Transformation and flocculation of riverine organic matter in estuaries

Microbes and the salt in sea water significantly shape organic matter transported by rivers to their estuaries, clarifies researcher Eero Asmala in his doctoral thesis at the Finnish Environment Institute. In his study, Asmala investigated changes in riverine dissolved organic matter in the Baltic Sea’s estuaries.”The study found significant flocculation of organic matter even at very low salinities at the mouth of the river. This is likely to affect the bottom sediment and biota, as a considerable proportion of the riverine organic load ends up in a relatively narrow zone along the coast,” Eero Asmala says.Flocculation was found to be selective. It changes the composition of organic matter en route from land to sea, removing humic compounds and reducing average molecular size, among other things.The material in the doctoral research study consisted of field and laboratory data. The changes in riverine organic matter in estuaries were investigated by means of various chemical and biological analyses. The results of the study refine the picture of the estuarine carbon and nutrient cycle as well as strengthen the link between land-use and the status of Finland’s coastal waters.A million tonnes of different compoundsThe cycle of organic matter in estuaries is not understood well, even though the nonpoint source pollution carried from the riverine catchment is one of the main causes of eutrophication of the Baltic Sea. Finnish rivers discharge approximately one million tonnes of organic carbon into the Baltic annually. The majority of this carbon is in a dissolved form distinguishing it from the particulate form, in other words, the individual molecules are less than a micrometre in size.”Dissolved organic matter (DOM) consists of thousands of different compounds whose properties vary widely. Some DOM is more and some is less readily available for the microbial food web such as bacteria and algae. In addition to carbon, DOM also contains other elements such as nitrogen and phosphorus, which are active in marine eutrophication,” Asmala explains.Variation between rivers and seasons, impact of land-use In his study, Asmala found considerable variation in the properties of riverine organic matter between rivers and seasons. …

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Love is good for the heart, cardiologist says

With Valentine’s Day just one day away, Vanderbilt Heart and Vascular Institute cardiologist Julie Damp, M.D., says being involved in a healthy, loving relationship is good for the heart.”There are different theories behind why that might be,” Damp said.Most of the theories seem to be related to the fact that people who are married or who are in close, healthy relationships tend to be less likely to smoke, are more physically active and are more likely to have a well-developed social structure. Along with that, they may have lower levels of stress and anxiety in their day-to-day lives, may seek medical attention more quickly, and may be more likely to take preventive medications.A recent study from Finland showed that married men and women had a significantly lower risk of both having heart attacks and dying from a heart attack compared to people who were single.”There is also a theory that people who are in loving relationships may experience neuro-hormonal changes that have positive effects on the body, including the cardiovascular system,” she said, explaining that there are certain hormone levels in the body that vary depending on the level of an individual’s stress and anxiety.”This has not been proven, but the idea is that being in a relationship that is positive may have positive effects on your cardiovascular system over long periods of time,” Damp said. In fact, studies have shown that relationships that involve conflict or negativity are associated with an increase in risk for coronary artery disease.Giving your loved one a box of dark chocolates and a bottle of red wine won’t hurt either. Studies suggest they are good for the heart, as well.Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, which are antioxidants. Antioxidants have positive effects on many different body systems including the cardiovascular system. The high concentration of cocoa in dark chocolate appears to be what offers the flavonoid benefit.”Dark chocolate has been shown to be associated with lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar levels and improvement in the way your blood vessels dilate and relax,” Damp said.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Finnish agriculture increasingly steered by market forces

Agriculture in Finland is becoming more market driven in the next few years. EU and national support systems will continue to protect production, but the risks due to fluctuating prices will increase. MTT Agrifood Research Finland anticipates that the major structural changes in agriculture will continue, and the number of livestock farms in particular will decrease steadily.Last year, an agreement was reached on the common EU agricultural policy until 2020. The recent report by MTT Agrifood Research Finland describes the outlook of Finnish agriculture in the following five years.The market will take up the reinsThe agricultural production volumes in Finland on average will remain at the current level until 2020. Even though subsidies in nominal terms will remain in place to maintain production volumes, their real value will decrease. In order to maintain the income level, a larger part of the agricultural revenue than before must be gained from the products sold in the market.”The markets will increasingly influence what happens to the production, income and profitability in the agricultural sector. Prices will fluctuate wildly, which means that the market risks of agricultural enterprises increase both in the sale of products and the acquisition of production inputs,” says Professor Jyrki Niemi, MTT Agrifood Research Finland.For Finland, there will be no significant changes in the overall level of EU support to agriculture by 2020. “Since Finland’s northern circumstances were taken into account in the level of production-based support, the definition of less-favoured areas and the greening practices, the reform will not cause any dramatic changes in the Finnish agricultural market or production,” Niemi says.Precautions must be taken against production risksThe role of the state in the compensation of crop damages will change. After a transition period, crop damages will no longer be compensated directly from state funds. Instead, the state will participate in covering crop damages by creating prerequisites for commercial crop damage insurance.”The most important prerequisite for the creation of commercial insurance and insurance market is closing down the current system, which is completely funded by the state. …

