Fewer children at risk for deficient vitamin D

Under new guidelines from the Institute of Medicine, the estimated number of children who are at risk of having insufficient or deficient levels of vitamin D is drastically reduced from previous estimates, according to a Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine study.The study, led by Holly Kramer, MD, MPH, and Ramon Durazo-Arvizu, PhD, is published online ahead of print in the Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology and Metabolism.New Institute of Medicine guidelines say most people get sufficient vitamin D when their blood levels are at or above 20 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL). The Pediatric Endocrine Society has a similar guideline. However, other guidelines recommend vitamin D levels above 30 ng/mL.Loyola researchers studied vitamin D data from a nationally representative sample of 2,877 U.S. children and adolescents ages 6 to 18 who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.The study found that under the Institute of Medicine guidelines, 10.3 percent of children ages 6 to 18 are at risk of inadequate or deficient vitamin D levels. (This translates to an estimated 5.5 million children.)By comparison, a 2009 study in the journal Pediatrics, which defined sufficient vitamin D levels as greater than 30 ng/mL, found that an estimated 70 percent of people ages 1 to 21 had deficient or insufficient vitamin D levels.Under previous guidelines, millions of children who had vitamin D levels between 20 and 30 ng/mL would have needed supplementation. Under the Institute of Medicine guidelines, children in this range no longer need to take vitamin D supplements.The new study found that children at risk of vitamin D deficiency under the Institute of Medicine guidelines are more likely to be overweight, female, non-white and between the ages of 14 and 18.The Institute of Medicine’s new vitamin D guidelines are based on nearly 1,000 published studies and testimony from scientists and other experts. The IOM found that vitamin D is essential to avoid poor bone health, such as rickets. But there have been conflicting and mixed results in studies on whether vitamin D can also protect against cancer, heart disease, autoimmune diseases and diabetes. Moreover, excessive vitamin D can damage the kidneys and heart, the IOM found.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Loyola University Health System. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Teaching young wolves new tricks: Wolves are considerably better imitators than dogs

Although wolves and dogs are closely related, they show some striking differences. Scientists from the Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna have undertaken experiments that suggest that wolves observe one another more closely than dogs and so are better at learning from one another. The scientists believe that cooperation among wolves is the basis of the understanding between dogs and humans. Their findings have been published in the online journal PLOS ONE.Wolves were domesticated more than 15,000 years ago and it is widely assumed that the ability of domestic dogs to form close relationships with humans stems from changes during the domestication process. But the effects of domestication on the interactions between the animals have not received much attention. The point has been addressed by Friederike Range and Zsfia Virnyi, two members of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna (Vetmeduni Vienna) who work at the Wolf Science Center (WSC) in Ernstbrunn, Niedersterreich.Wolves copy other wolves solving problemsThe scientists found that wolves are considerably better than dogs at opening a container, providing they have previously watched another animal do so. Their study involved 14 wolves and 15 mongrel dogs, all about six months old, hand-reared and kept in packs. Each animal was allowed to observe one of two situations in which a trained dog opened a wooden box, either with its mouth or with its paw, to gain access to a food reward. Surprisingly, all of the wolves managed to open the box after watching a dog solve the puzzle, while only four of the dogs managed to do so. Wolves more frequently opened the box using the method they had observed, whereas the dogs appeared to choose randomly whether to use their mouth or their paw.Watch closely …To exclude the possibility that six-month old dogs fail the experiment because of a delayed physical or cognitive development, the researchers repeated the test after nine months. …

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New implanted defibrillator works well without touching heart

