Category Archives: Medicine

Maps of the day: More climate change impacts


A new study from Cornell University casts new on thee life-threatening reality climate change:

Severe Caribbean droughts may magnify food insecurity

A comparison of drought conditions between 2015 and 2017 on the island of Hispaniola, home to Haiti (in the west) and the Dominican Republic. Using the Palmer Drought Severity Index, dark brown indicates severe to extreme drought, while blue colors indicate wetter than normal conditions. In the summer of 2015, when the Pan-Caribbean drought peaked, most of Hispaniola had severe drought conditions. In contrast, the western portion of the island – mostly Haiti – had wetter-than-normal conditions in January 2017 due to rain from Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. Even after the hurricane, drought conditions remained for the Dominican Republic.

More from Cornell:

Climate change is impacting the Caribbean, with millions facing increasing food insecurity and decreasing freshwater availability as droughts become more likely across the region, according to new Cornell research in Geophysical Research Letters [open access].

“Climate change – where mean temperatures rise – has already affected drought risk in the Caribbean. While our research focused on the role of human-causes for the strong 2013-16 drought there, our findings and climate-model projections show that drought in the region will likely to become more severe over time,” said lead author Dimitris Herrera, postdoctoral associate in earth and atmospheric sciences.

Since 1950, the Caribbean region has seen a drying trend and scattered multiyear droughts. But the recent Pan-Caribbean drought in 2013-16 was unusually severe and placed 2 million people in danger of food insecurity.

In Haiti, for example, over half the crops were lost in 2015 due to drought, which pushed about 1 million people into food insecurity, while an additional 1 million people suffered food shortages throughout the region, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs.

Examining climatological data from the 2013-16 Pan-Caribbean drought, anthropogenic warming accounted for a 15 to 17 percent boost of the drought’s severity, Herrera said.

Climate model simulations indicate the most significant decrease in precipitation in the Caribbean might occur May through August – the rainy season. A failed rainy season in spring and summer, added to a normal dry season in the late fall and winter, prolongs a drought.

Beyond growing crops, the Caribbean also faces dwindling freshwater resources, due to saltwater intrusion from rising seas and pressure from agricultural and municipal sectors.

“This paper documents that human activity is already affecting the drought statistics of the region,” said Toby Ault, assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences, and a fellow at Cornell’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. “Hot temperatures in the future will probably continue to play an increasingly important role in exacerbating droughts.”

Although the Caribbean has recently been affected by catastrophic hurricanes – such as Maria and Irma – that caused significant and rapid damage, persistent droughts can slowly bring havoc to vulnerable Caribbean countries, said Herrera: “This is especially true for the agriculture and tourism sectors of this region, which are the most important contributors to gross domestic product in most Caribbean nations.”

Other authors are of “Exacerbation of the 2013-2016 Pan Caribbean Drought by Anthropogenic Warming,” are John Fasullo, National Center for Atmospheric Research; Sloan Coats, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Carlos Carrillo, Cornell; Benjamin Cook, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies; and A. Park Williams, Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University.

The research was supported by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the National Science Foundation and NASA.

But there’s some potentially good news, too

Another new study, this one from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, study links over-consumption of alcohol with two curious factors, cold temperatures and alcohol.

While climate change won’t tilt the Earth’s axis further south, it’s already making northern latitudes warmer, so there’ll be less need for somatic antifreeze. . .

We begin with a map from the study comparing levels of booze-guzzling and binge behavior in the counties of the good ol’ U.S of .A. [click on it to embiggen]:

From the University:

Where you live could influence how much you drink. According to new research from the University of Pittsburgh Division of Gastroenterology, people living in colder regions with less sunlight drink more alcohol than their warm-weather counterparts.

The study, recently published online in Hepatology, [$6 for 48-hour access] found that as temperature and sunlight hours dropped, alcohol consumption increased. Climate factors also were tied to binge drinking and the prevalence of alcoholic liver disease, one of the main causes of mortality in patients with prolonged excessive alcohol use.

