A cure for the common cold? Stanford-UCSF researchers are close

October 15, 2019

Disabling a single, apparently noncritical protein in cells may deter the replication of viruses known to cause 50% f all common colds—as well as polio, asthma, encephalitis, and other diseases—according to researchers at Stanford University and UC-San Francisco.

Few of us escape without catching at least one rhinovirus during the winter—when germs breed freely in closed environments. There are roughly 160 known types of rhinovirus, which helps to explain why getting a cold doesn’t stop you from getting another one a month later. Making matters worse, rhinoviruses are highly mutation-prone and, as a result, quick to develop drug resistance, as well as to evade the immune surveillance brought about by previous exposure or a vaccine.

The recent academic findings about cold prevention were made in human cell cultures and in mice.

“Our grandmas have always been asking us, ‘If you’re so smart, why haven’t you come up with a cure for the common cold?’”said Jan Carette, associate professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford. “Now we have a new way to do that.”

In a study published online in the September 16 edition of Nature Microbiology, Carette and his associates found a way to stop a broad range of enteroviruses, including rhinoviruses, from replicating inside human cells in culture, as well as in mice. They accomplished this feat by disabling a protein in mammalian cells tha tall enteroviruses appear to need in order to replicate. 

Carette shares senior authorship with Or Gozani, MD, PhD, professor of biology at Stanford and the Dr. Morris Herzstein Professor of Biology; Raul Andino, PhD, professor of microbiology and immunology at UCSF; and Nevan Krogan, PhD, professor of cellular and molecular pharmacology at UCSF. The lead authors are former Stanford graduate student Jonathan Diep, PhD, and Stanford postdoctoral scholars Yaw Shin Ooi, PhD, and Alex Wilkinson, PhD.

Research contact: @Stanford

Have a bone to pick? Difficult or stressful relationships are linked to bone loss by researchers

October 11, 2019

When life is hard, women’s bones may get more malleable: Those are the findings of a study posted recently by the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

The study findings, which were posted online on July 9, established that women who reported high levels of social stress were more apt to develop a lower bone density over time, reports Harvard Health..

Researchers enrolled more than 11,000 postmenopausal women in the study, and asked them to fill out a questionnaire about their social anxiety levels; and to take a bone density measurement test.

At a follow-up appointment fully six years later, women who had reported high levels of stress at the initial interview showed a bigger decline in bone density, compared with participants who initially had reported lower stress levels.

 This was true even after the researchers adjusted for other factors that may affect bone health, such as age, weight, smoking, alcohol use, and education, among others.

The authors speculated that stress may harm bone health because stress leads to higher blood cortisol levels, a well-established reason for lower bone density. Further study is needed to understand and confirm the results.

Research contact: @HarvardHealth

Foul ‘play’? Lawsuit accuses Fortnite developer of designing game to be addictive

October 10, 2019

Epic Games—the North Carolina-based software development company that banked more than $3 billion in profits in 2018, alone, off the game Fortnite, according to TechCrunch—has been accused in a lawsuit of designing the online video competition to be addictive.

The game—which is free to play, but makes money selling digital items—has about 250 million players worldwide; many of them, too obsessed to turn off their screens.

The Canadian lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, reportedly likens the game play to taking cocaine, in terms of dependency, CNET reported on October 7.

A legal notice was filed Friday in Quebec Superior Court accusing US-based Epic Games of designing the game specifically to hook users, Canada’s Global News reported on October 4. Players have had to seek treatment for their addiction, according to the complaint.

Indeed, the filing says, “The addiction to the Fortnite game has real consequences for the lives of players: Several don’t eat or shower, and no longer socialize.”

Jean-Philippe Caron, the lawyer who brought the lawsuit, alleged that the game’s creators enlisted the help of “psychologists to help make the game addictive.”

He accused Epic Games of failing to “warn about the risks and dangers inherent in their product.” Similar accusations have been lodged in lawsuits against tobacco companies.

Epic Games didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment by CNET.

Research contact: @CNET

Orthorexia: When ‘clean’ eating becomes an obsession

October 9, 2019

Besides his political views (“incorrect”), Bill Maher of HBO’s Real Time is known for his religious beliefs (none), his love of animals and children (complete and completely missing), and his views on how to stay healthy (“clean” eating).

In fact, in a 2017 interview with Esquire magazine, Maher took the writer to his kitchen and showed him “lunch,” which consisted of “Sesame seeds, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, millet, barley, rye,” he said. “They’re very good for you. He mashed the seeds with water in a machine that looked like a coffee grinder. After the mixture was allowed to sit for a few hours, he added black cherry concentrate—and that was his midday meal.