Aug. 26, 2013 — A new type of defibrillator implanted under the skin can detect dangerously abnormal heart rhythms and deliver shocks to restore a normal heartbeat without wires touching the heart, according to research in the American Heart Association journal, Circulation.The subcutaneous implantable cardiac defibrillator (S-ICD®) includes a lead placed under the skin along the left side of the breast bone. Traditional implantable cardiac defibrillators (ICDs) include electrical conducting wires inserted into blood vessels that touch the heart.ICDs can greatly reduce the risk of death in patients at high risk for sudden cardiac arrest.Physicians insert the new device without X-ray guidance, and have reduced concerns about broken lead wires, vessel damage, vessel infection and scarring that make traditional device removal difficult.”Defibrillation has repeatedly proven to be a great asset in prolonging the lives of cardiac patients, but there are still some risks to address,” said Martin C. Burke, D.O., senior author of the study and a professor of medicine and director of the Heart Rhythm Center at the University of Chicago. “This new system was developed over a dozen years to combine some of the best aspects of traditional implanted ICDs and external defibrillators.”In the 33-site study, 314 of 330 patients (average age 52) evaluated had the S-ICD® implanted. During an average 11-month follow-up, 21 patients spontaneously developed 38 episodes of ventricular fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia. All were successfully restored to a normal heart rhythm. In addition, 41 patients (13.1 percent) received shocks that were inappropriate because they weren’t preceded by a dangerous heart rhythm.The study surpassed goals set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for evaluating the safety and effectiveness of the new device:Ninety-nine percent of the S-ICD® patients remained free of complications 180 days following implantation, compared with a 79 percent goal. When tested by a purposely-induced abnormal rhythm following implantation, the S-ICD® was 100 percent effective at consistently detecting and reversing ventricular fibrillation. …

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Autistic kids who best peers at math show different brain organization

Aug. 16, 2013 — Children with autism and average IQs consistently demonstrated superior math skills compared with nonautistic children in the same IQ range, according to a study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.”There appears to be a unique pattern of brain organization that underlies superior problem-solving abilities in children with autism,” said Vinod Menon, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and a member of the Child Health Research Institute at Packard Children’s.The autistic children’s enhanced math abilities were tied to patterns of activation in a particular area of their brains — an area normally associated with recognizing faces and visual objects.Menon is senior author of the study, published online Aug. 17 in Biological Psychiatry. Postdoctoral scholar Teresa luculano, PhD, is the lead author.Children with autism have difficulty with social interactions, especially interpreting nonverbal cues in face-to-face conversations. They often engage in repetitive behaviors and have a restricted range of interests.But in addition to such deficits, children with autism sometimes exhibit exceptional skills or talents, known as savant abilities. For example, some can instantly recall the day of the week of any calendar date within a particular range of years — for example, that May 21, 1982, was a Friday. And some display superior mathematical skills.”Remembering calendar dates is probably not going to help you with academic and professional success,” Menon said. “But being able to solve numerical problems and developing good mathematical skills could make a big difference in the life of a child with autism.”The idea that people with autism could employ such skills in jobs, and get satisfaction from doing so, has been gaining ground in recent years.The participants in the study were 36 children, ages 7 to 12. Half had been diagnosed with autism. The other half was the control group. …

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Breastfeeding duration appears associated with intelligence later in life

July 29, 2013 — Breastfeeding longer is associated with better receptive language at 3 years of age and verbal and nonverbal intelligence at age 7 years, according to a study published by JAMA Pediatrics, a JAMA Network publication.Evidence supports the relationship between breastfeeding and health benefits in infancy, but the extent to which breastfeeding leads to better cognitive development is less certain, according to the study background.Mandy B. Belfort, M.D., M.P.H., of Boston Children’s Hospital, and colleagues examined the relationships of breastfeeding duration and exclusivity with child cognition at ages 3 and 7 years. They also studied the extent to which maternal fish intake during lactation affected associations of infant feeding and later cognition. Researchers used assessment tests to measure cognition.”Longer breastfeeding duration was associated with higher Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test score at age 3 years (0.21; 95% CI, 0.03-0.38 points per month breastfed) and with higher intelligence on the Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test at age 7 years (0.35; 0.16-0.53 verbal points per month breastfed; and 0.29; 0.05-0.54 nonverbal points per month breastfed),” according to the study results. However, the study also noted that breastfeeding duration was not associated with Wide Range Assessment of Memory and Learning scores.As for fish intake (less than 2 servings per week vs. greater than or equal to 2 servings), the relationship between breastfeeding duration and the Wide Range Assessment of Visual Motor Abilities at 3 years of age appeared to be stronger in children of women with higher vs. lower fish intake, although this finding was not statistically significant, the results also indicate.”In summary, our results support a causal relationship of breastfeeding in infancy with receptive language at age 3 and with verbal and nonverbal IQ at school age. These findings support national and international recommendations to promote exclusive breastfeeding through age 6 months and continuation of breastfeeding through at least age 1 year,” the authors conclude.Breastfeeding and Cognition: Can IQ Tip the Scale?In an editorial, Dimitri A. Christakis, M.D., M.P.H., of the Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Institute, writes: “The authors reported an IQ benefit at age 7 years from breastfeeding of 0.35 points per month on the verbal scale and 0.29 points per month on the nonverbal one. Put another way, breastfeeding an infant for the first year of life would be expected to increase his or her IQ by about four points or one-third of a standard deviation.””However, the problem currently is not so much that most women do not initiate breastfeeding, it is that they do not sustain it. …

