Category Archives: Medicine

Zika can alter adult brains, change RNA and DNA

The Zika virus is one scary little critter.

While the media’s attention has been driven by the cases of children of infected mothers born with smaller skulls [microcephaly], new research has shown that the virus can also alter the brains of infected adults, possibly impacting both memory and behavior.

It that isn’t troubling enough, another study reveals that the virus also changes both DNA, the stuff of heredity, and RNA, molecules regulating the way DNA coding is implemented in the cells.

Zika may alter cells in the adult brain

Our first report comes from the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, with the second report on genetic alterations after the jump:

Concerns over the Zika virus have focused on pregnant women due to mounting evidence that it causes brain abnormalities in developing fetuses. However, new research in mice from scientists at The Rockefeller University and La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology suggests that certain adult brain cells may be vulnerable to infection as well. Among these are populations of cells that serve to replace lost or damaged neurons throughout adulthood, and are also thought to be critical to learning and memory.

“This is the first study looking at the effect of Zika infection on the adult brain,” says Joseph Gleeson, adjunct professor at Rockefeller and head of the Laboratory of Pediatric Brain Disease and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. “Based on our findings, getting infected with Zika as an adult may not be as innocuous as people think.”

Although more research is needed to determine if this damage has long-term biological implications or the potential to affect behavior, the findings suggest the possibility that the Zika virus, which has become widespread in Central and South America over the past eight months, may be more harmful than previously believed.

“Zika can clearly enter the brain of adults and can wreak havoc,” says Sujan Shresta, a professor at the La Jolla Institute of Allergy and Immunology. “But it’s a complex disease—it’s catastrophic for early brain development, yet the majority of adults who are infected with Zika rarely show detectable symptoms. Its effect on the adult brain may be more subtle, and now we know what to look for.”

Neuronal progenitors

Early in gestation, before our brains have developed into a complex organ with specialized zones, they are comprised entirely of neural progenitor cells. With the capability to replenish the brain’s neurons throughout its lifetime, these are the stem cells of the brain.

In healthy individuals, neural progenitor cells eventually become fully formed neurons, and it is thought that at some point along this progression they become resistant to Zika, explaining why adults appear less susceptible to the disease.

But current evidence suggests that Zika targets neural progenitor cells, leading to loss of these cells and to reduced brain volume. This closely mirrors what is seen in microcephaly, a developmental condition linked to Zika infection in developing fetuses that results in a smaller-than-normal head and a wide variety of developmental disabilities.

The mature brain retains niches of these neural progenitor cells that appear to be especially impacted by Zika. These niches—in mice they exist primarily in two regions, the subventricular zone of the anterior forebrain and the subgranular zone of the hippocampus—are vital for learning and memory.

Continue reading

The real, very lethal consequences of fat-shaming

Anyone’s who’s been or is fat knows the sad reality of fat-shaming.

Back when we started high school we were the youngest, shortest, and fattest member of the freshman class.

Needless to say, we were bullied [it didn’t help that we’d skipped a grade], and bore the brunt of an endless series of fat jokes.

One consequence was an endless series of tension headaches, and they didn’t end until we shed the weight in the space of a few months at age 23.

And now comes evidence that fat-shaming can lead to things far worse than mere headaches.

From the University of Rhode Island:

We all know that carrying extra pounds can be bad for your health. Now a URI professor has found that how society treats overweight people makes matters worse.

Maya Vadiveloo, assistant professor of nutrition and food sciences in the College of Health Sciences, and Josiemer Mattei, assistant professor of nutrition at Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health, analyzed weight discrimination data from the long-term national study, Midlife Development in the United States.

The researchers focused on respondents who reported regularly experiencing discrimination because of their weight. The study asked whether they were treated discourteously, called names, or made to feel inferior. Those who experienced weight discrimination over a 10-year period had twice the risk of high allostatic load, the cumulative dysfunction of bodily systems from chronic stress, they found. That stress can lead to heart disease, diabetes, inflammation and other disorders, increasing risk of death.

“It is a pretty big effect,” Vadiveloo, of North Kingstown, says of the findings. “Even if we accounted for health effects attributed to being overweight, these people still experience double the risk of allostatic load because of weight discrimination.”

The findings, published in the August issue of Annals of Behavioral Medicine, expose flaws in society’s approach to weight control, Vadiveloo says. “The main message is to be aware that the way we treat people may have more negative effects than we realize,” she says. “Our paper highlights the importance of including sensitivity and understanding when working with individuals with obesity and when developing public health campaigns.”