While his diet may seem extreme, he is a member of a growing sector of the population that is committed to eating clean—whether that may be gluten-free, dairy-free, raw food, or all-organic. Their ethos: Choosing only whole foods in their natural state and avoiding processed ones will improve your health.

According to an October 7 report by NPR, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to eat this way, but sometimes these kinds of food preferences can begin to take over people’s lives, making them fear social events where they won’t be able to find the “right” foods. When a healthful eating pattern goes too far, it may turn into an eating disorder that scientists are just beginning to study.

However it is integrated into a person’s lifestyle, orthorexia is a fairly recent phenomenon. NPR notes that Dr. Steven Bratman, an alternative medicine practitioner in the 1990s, first coined the term in an essay in the nonscientific Yoga Journal in 1997. Many of his patients eschewed traditional medicine and believed that the key to good health was simply eating the “right” foods. Some of them would ask him what foods they should cut out.

“People would think they should cut out all dairy and they should cut out all lentils, all wheat … And it dawned on me gradually that many of these patients, their primary problem was that they were … far too strict with themselves,” Dr, Bratman recently told NPR.

So Bratman made up the name orthorexia, borrowing ortho from the Greek word meaning “right” and -orexia meaning “appetite.” He added nervosa as a reference to anorexia nervosa, the well-known eating disorder which causes people to starve themselves to be thin.

“From then on, whenever a patient would ask me what food to cut out, I would say, ‘We need to work on your orthorexia.’ This would often make them laugh and let them loosen up, and sometimes it helped people move from extremism to moderation,” he recalls.

Bratman had no idea that the concept of “clean eating” would explode over the next two decades.

Where dieters once gobbled down no-sugar gelatin or fat-free shakes, now they might seek out organic kale and wild salmon.

The rise of celebrity diet gurus and glamorous food photos on social media reinforce the idea that eating only certain foods and avoiding others is a virtue — practically a religion.

Dr. Sondra Kronberg, founder and executive director of the Eating Disorder Treatment Collaborative outside New York City, has seen a lot of diet trends over the past 40 years, she told NPR.

“So orthorexia is a reflection on a larger scale of the cultural perspective on ‘eating cleanly,’ eating … healthfully, avoiding toxins—including foods that might have some ‘super power,’ ” she says.

Now, Kronberg and other nutritionists applaud efforts to eat healthfully. The problem comes, she says, when you are so focused on your diet that “it begins to infringe on the quality of your life—your ability to be spontaneous and engage.” That’s when you should start to worry about an eating disorder, she told the news outlet.

“In the case of orthorexia, it centers around eating ‘cleanly’ and purely, where the other eating disorders center around size and weight and a drive for thinness,” she says.

Sometimes these problems overlap, and some people who only eat “clean” foods miss critical nutrients from the foods they cut out or don’t consume enough calories. “It could become a health hazard and ultimately, it can be fatal,” Kronberg says.

Orthorexia is not listed specifically in the DSM—the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders— but that doesn’t mean it’s untreatable.

Eating disorders can strike anyone, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. If you think you have orthorexia or any eating disorder, it’s important to seek professional help and friends who support you, the association urges.

Research contact: @NPR

Capitalizing on a caustic craze: Glenlivet offers edible whiskey ‘Tide Pods’

October 8, 2019

They may not be detergent-filled, but these colorful capsules definitely are not what you want your child or teenager to pop in his or her mouth.

Now that Tide Pods and other similar suds-filled pouches are being sold in child-proof containers—stopping a series of poisonings that occurred after kids either accidentally or intentionally consumed the candylike cleaners—there’s now another pod that should be kept out of the hands (and mouths) of babes.

Upscale whiskey brand The Glenlivet has just announced its new “Capsule Collection” which enables consumers to pop a pod of booze directly into their mouths, Men’s Health magazine reports.

The new range includes three new Founders Reserve-based cocktail recipes—each held within pods that are biodegradable and edible, and are made from seaweed.

“The Glenlivet has released an original whiskey drinking experience,” states a promotional video. “A collection of edible cocktail capsules made from seaweed, meaning no need for a glass, ice, or a cocktail stirrer.”