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Scientists shine spotlight on Herdwick sheep origins

A new study highlights surprising differences between Herdwick sheep and their closest neighbouring UK upland breeds. The research, led by The Sheep Trust, a national charity based at the University of York, is the first of its kind to compare the genetics of three commercially farmed breeds all concentrated in the same geographical region of the UK.Scientists worked with hill farmers to explore the genetic structures of Herdwicks, Rough Fells and Dalesbred, breeds locally adapted to the harsh conditions of mountains and moorlands.The study, published in PLOS ONE, discovered that Herdwicks contained features of a ‘primitive genome’, found previously in very few breeds worldwide and none that have been studied in the UK mainland. The data suggest that Herdwicks may originate from a common ancestral founder flock to breeds currently living in Sweden and Finland, and the northern islands of Orkney and Iceland.Herdwicks and Rough Fell sheep both showed rare genetic evidence of a historical link to the ancestral population of sheep on Texel, one of the islands in the Wadden Sea Region of northern Europe and Scandinavia.Local Cumbrian folklore speaks of connections between the Herdwicks and Viking settlers. The coming together of the genetic evidence with historical evidence of Viking raiders and traders in the Wadden islands and adjacent coastal regions, suggests the folklore is right but extends the connection to Rough Fells.One outcome of the scientific study united the three hill breeds. The Herdwick, Rough Fell and Dalesbred each showed a lower than average risk of infection to Maidi Visna, a virus causing a slow-acting disease affecting millions of sheep worldwide with massive welfare and economic impacts. These new data provide evidence to support suggestions that the native hill breeds are less susceptible to the virus.Mainstream agriculture is looking to locally adapted breeds of livestock to increase resilience to new pressures from climate change and the need to protect food security but at lower cost. The study demonstrates the potential these breeds offer in providing novel genetic traits that may help sheep farming in the future.Professor Dianna Bowles, an Emeritus Professor in the Department of Biology at York and Chair of The Sheep Trust, led the study.She said: “This is an important start to show policy makers just how important the genetics of these breeds may be. Currently the sheep are farmed in large numbers and it is essential we take steps to ensure a commercial future for them, since they have the traits and adaptations to harsh conditions that agriculture might well need in years to come. If the breeds are lost we lose forever the opportunities offered by this crucial biodiversity.”Amanda Carson, a vet and Secretary of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders Association, added: “We all hope the results will help to convince Government of the importance of the genetic distinctiveness of these breeds. They enable low input farming and food production on land unsuitable for other forms of agriculture. …

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Spatial, written language skills predict math competence

Oct. 22, 2013 — Early math skills are emerging as important to later academic achievement. As many countries seek to strengthen their workforces in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, understanding the early contributions to math skills becomes increasingly vital. New longitudinal research from Finland has found that children’s early spatial skills and knowledge of written letters, rather than oral language skills, predict competence in this area.The research also found that children’s ability to count sequences of numbers serve as a bridge: Children with stronger early spatial skills and knowledge of written letters did better in counting sequences of numbers; such skill in counting was related to later math competence in general.Published in the journal Child Development, the study was conducted by researchers at The Hong Kong Institute of Education, and the Niilo Mäki Institute and the University of Jyväskylä, both in Finland.”Our results provide strong evidence that children’s early acquisition of written language, spatial, and number skills forms important foundations for the development of their competence in math in the elementary years,” according to Xiao Zhang, assistant professor of psychology at The Hong Kong Institute of Education, who led the study. Spatial skills involve the ability to understand problems that relate to physical spaces, shapes, and forms.”As a practical matter, programs that build young children’s spatial and written language skills might help accelerate subsequent number-related knowledge and, in turn, the development of competence in math.”Researchers tested the linguistic and spatial skills of 1,880 Finnish children in kindergarten, gauging their awareness of phonetics, knowledge of letters and vocabulary, and understanding of spatial relations. Then they tested the children’s math performance on paper-and-pencil tests from first to third grade. With a randomly selected group of about 375 children from the initial group, the researchers also tested how well the children could count numbers in forward and backward sequences when they were in first grade.Children with better written language skills (those with more knowledge of written letters) not only had stronger math competence at the start of first grade, but advanced more rapidly in math through third grade. In contrast, children with strong oral language skills were not more likely to show strong math ability later.Spatial skills also were found to predict children’s development in math: Children with better spatial skills had stronger competence in math in first grade and later had more growth over time. And spatial and written language skills improved the development of math by enhancing children’s knowledge of sequential counting.