People who experience weight discrimination often shun social interaction and skip doctor visits, she notes. “There is so much shaming around food and weight. We need to work together as a nation on improving public health and clinical support for individuals with obesity and targeting environmental risk factors,” she says. For example, Vadiveloo suggests developing strategies to make healthy foods affordable and creating safe places for people to be active.

Vadiveloo hopes to address the topic in the classroom and revisit data from the nearly 1,000 respondents to explore whether having more social support or positive coping strategies reduces negative health effects of weight discrimination.

Map of the day II: Zika cases in the United States

From the Centers for Disease Control:


And the numbers:

US States

  • Locally acquired mosquito-borne cases reported: 137
  • Travel-associated cases reported: 3,878
  • Laboratory acquired cases reported:  1
  • Total: 4,016
    • Sexually transmitted: 32
    • Guillain-Barré syndrome: 14

US Territories

  • Locally acquired cases reported: 27,314
  • Travel-associated cases reported: 88
  • Total: 27,402*
    • Guillain-Barré syndrome: 40

Living in poor neighborhoods raises stroke risk

As with so many of the health problems inflicting immense physical and fiscal harm on Americans, stoke has been linked with living in neglected communities.

Once again,, class makes all the difference when it comes to health, a symptom is the widening wealth gap created by the harsh conditions of neoliberal austerity.

From the University of Alabama at Birmingham:

A higher neighborhood advantage, or socioeconomic status, of where a person lives contributes to a lower risk of having a stroke no matter the person’s race, according to findings published [$39 to read] in the Oct. 14 online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The report from the University of Alabama at BirminghamREasons for Geographic And Racial Differences in Stroke study shows this effect is the same for black and white adults, both men and women.

“More blacks than whites in the United States have strokes and die from strokes,” said Virginia Howard, Ph.D., lead author of the study and professor in the UAB School of Public HealthDepartment of Epidemiology. “More people who live in the Southeastern area known as the stroke belt have stroke and die from stroke compared to those who live in the rest of the United States.”

This study showed that residents in more disadvantaged neighborhoods had greater stroke risk than those who lived in more advantaged neighborhoods. The neighborhood index is composed of six factors, including a higher value of housing units and higher proportion of residents employed in professional occupations. A higher score in all of these categories leads to a higher advantaged neighborhood.

The observation was true even after adjustment for age, race, sex and region of the country. But after adjustment for other stroke risk factors, there was no association between the level of the neighborhood advantage and stroke risk, suggesting that those living in more disadvantaged neighborhoods are more likely to develop risk factors including hypertension, diabetes and smoking. Because of being more likely to develop these risk factors, they are at higher risk of stroke.

Continue reading

Chart of the day: European Union obesity rates

From Eurostat:


Billions in health costs from plastic bottles, cans


For several years we’ve been posting about the grave health dangers posed by the flood of chemicals we’ve poured into our world, particularly compounds capable of mimicking natural chemicals critical to our welfare and manufactured by the body’s endocrine system.

These s-called endocrine disruptors have been linked to a whole host of afflictions, ranging from cancer and obesity to ADHD and fetal abnormalities and social isolation.

And now, for the first time, comes a report detailed the huge financial costs these chemicals are imposing on our already staggered healthcare system.

From New York Universit’s Langone Medical Center:

Annual healthcare costs and lost earnings in the United States from low-level but daily exposure to hazardous chemicals commonly found in plastic bottles, metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides, exceeds $340 billion, according to a detailed economic analysis by researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center.

The investigators who performed the calculations say the massive toll from everyday contact with endocrine-disrupting chemicals amounts to more than 2.3 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

Included in the team’s analysis, described online [$31.50 to read] October 17 in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, are estimated costs from more than 15 medical conditions linked by previous research to toxic levels of these chemicals. Scientists say chemical exposure occurs through gradual ingestion and buildup of these toxins as consumer products are used and break down.

According to researchers, endocrine-disrupting chemicals have for decades been known to pose a danger to human health because the compounds can interfere with natural hormone function. Such chemicals include bisphenol A (BPA), commonly used to line tin food cans; phthalates, used in the manufacture of plastic food containers and many cosmetics; polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB)-like polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, found in flame retardants in furniture and packaging; and pesticides, such as chlorpyrifos and organophosphates.

However, the researchers say their new analysis, which took three years to complete, is the first U.S. assessment of the costs associated with routine endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure and resulting increases not only in rates of neurological and behavioral disorders, but also in rates of male infertility, birth defects, endometriosis, obesity, diabetes, and some cancers, as well as diminished IQ scores.

More, including a video report, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Map of the day: Global maternal mortality rates

From the World Health Organization:

Maternal Mortality Ratio [per 100,000 live births]: 2015

Maternal Mortality Ratio [per 100,000 live births]: 2015