“It’s something that everyone has assumed for decades, but no one has scientifically demonstrated it. Why do people in Russia drink so much? Why in Wisconsin? Everybody assumes that’s because it’s cold,” said senior author Ramon Bataller, M.D., Ph.D., chief of hepatology at UPMC, professor of medicine at Pitt, and associate director of the Pittsburgh Liver Research Center. “But we couldn’t find a single paper linking climate to alcohol intake or alcoholic cirrhosis. This is the first study that systematically demonstrates that worldwide and in America, in colder areas and areas with less sun, you have more drinking and more alcoholic cirrhosis.”

Alcohol is a vasodilator – it increases the flow of warm blood to the skin, which is full of temperature sensors – so drinking can increase feelings of warmth. In Siberia that could be pleasant, but not so much in the Sahara.

Drinking also is linked to depression, which tends to be worse when sunlight is scarce and there’s a chill in the air.

Using data from the World Health Organization, the World Meteorological Organization and other large, public data sets, Bataller’s group found a clear negative correlation between climate factors – average temperature and sunlight hours – and alcohol consumption, measured as total alcohol intake per capita, percent of the population that drinks alcohol, and the incidence of binge drinking.

The researchers also found evidence that climate contributed to a higher burden of alcoholic liver disease. These trends were true both when comparing across countries around the world and also when comparing across counties within the United States.

“It’s important to highlight the many confounding factors,” said lead author Meritxell Ventura-Cots, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at the Pittsburgh Liver Research Center. “We tried to control for as many as we could. For instance, we tried to control for religion and how that influences alcohol habits.”

With much of the desert-dwelling Arab world abstaining from alcohol, it was critical to verify that the results would hold up even when excluding these Muslim-majority countries. Likewise, within the U.S., Utah has regulations that limit alcohol intake, which have to be taken into account.

When looking for patterns of cirrhosis, the researchers had to control for health factors that might exacerbate the effects of alcohol on the liver—like viral hepatitis, obesity and smoking.

In addition to settling an age-old debate, this research suggests that policy initiatives aimed at reducing the burden of alcoholism and alcoholic liver disease should target geographic areas where alcohol is more likely to be problematic.

Additional authors on this study include Ariel Watts, B.S., Neil Shah, M.D., Peter McCann, M.D., and A. Sidney Barritt IV, M.D., all of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Monica Cruz-Lemini, M.D., Ph.D., of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México at Juriquilla; Jose Altamirano, M.D., of Hospital Quirónsalud in Barcelona; Juan Abraldes, M.D., from The University of Alberta; Nambi Ndugga, M.P.H., of Harvard; and Anant Jain, M.D., Samhita Ravi, and Carlos Fernández-Carrillo, M.D., Ph.D., all of Pitt.

This research was supported by National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism awards U01AA021908 and U01AA020821, the Mexican National Council for Science and Technology and the Spanish Association for the Study of the Liver.

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The art of craft, digital screens, and a surgical fail


Terry Gilliam, the only American in the Monty Python crew, is one of our favorite directors. As the creator of such films as Twelve Monkeys, The Fisher King, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Brazil, Time Bandits, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Gilliam offers a unique, visually complex, and often dystopian take on the existential crises of the age.

In his latest film, 2013’s The Zero Theorem, Gilliam filed a remarkable scene that captures perfectly our addiction to all those portable screens we carry, you know, the ones now proven to play a causal role in blindness due to macyular degeneration.

One scene from The Zero Theorem perfectly captures out digital addiction, and while we were unable to find a copy in English, language isn’t all that important. Just watch and you’ll see what we mean. And if you have to sprechen the Deutsch, so much the better:

But when it comes to adverse health impacts caused by our fixation on screens, their dampening effects on personal interactions and blindness may be just the tip of the iceberg.

Is our digital addiction literally handicapped surgeons?

Roger Kneebone is a trauma surgeon with eclectic interests. In addition to heading London’s Imperial College Centre for Engagement and Simulation Science, he also runs the Royal College of Music–Imperial College Centre for Performance Science.