The capsules in the new collection are similar in size and appearance to detergent pods, bringing back memories of the highly dangerous “Tide Pod challenge” from last year, which saw a frankly mind-boggling number of teenagers eating the colorful, poisonous pods in internet videos. The striking resemblance that the Glenlivet Capsule Collection bears to Tide Pods has got some people thinking the whole thing is a hoax.

But far from being a joke, the Capsule Collection is being sold as a limited-time offer for London Cocktail Week, which runs from October 4 to October 13. And while some people have criticized the pods for cheapening or taking away from the experience of enjoying a whiskey, Men’s Health notes that others actually are praising the innovation behind the biodegradable packaging, and the fact that a single use edible pod might make cocktails more accessible to individuals who have limited mobility or dexterity.

A spokesperson for The Glenlivet told Food & Wine magazine that the capsules are not yet available or approved for consumption in the United States—but don’t be surprised if that changes in the near future.

Research contact: @MensHealth

Average American child earns $30/week in allowance

October 7, 2019

Add another factor into the high cost of raising children in the United States—the formerly humble (and now very generous) allowance.

About 66% of parents give their offspring a weekly stipend, based on findings of a telephone survey of 1,002 U.S. adults conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of the American Institute of Certified Public Accounts (AICPA).

And not only are the amounts high—at an average of $30 per week—but they are rising more quickly than the average U.S. salary.

Indeed, while most parents require their children “to earn their allowances” by doing chores around the house, the number of hours of “elbow grease” expected per week have not gone up significantly since 2016 (from 5.1 to 5.3 hours) , but the hourly pay rate has seen a dramatic 38% increase—rising from an average of $4.43 in 2016 to $6.11 in 2019

Across the same time span, the average hourly pay rate for all Americans increased by 10.5% ($25.43 in 2016 vs. $28.11 in 2019) according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

How are children using their weekly windfall? Three-quarters of Americans (75%) say the most important purpose of providing an allowance to children is to teach the child about the value of money and financial responsibility. However, the survey found, allowance money is rarely saved. Parents say most of their kids’ allowance is spent on outings with friends (45%), digital devices or downloads (37%), or toys (33%).

That’s a mistake, according to Gregory Anton, chair of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission, who says that “ “Simply handing money over to a child without guidance is a missed opportunity. By making an allowance a teachable moment, parents will help instill money management skills in their child at a young age that will help prepare them for the important financial decisions they’ll have to make when they’re older.”

The AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission recommends that parents who choose to provide an allowance use it to help their children understand the value of money. For parents looking to teach their children about financial responsibility using an allowance, here are some tips:

  1. Start early
    “Once your child expresses a want, discuss the foundations for budgeting—delayed gratification and saving for a goal. Give them small jobs to earn their own money to pay for toys or other wants and help them see their efforts grow with a chart on the fridge showing the progress they are making towards their goal.
  2. Set clear parameters
    “If you decide to provide an allowance, make sure your children understand why they are getting it, how they can earn it, and how they can lose it. Some may choose to base an allowance on the completion of chores and make deductions for any chores that aren’t finished. Others may set a base allowance and provide opportunities to earn additional pay for extra chores that are completed. Bottom line, earning money helps to teach children the value of money.
  3. Use an allowance to talk about budgeting
    “Rather than giving your child money to spend freely, consider an allocation process that rewards them for both short- and long-term thinking. Encourage them to set aside a percentage of the money they earn each week for certain spending categories-such as outings with friends, short-term savings; and long-term savings (e.g., a college fund). Encourage even more savings by offering to match their long-term savings stockpile dollar for dollar
  4. Discuss impact of impulse purchases on goals
    Let your child set his or her own goals and provide guidance to help reach them. Along the way, teach the principles of saving and budgeting. If a new game console is on their want list, show them how to calculate the amount that needs to be saved each week to reach that goal. For instance, if he or she receives $30 a week, but wants a $240 gaming system, help your child understand that reaching the goal requires eight weeks of allowance. Then, if there is temptation to splurge on a spontaneous item, like candy in the check-out aisle, ask whether it fits into their budget. This will help teach how skipping short-term wants can help them reach their long-term goals.

Research contact: @AICPA

One and done: U.S. maternity units see fewer twins, following decades of increases

October 4, 2019

Fewer U.S. mothers are “seeing double” on delivery day, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In fact, the number of twins born in America dropped 4% from 2014 to 2018 after roughly three decades of increases, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Having twins heightens health risks for both the babies and the expectant mother, so specialists see the decline as good news. Researchers believe that the decline may reflect advances—such as the use of artificial intelligence— in reproductive technologies, including in vitro fertilization, that result in fewer multiple births.

