the CDC said.

In a statement, Petland noted that more than one-third of the 2019 cases have been found in people living in places where it doesn’t have stores.

The Chillicothe, Ohio-based chain of pet stores—which has over 130 locations nationwide—said,“Petland takes the health and welfare of our employees, our customers and our pets very seriously.” “Since an earlier outbreak in 2016, in which no specific source of infection was identified, Petland has implemented all recommended protocols from federal and state animal and public health officials to prevent human and puppy illness.”

Campylobacter causes 1.5 million illnesses each year in the United States, according to the CDC. Symptoms include diarrhea that’s often bloody, fever and stomach cramps. The illness usually lasts about a week and most people recover without having to take antibiotics.

Most cases involve contaminated food, so animal-associated illnesses are rare in comparison to food poisoning episodes, Dr. Jeanette O’Quin, a clinical assistant professor at Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, told NBC News.

Pet stores can contain a perfect storm of risk factors for the animal-related outbreaks to happen, she said: Puppies from different breeding kennels get mixed together; they’re usually housed in close proximity to each other; and they’re often stressed, so they’re more likely to get sick and easily spread the illness.

People can get sick by accidentally ingesting the bacteria in the stool of an infected animal—petting a puppy and then putting an unwashed hand into their mouth, for example. The animal doesn’t have to look sick for it to shed the bacteria in its stool.

The best prevention is basic hygiene, NBC News reports. People should always wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water after touching a puppy or dog, after handling their food, and after cleaning up after them, the CDC advised.

O’Quin also urged pet owners to pick up dog waste regularly so that it didn’t accumulate in their yards, and bathe dogs recently bought from a group setting or those who have soiled their fur.

“Preventing is where we can have the most impact,” O’Quin said.

Research contact: @NBCNews