Kneebone has just raised a major ruckus with a shocking claim, one that hints of a looming healthcare crisis.

From The Times of London:

Trainee surgeons do not have the dexterity to sew up patients because they have spent too much time in front of screens, an expert has said.

Roger Kneebone, professor of surgical education at Imperial College London, said schools should ensure that pupils received a rounded education, including artistic subjects that forced them to use their hands.

“It is a concern of mine and my scientific colleagues that whereas in the past you could make the assumption that students would leave school able to do certain practical things — cutting things out, making things — that is no longer the case,” he said.

More from BBC News:

“It is important and an increasingly urgent issue,” says Prof Kneebone, who warns medical students might have high academic grades but cannot cut or sew.

>snip<

Prof Kneebone says he has seen a decline in the manual dexterity of students over the past decade – which he says is a problem for surgeons, who need craftsmanship as well as academic knowledge.

>snip<

“A lot of things are reduced to swiping on a two-dimensional flat screen,” he says, which he argues takes away the experience of handling materials and developing physical skills.

Such skills might once have been gained at school or at home, whether in cutting textiles, measuring ingredients, repairing something that’s broken, learning woodwork or holding an instrument. Students have become “less competent and less confident” in using their hands, he says.

“We have students who have very high exam grades but lack tactile general knowledge,” says the professor.

And still more from Quartz:

We use smartphones so much, they have given way to terms like “text claw” or “cell phone elbow”—both popular names for cubital tunnel syndrome and carpal tunnel syndrome—as well as “smartphone tendonitis.” That said, there is also evidence that smartphones and the requisite increase in thumb-and-finger use are making our brains work harder. That’s no help to surgeons who need the medical students lithe and supple.

While we await independent scientific verification of Kneebone’s assertion, we suspect he’s onto something.

And if he’s right, it may just be the tip of a much vaster iceberg.

Is you pet Roundup Ready™? It better be. . .


Roundup™, Monsanto’s best-selling weed-killer has been the keystone of the agricultural giant’s genetically engineered crops,as well as the subject of endless controversies, ranging from the economic power GMO companies have amassed to contamination of other plants, the evolution of superweeds immune to the presticide [leading to an escalation to more dangerous herbicides], and the possible health impacts on animals, including the human kind. [See here for  our extensive collection of previous posts.]

A recent California verdict awarded $289 million to a groundskeeper dying of non-Hodgkin lymphoma who charged that his ailment stemmed directly from exposure to the herbicide, though the judge reduced the total to $78 million.

The company was sold in June to Germany’s Bayer, the German chemical-gint, but the flow of Roundup™ continues

And now comes word that glyphosate, the weedkiller’s active ingredient, is in your pet food.

While the author of the Cornell University study says the amounts are well below  the government’s danger threshhold, he’s stopped feeding the stuff to his own pet.

From Cornell University:

Got glyphosate?

Your pet’s breakfast might.

A new Cornell study published this month in Environmental Pollution finds that glyphosate, the active herbicidal ingredient in widely used weed killers like Roundup, was present at low levels in a variety of dog and cat foods the researchers purchased at stores. Before you go switching Fido or Fluffy’s favorite brand, however, be aware that the amounts of the herbicide found correspond to levels currently considered safe for humans.

The study grew out of a larger interdisciplinary research project led by Brian Richards, senior research associate in biological and environmental engineering, and supported by the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future’s Academic Venture Fund, which sought to reassess glyphosate mobility and impacts in several contexts: movement from crop fields in surface water, impacts on soils and on animals consuming it in their feed.

Richard’s co-investigators Anthony Hay, associate professor of microbiology, and Kenneth Simpson, professor of small-animal medicine, visited a pet store and a retail outlet, where they selected multiple bags of cat and dog foods from major brands. The 18 feeds were all mixtures of vegetable and meat ingredients, and one product was certified GMO-free. Analyses conducted by postdoctoral researcher and lead author Jiang Zhao in Hay’s lab, and research support specialist Steve Pacenka, found that all of the products contained glyphosate at concentrations ranging from approximately 80 to 2,000 micrograms of glyphosate per kilogram.