“I am elated,” Dr. Amanda Horton told the Journal. She is a maternal fetal medicine specialist for the online Maven Clinic who lives in Austin, Texas. “What I take away from this is that we’re working hard to ensure that families have the healthiest pregnancies possible.”

In the report from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, published on October 3, the rate of twin births dropped to 32.6 from 33.9 for every 1,000 births, a difference of 11,800 fewer twin births in 2018 compared with 2014.

The drop occurred among white mothers aged 30-54, the Journal reports. The rate for black and Hispanic mothers and mothers under the age of 30 essentially remained unchanged.

Twin births in the U.S. started exploding in the 1980s, with an increase of 79% from 1980 to 2014.A change in maternal age may have influenced the increase, experts say, as women started having children later in life. Older mothers are more likely to have twins because they are more likely to release multiple eggs during one menstrual cycle, Dr. Horton said in an interview with the news outlet..

The early 1980s also saw the rise of assisted reproductive technology, especially in-vitro fertilization, after the first IVF baby was born in the U.K. in 1978. Between 1981 and 2015, more than one million babies were born in the United States with the help of reproductive technologies, according to a 2017 report from the CDC and the Society of Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART).

With IVF technology, especially in the earlier years, families and physicians opted to transfer multiple embryos into a mother’s womb to increase the chance of pregnancy. That is no longer the case. Improved techniques for embryo freezing and genetic testing have bettered outcomes when transferring a single embryo.

CDC data show that the percentage of embryo-transfer procedures that transferred only a single embryo roughly doubled from 2013 to 2016 in all age brackets above 35 years old, and professional groups now recommend the practice in most cases.

Despite the decline, the rate of twin births today is still nearly double the rate in 1980.

Research contact: @WSJ

Sorry, your essential oils are essentially snake oils

October 3, 2019

The squeaky wheel—or painful joint—gets the oil: In fact, many people think that the “essential oils” sold by a range of businesses, from apothecaries to drug stores to Walmart, are magical healing potions that also relieve pain.

But according to an October 2 report by The Huffington Post, these great-smelling elixirs do not live up to their health claims—and are actually no more effective than snake oil.

What exactly are they? According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, they are highly volatile substance isolated by a physical process from an odoriferous plant of a single botanical species. The oil bears the name of the plant from which it is derived; for example, rose oil or peppermint oil.

Such oils originally were called “essential” because they were thought to represent the very essence of odor and flavor. And when we say originally, we are referring to the fact that essential oils can be traced back to ancient times, when people used them to make medicinal ointments, perfumes and, possibly, embalming fluids.

While we may no longer use them to mummify loved ones, essential oils have made a major comeback in recent years as a popular and powerful natural-healing solution for various ailments and conditions, the HuffPost says.

Many people say the plant-based oils—like lavender, mint and eucalyptus—relieve their migraines more swiftly than over-the-counter drugs. Some people say oils boosted their libido when nothing else seemed to do the trick.

The oils can be applied to the skin, topically, or inhaled. And each plant is tied to a specific health benefit: Peppermint is believed to increase your energy, lavender may help you calm you down, jasmine is understood to lift your mood. Some scents are even touted as able to fight cancer symptomsheart diseaseinfections and diabetes.

Of course, it’s hard to invalidate any one person’s personal experience if they say something personally helped them. However, the HufffPost reports, despite the widespread claims made for essential oils, there is little science actually backing up the testimonials and not much is known about how safe and effective these products are.

Sure, the oils may smell delicious―and the occasional whiff won’t do you any harm and may even help certain issues in the moment―but many experts say they don’t live up to all the health claims.

“So many people are ill, and are looking for something to help them feel better, it’s hard for them to walk away from a simple and natural therapy such as essential oils,” Felice Gersh, an ob/gyn and founder of the Integrative Medicine Group of Irvine, California, told HuffPost.

Essential oils are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration—and the research we do have on the oils is often based on very small or poorly designed studies, Gary Soffer, the acting director of the integrative medicine program at the Yale Cancer Center in New Haven, Connecticut, told the news outlet.

“The widespread use of essential oils without a substantial body of evidence to support it is certainly concerning,” Soffer said. “While they are generally safe, it can be shortsighted to simply see them as completely risk free.”

Still, those who swear by the oils include health professionals. Some experts suspect this is because of a very convincing placebo effect.