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Pocket-sized sensor gives instant fat burning updates

July 24, 2013 — Fitness fanatics may soon be able to gauge if their hard work is paying off without the need for weighing scales thanks to a new device that can instantly tell if your body is burning fat.The device has been presented today, 25 July, in IOP Publishing’s Journal of Breath Research.Acetone is primarily produced in the blood when fat is broken down; however, it is also expelled through tiny sacs, called alveoli, in the lungs during exhalation and is therefore present in exhaled breath.This new device, which is capable of detecting acetone concentrations in the range of 0.2 to 50 parts-per-million, is just 10 cm long, weighs 125 g and requires two AA batteries to operate.Developed by a group of researchers from NTT DOCOMO Research Laboratories, the device consists of a pressure sensor to detect the exhaled breath and two types of semiconductor-based gas sensors to detect acetone.After a user blows into the device, the acetone concentration levels can be calculated and sent to a smartphone, either by Bluetooth or a cable, within 10 seconds.In their study, the researchers recruited 17 healthy adult volunteers (11 men and six women), whose body mass indexes (BMIs) were above the Japanese standard, to test the device.The volunteers were split into three groups, the first of which carried on with their normal life and were not restricted to a specific numbers of calories in their diet and not required to take part in exercise.The second group were required to take part in light exercise, such as jogging or fast walking, for 30-60 minutes a day and the final group were required to take part in the same exercise routine and also consume a limited number of calories in their diet each day.The experiment lasted 14 days and on each day before breakfast, the volunteers were required to measure their body weight, body fat percentage and breath acetone concentrations using the portable device and a standard instrument for comparison.Results showed that the volunteers in the first two groups — those leading a normal life and those performing daily exercise — were not able to lose significant amounts of fat. Their breath acetone concentrations also remained constant.The volunteers in the third group who followed the exercise regime and had their calorific intake restricted were able to lose significant amounts of fat and their breath acetone concentrations were increased significantly.Principal investigator of the study, Satoshi Hiyama, said: “Because obesity increases the risk of lifestyle-related illnesses, enabling users to monitor the state of fat burning could play a pivotal role in daily diet management. Current standard methods, however, are still not practically suitable for point-of-care instrumentation for diet-conscious people who wish to monitor their own fat metabolism at home or outside””Considering that the effect of dieting could be estimated from changes in breath acetone concentrations, we’ve shown that our prototype is a practical and alternative checker that can be used in individual dieting programmes.””It is also known that when diabetes is out of control, patients have elevated levels of breath acetone. It is possible that our prototype could be used to assess how diabetic control is being managed at home.”

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Bringing cheaper, ‘greener’ lighting to market with inkjet-printed hybrid quantum dot LEDs