Since there is not enough data available to determine what effect – if any – low-dose glyphosate exposure has on domestic animals, the researchers used human acceptable daily intake guidelines to put these findings in context, according to Hay. The researchers estimated that the median dog exposure would amount to only 0.7 percent of the U.S. glyphosate limit set for humans.

“While the levels of glyphosate in pet foods surprised us, if a human ate it every day, their glyphosate exposure would still be well below the limits currently deemed safe,” Hay said.

“Even the most contaminated feed they studied had thousands of times less glyphosate than levels that were shown to have no adverse effects on dogs in the U.S. EPA’s Draft Risk Assessment for glyphosate” said Dan Wixted, a pesticide educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension who was not involved in the study.

While unable to pinpoint the exact product or crops that were the source of the glyphosate, Hay’s team did find a correlation with fiber, suggesting a plant-based origin.

“We know that glyphosate is only certified for spraying on crops, and it does not bio-accumulate in animals, so we would not expect it to come from feed animals that are the main protein sources in some of the products,” Hay said. “Our evidence suggests that it’s coming from plant material.”

One surprising finding of the study: Glyphosate was detected in the one GMO-free product the researchers analyzed at levels higher than those of several other processed feeds. This suggests that keeping feed stocks uncontaminated is a challenge even in the GMO-free market.

What is a pet owner to do with this information?

“Glyphosate is out there in our pets’ food, and while there doesn’t appear to be any immediate risk, there is still uncertainty about the chronic impact of low doses like these,” Hay said. “It’s hard to find a product that doesn’t have glyphosate in it, so we included the exposure assessment to provide some context. The old adage ‘dose determines the poison’ is good to keep in mind: While it’s possible that these animals might respond differently than humans, the numbers are still within a range that would be deemed safe for humans.”

Hay, for his part, has stopped feeding chow found to be high in glyphosate to his own dog, a pug beagle mix, but he hasn’t seen any changes in her health.

“She’s more cat than dog to be honest,” he said. “She sits on the bed and won’t go outside when it rains. But I can now confirm that her laziness has nothing to do with her feed.”

Study reveals where psychedelics zap your brain


This is your brain on drugs, or, more specifically, how three different psychedelic drugs, psilocybin [‘shrooms]. LSD, and ketamine [“Special K”], as revealed in a new scientific study revealing that psychedelics trigger neuronal excitement in specific brain areas,  as reported in Nature [open access], the world’s premiere scientific journal [click on the image to enlarge]:

We’ve long been fascinated with a certain class of drugs, the so-called psychedelics [from the Greek for mind-manifesting], drugs taken not to numb or physically stimulate but to reveal normally hidden dimensions of our inner mental lives.

New research is revealing that psychedelics may be the one reliable route to relieving depression [previously], a condition with which esnl has struggled for most of our years on the planet, as well as stopping smoking and even reducing spousal abuse.

Now a new study show where three such compounds impact the the brain

More from the University of Sussex:

Scientific evidence of a ‘higher’ state of consciousness has been found in a study led by the University of Sussex.

Neuroscientists observed a sustained increase in neural signal diversity – a measure of the complexity of brain activity – of people under the influence of psychedelic drugs, compared with when they were in a normal waking state.

The diversity of brain signals provides a mathematical index of the level of consciousness. For example, people who are awake have been shown to have more diverse neural activity using this scale than those who are asleep.

This, however, is the first study to show brain-signal diversity that is higher than baseline, that is higher than in someone who is simply ‘awake and aware’. Previous studies have tended to focus on lowered states of consciousness, such as sleep, anaesthesia, or the so-called ‘vegetative’ state.

The team say that more research is needed using more sophisticated and varied models to confirm the results but they are cautiously excited.

Professor Anil Seth, Co-Director of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science at the University of Sussex, said: “This finding shows that the brain-on-psychedelics behaves very differently from normal.

“During the psychedelic state, the electrical activity of the brain is less predictable and less ‘integrated’ than during normal conscious wakefulness – as measured by ‘global signal diversity’.