“Across many conditions—including anxiety, depression, and pain—when people believe something is helpful, they sometimes experience benefit,” Keith Humphreys, a psychiatrist at Stanford Health Care in Stanford, California, told the HuffPost during an interview. “Any claims of healing power beyond the placebo effect should be regarded with extreme skepticism.”

Research contact: @HuffPost

Restaurant’s ‘Labor Inducer’ burger attracts an ‘influx of pregnant women’

October 2, 2019

A whole lot of Minnesota mothers may be naming their babies “Patty.” That’s because The Suburban restaurant in the town of Excelsior serves a hamburger that’s been named the “Labor Inducer.”

The moniker was created after two very pregnant women—one of them, several days overdue; and one of them just approaching her due date—had their babies within hours of eating the special—an angus beef patty, honey-cured bacon, peach caramelized onions, spicy mustard, and Cajun remoulade on a pretzel bun—Fox News reports.

Indeed, the owners of The Suburban told the cable news network that between one and three pregnant customers have been stopping in per day since the beginning of last week, when the burger’s purported labor-triggering properties were made public.

Co-owner Ashley Berset told Fox News that the hubbub started back in April, when Enrique, the chef at the restaurant, was experimenting with recipes for the then-upcoming Twin Cities Burger Battle, and offered samples of his newest creation to co-owner Kelsey Quarberg, who is also Berset’s sister.

 “My sister, Kelsey, was nine days away from her due date with her first child and liked the sample so much that she ordered a full-size one as well,” Berset told Fox News. “About seven hours later she went into labor with her baby Sam.”

Berset said the burger became known as “The Labor Inducer,” and was added to the menu after it took third place at the Burger Battle.

 “We had the burger available at the restaurant all summer and that’s how the second baby was born,” Berset told Fox News, remarking on another little girl who was birthed within hours of her mother eating a burger.

Now, Berset said, pregnant women in the Twin Cities area are flocking to the restaurant for a taste of the burger. “So far no further reports of babies being born, but I doubt their first thought after giving birth is to contact The Suburban,” she said. “So we will continue to wait and see!”

Certain foods, spicy foods in particular, have long been thought to help induce labor — as evidenced by the similar 2017 tale from patrons of a North Carolina restaurant, that believed that its spicy Buffalo Wing Pizza helped induce labor. Experts, meanwhile, say there’s no evidence that any specific foods have the power to bring on a baby.

Research contact: @FoxNews

People are getting fillers and Botox to fix ‘resting bitch face’

October 1, 2019

A surgeon from New York has revealed that many of his patients ask him to make them look more approachable

Most social media fans are familiar with the dear, departed Grumpy Cat—a feline whose unintentionally crabby and contemptuous photos went viral wherever they were posted.

But there’s another, similar term that has been applied to humans since about 2013, when the group, Broken People, uploaded a spoof video entitled “Bitchy Resting Face” (BRF) on the Funny or Die website that depicts male and female “sufferers” of an annoyed-looking blank expression ask for understanding from non-sufferers.

It has since gone on to become a popular Internet meme—and to become more commonly known as Resting Bitch Face (RBF), which describes a person’s relaxed facial expression or angry or disdainful.

Among those celebrities who have been identified as poster boys and girls for Resting Bitch Fitch are Kanye West, Anna Kendrick, and Lisa Marie Presley.

According to a recent report by the UK’s Daily Mirror, some of those accused of having RBF actually embrace the designation (as well as the situation on their faces), because, they say, it wards off unwanted advances from strangers—but others see it as a negative and want to be more approachable.

However, a plastic surgeon recently told the news outlet that many people out there are desperately trying to rid themselves of their RBF by paying for procedures.

Dr, David Shafer, a certified plastic surgeon who practices at Shafer Plastic Surgery & Laser Center in New York  City, claims that this is a “common request” from his patients. Speaking to the New York Post, he said: “This is actually a frequent request from patients. I get several each week. “They may not always use the words ‘resting bitch face’ but if I mention RBF, they say ‘exactly.’

He went on to explain how he would help people achieve a “pleasant resting look”. To “cure” the angry expression, doctors would inject fillers and sometimes Botox in certain areas in order to make the face appear look fuller, softer and happier.

Areas that are focused on include the sides of the mouth, the skin between the eyebrows and underneath the lips. The procedure takes around 10 to 20 minutes and can cost between hundreds and thousands of dollars, depending on the specialist performing the work and the number of injections used.

The more contented look typically lasts for up to two years; then, it’s back to the old condescending countenance.

Research contact: @DailyMirror