June 4, 2013 — It’s not easy going green. For home lighting applications, organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) hold the promise of being both environmentally friendly and versatile. Though not as efficient as regular light-emitting diodes (LEDs), they offer a wider range of material choices and are more energy efficient than traditional lights. OLEDs can also be applied to flexible surfaces, which may lead to lights or television displays that can be rolled up and stowed in a pocket.A promising line of research involves combining the OLEDs with inorganic quantum dots, tiny semiconductor crystals that emit different colors of light depending on their size. These “hybrid” OLEDs, also called quantum dot LEDs (QD-LEDs), increase the efficiency of the light-emitting devices and also increase the range of colors that can be produced. But commercially manufacturing this promising green technology is still difficult and costly.To make OLEDs more cheaply and easily, researchers from the University of Louisville in Kentucky are developing new materials and production methods using modified quantum dots and inkjet printing. The team will discuss its work developing more commercially feasible QD-LED devices at the Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO: 2013) June 9-14 in San Jose, Calif.According to Delaina Amos, professor at the University of Louisville and principal investigator of the team’s efforts, expense of materials and manufacturing processes has been a major barrier to using OLEDs in everyday lighting devices.To inexpensively apply the quantum dots to their hybrid devices, the Louisville researchers use inkjet printing, popular in recent years as a way to spray quantum dots and OLED materials onto a surface with great precision. But unlike other groups experimenting with this method, Amos’ team has focused on adapting the inkjet printing technique for use in a commercial setting, in which mass production minimizes expense and translates to affordable off-the-shelf products. “We are currently working at small scale, typically 1 inch by 1 inch for the OLEDs,” Amos says. “The process can be scaled up from here, probably to 6 inches by 6 inches and larger.””There’s a reason you don’t see OLED lights on sale at the hardware store,” says Amos, though she adds that they do find uses in small devices such as cameras, photo frames, and cell phone displays. …

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Century-old ocean data provides further confirmation of global warming

May 28, 2013 — A new NASA and university analysis of ocean data collected more than 135 years ago by the crew of the HMS Challenger oceanographic expedition provides further confirmation that human activities have warmed our planet over the past century.

Researchers from the University of Tasmania, Sandy Bay, Australia; and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., combined the ship’s measurements of ocean temperatures with modern observations from the international Argo array of ocean profiling floats. They used both as inputs to state-of-the-art climate models, to get a picture of how the world’s oceans have changed since the Challenger’s voyage.

The Challenger expedition, from 1872 to 1876, was the world’s first global scientific survey of life beneath the ocean surface. Along the way, scientists measured ocean temperatures, lowering thermometers hundreds of meters deep on ropes.

“The key to this research was to determine the range of uncertainty for the measurements taken by the crew of the Challenger,” said Josh Willis, a JPL climate scientist and NASA project scientist for the upcoming U.S./European Jason-3 oceanography satellite, scheduled to launch in 2015. “After we had taken all these uncertainties into account, it became apparent that the rate of warming we saw across the oceans far exceeded the degree of uncertainty around the measurements. So, while the uncertainty was large, the warming signal detected was far greater.”

Uncertainties around the Challenger’s measurements were caused by the limited areas measured during the voyage; the actual depths the thermometers descended to; and the likely natural variation in temperature that could occur in each region during the voyage.

“Our research revealed warming of the planet can be clearly detected since 1873 and that our oceans continue to absorb the great majority of this heat,” said researcher and lead author Will Hobbs of the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies and the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science. “Currently, scientists estimate the oceans absorb more than 90 percent of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases, and we attribute the global warming to anthropogenic (human-produced) causes.”

The Challenger expedition measurements also revealed that thermal expansion of sea water caused by global warming contributed about 40 percent of the total sea level rise seen in tide gauges from 1873 to 1955. The remaining 60 percent was likely to have come from the melting of ice sheets and glaciers. Prior to this research, climate models offered the only way to estimate the change before the 1950s.

Results of the study are published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

For more on the study, visit: http://www.imas.utas.edu.au/right-column-content/whats-new3/news/century-old-science-helps-confirm-global-warming .

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Zeal to ensure clean leafy greens takes bite out of riverside habitat in California

May 6, 2013 — Meticulous attention to food safety is a good thing. As consumers, we like to hear that produce growers and distributers go above and beyond food safety mandates to ensure that healthy fresh fruits and vegetables do not carry bacteria or viruses that can make us sick.

But in California’s Salinas Valley, some more vigorous interventions are cutting into the last corners of wildlife habitat and potentially threatening water quality, without evidence of food safety benefits. These policies create tensions between wildlife preservation and food safety where none need exist, say scientists for The Nature Conservancy, writing in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. The study will be published online ahead of print on Monday, May 6th, 2013.