“Since this measure has already shown its value as a measure of ‘conscious level’, we can say that the psychedelic state appears as a higher ‘level’ of consciousness than normal – but only with respect to this specific mathematical measure.”

For the study, Michael Schartner, Dr Adam Barrett and Professor Seth of the Sackler Centre reanalysed data that had previously been collected by Imperial College London and the University of Cardiff in which healthy volunteers were given one of three drugs known to induce a psychedelic state: psilocybin, ketamine and LSD.

Using brain imaging technology, they measured the tiny magnetic fields produced in the brain and found that, across all three drugs, this measure of conscious level – the neural signal diversity – was reliably higher.

Continue reading

Headline of the day: Trump trumped in the House


Let the eruption commence. . .

From the New York Times:

  • Major Setback for Trump in First Big Legislative Clash
  • House Republican leaders withdrew legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act from consideration just as voting was set to begin.
  • President Trump had pressed for a vote on the bill so he could shame Republicans who opposed it. Paul Ryan, the House speaker, talked him down.

White House fails to win House for TrumpCare™


Even his own party fails to fall behind Agent Orange.

From Reuters:

Republicans in Congress said they lacked the votes needed for passage of their U.S. healthcare system overhaul and a key committee chairman came out in opposition after Donald Trump demanded a vote on Friday in a gamble that could hobble his presidency.

Amid a chaotic scramble for votes, House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, who has championed the bill, met with Trump at the White House. Ryan told the president there were not enough votes to pass the plan, U.S. media reported.

If the bill is defeated, Democratic former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement, the 2010 Affordable Care Act dubbed Obamacare, would remain in place despite seven years of Republican promises to dismantle it.

Repealing and replacing Obamacare was a top campaign promise by Trump in the 2016 presidential election, as well as by most Republican candidates, “from dog catcher on up,” as White House spokesman Sean Spicer put it during a briefing on Friday.

The showdown on the House floor follows Trump’s decision to cut off negotiations to shore up support inside his own party, with moderates and the most conservative lawmakers balking. On Thursday night he had issued an ultimatum that lawmakers pass the legislation that has his backing or keep in place the Obamacare law that Republicans have sought to dismantle since it was enacted seven years ago.

And a new Reuters/Ipsos poll reveals the reason for their reluctance [click on the image to enlarge]:

The Republicans are confronted with a harsh reality: Even those who voted for the short-fingered vulgarian, most notably those poorer heartland folks who voted for him are reluctant to inflict higher costs and even lack of emergency room access and maternity care on themselves,m their families, and their friends.

Headline of the day: The want freedom. . .to die


Yep the Koch brothers’ pals in Congress really do want to kill the poor, and the quickest way to do that is cut them off from things like emergency rooms and maternity care.

From the New York Times:

Consensus Eludes G.O.P. With Health Vote Looming

  • The hard-line Freedom Caucus met with President Trump but failed to reach a consensus on changes to the House bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
  • They are pressing to eliminate federal requirements that health insurance plans provide basic benefits like maternity care, emergency services and wellness visits.

UPDATE: But it’s even worse. . .

More on what the Zealots want to cut from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

House Republicans, looking for a deal to secure their health care legislation, may scrap one of the Affordable Care Act’s most important consumer protections: requiring individual health insurers to cover ten essential health benefits.

The benefits are:

  • Pediatric services, including oral and dental care
  • Pregnancy, maternity and newborn care
  • Outpatient care
  • Emergency services
  • Hospitalization
  • Prescription drugs
  • Mental health and substance abuse services
  • Laboratory services
  • Rehabilitative services
  • Prevention services and chronic disease management

Without the mandatory coverage of essential benefits, the health law’s limits on out-of-pocket spending would be “essentially meaningless” because it applies only to those essential services, according to a blog post on Thursday by Timothy Jost, an Emeritus law professor at Washington and Lee University.

The health law’s ban on annual and lifetime coverage limits also applies only to essential benefits, meaning they too would be eliminated under the still-evolving GOP bill.