“Farming practices for food safety that target wildlife are damaging valuable ecological systems despite low risk from these animals,” said lead author Sasha Gennet.

Check the back of your bag of spinach or prepackaged salad greens, and you’ll probably find that they came from the Salinas Valley. Salad is big business in California.

In the aftermath of a deadly 2006 Escherichia coli serotype O157:H7 outbreak traced to California spinach, growers and distributers of leafy greens came together to create the California Leafy Green Handler Marketing Agreement (LGMA) on best practices for the industry, enforced by third-party auditors and inspectors. The LGMA established standards for farm work hygiene, produce processing and transport, and proximity to livestock. About 99 percent of California leafy greens now come from participating farms.

But produce farmers in the Salinas Valley report pressure from some powerful buyers to take additional precautions not mandated by government or industry standards. These buyers insist that swathes of bare ground wider than a football field is long separate the leafy greens from rivers, wetlands and other wildlife habitat.

Other precautions include treating irrigation water with chemicals toxic to fish and amphibians, and setting poisoned bait for rodents.

“The California Leafy Green Hander agreement is transparent, flexible and science based,” said Gennet. “Going above and beyond it just creates costs for farmers and doesn’t improve safety.”

It also creates costs for wildlife. Although scant evidence exists of risk of food-borne disease spread by wildlife, the risk of rejection of produce by major buyers is too much for most growers to bear, say Gennet and her co-authors. They measured changes in wetlands and riverside habitat in the Salinas Valley between 2005 and 2009, finding 13.3 percent converted to bare ground, crops or otherwise diminished. Widespread introduction of fencing blocked wildlife corridors. Low barriers even kept out the frogs.

Unlike the LGMA standards, individual corporate requirements for farm produce are generally not transparent to the public. But in surveys, farmers report pressure from auditors to implement fences and bare ground buffers around spinach, lettuce, and other leafy greens.

Such pressures have set back years of collaboration between growers and environmental advocates to make farm edges slim sanctuaries for wildlife, as well as buffers between agricultural fields and waterways. Fallow strips along streams and rivers provide corridors for migrating animals and birds.

“This is an area that is already 95 percent altered — the habitat that remains is critical,” said Gennet. “Removing 13 percent of what is already heavily-impacted habitat and cutting off wildlife corridors is a significant loss.”

The Salinas River and its tributaries are an important rest stop on the Pacific Flyway, a major migration route for neotropical songbirds, and home to raptors and shorebirds. The waterways are also corridors for deer and other big animals moving between the high country of the Diablo Range and coastal Big Sur mountains that flank the valley.

Wetlands and buffers of trees, grasses, and shrubs help to keep runoff from fields out of the waterways, slowing erosion of soil and blooms of algae downstream. An overabundance of fertilizer has created problems for domestic drinking water as well as the ecosystems of the Salinas River watershed and its outlet, Monterey Bay.

“California has a big problem with concentrated nutrients in waterways, and there is a lot of pressure on growers to reduce those inputs — so to the extent that riverside wildlife habitat could be a benefit all around, a coordinated approach to agricultural management and policy makes the most sense,” said Gennet.

“The policies that these distributors are forming are very narrow,” said Lisa Schulte Moore, an agricultural ecologist at Iowa State University who is not affiliated with the Nature Conservancy study. Nervous distributers are looking at specific risks in isolation, she said, and not asking “does the food system create a healthy human environment?”

Schulte Moore works with Iowa farmers to incorporate native grassland habitat alongside corn and soy fields. Her experiments look for native grass mixtures that don’t tend to invade the crops and are highly attractive to beneficial native insects, including the natural enemies of agricultural pests. “If we design the systems right there could be substantial benefits to the agricultural system as a whole,” she said.

The key word, Gennet says, is “co-management.” As a community, we need to approach food health, wildlife health, and water health in the Salinas Valley as parts of an integrated system. She would like to see California growers, buyers, and consumers rely on standards like the LGMA. “We think it’s been a good process, using the newest science and trying to take a constructive approach. If everybody stuck to those standards, that would be a good outcome,” said Gennet.

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