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Physical activity decreases sudden cardiac death risk in unfit men

Sep. 1, 2013 — Physical activity decreases the risk of sudden cardiac death in unfit men, reveals research presented at the ESC Congress today by Dr Jari Laukkanen and Dr Magnus Hagnas from Finland.Dr Laukkanen said: “Sudden cardiac death (SCD) accounts for approximately 50% of deaths from coronary heart disease. SCD typically occurs shortly after the onset of symptoms, leaving little time for effective medical interventions, and most cases occur outside hospital with few or no early warning signs. Finding ways to identify individuals at elevated risk of SCD would allow early interventions on risk factors to be implemented.” The current study investigated the impact of high leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) combined with cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) on risk of SCD. It included 2,656 randomly selected men aged 42 to 60 years from the Kuopio Ischemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study, a Finnish study of risk predictors for cardiovascular outcomes and SCD in the general population. Baseline cycle exercise test and risk factor assessment were performed in 1984-89. SCD was defined as death with cardiac origin within 24 hours after onset of symptoms.LTPA was assessed using a 12-month physical activity questionnaire. One third of subjects had low LTPA (energy consumption <191 kcal/day, equal to around 35 minutes of slow walking or 25 minutes of jogging for a 70 kg male). CRF was assessed with a maximal symptom limited cycle exercise test and peak oxygen uptake was calculated in metabolic equivalents (MET). One third of men had a low CRF (<7.9 METs).</p>For the analyses the study population was divided into 4 groups: 1) high CRF and high LTPA, 2) high CRF and low LTPA, 3) low CRF and high LTPA and 4) low CRF and low LTPA. …

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Personal goals may facilitate or hinder older adults’ striving for exercise

Aug. 28, 2013 — Although exercise may significantly promote healthy aging, many older adults remain sedentary. Based on a study conducted in the Gerontology Research Center at the University of Jyväskylä, one reason for this may lie behind older adults’ personal goals.Share This:”We noticed that those older women who had personal goals related to their own or other people’s health, or to independent living, less frequently set exercise as one of their personal goals. Thus it seems that when life situation requires focusing goals on health issues or simply managing daily life at home, people may not have the energy to strive for exercise activity,” says doctoral student Milla Saajanaho from the Gerontology Research Center.The results of the study showed that those older women who had set exercise as one of their personal goals were more likely to exercise actively and also maintained their exercise activity higher in an eight-year follow-up. Personal goals related to cultural activities and to busying oneself around home further increased the likelihood for high exercise activity. Being generally active in life also seems to be beneficial for exercise activity.-“When we are trying to promote older adults’ exercise activity, we should always take into account their individual life situation, which may require focusing on other things in life instead of exercising. By considering all personal goals a person has, we could also find ways to include exercise into his/her life. And as so many older adults have personal goals related to health, it would be beneficial to remember that striving for exercise is also beneficial for maintaining health and functioning,” Saajanaho concludes.The study was conducted in the Gerontology Research Center, which is a joint effort between the University of Jyväskylä and the University of Tampere, and it is part of the Finnish Twin study on Ageing. In total 308 women between the ages of 66 to 79 participated in the study.Share this story on Facebook, Twitter, and Google:Other social bookmarking and sharing tools:|Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by Suomen Akatemia (Academy of Finland), via AlphaGalileo. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. …

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Hodgkin lymphoma treatment linked to possible risk of stomach cancer

Aug. 27, 2013 — Hodgkin lymphoma survivors who received certain radiation and chemotherapy regimens were at increased risk of subsequently developing stomach cancer, according to a study by scientists at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health. The study appeared Aug. 26, 2013, in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.Hodgkin lymphoma is a cancer of the immune system. It is one of the most common cancers among adolescents and young adults in the United States. Major advances in treatment for this cancer, such as different types of chemotherapy and more targeted radiotherapy, have led to improvements in survival. According to data from NCI’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program, the five-year survival rate for Hodgkin’s from 1975 to1977 was 72 percent; from 2003 to 2009 it was 88 percent.While the cure rate for this disease is high, there is a risk of developing secondary malignancies, such as breast cancer, lung cancer and stomach cancer. Past studies have linked Hodgkin lymphoma radiation and chemotherapy treatments with stomach cancer risk, but those studies have been limited in scope. To better understand the relationship between Hodgkin lymphoma treatments and subsequent stomach cancer risk, Lindsay M. Morton, Ph.D., NCI Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, and her colleagues analyzed data from the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, the United States and Canada. …

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In mild strokes, ultra-early treatment may eliminate risk of disability

Aug. 22, 2013 — In the case of mild or moderate strokes, getting treatment ultra-fast — within 90 minutes of experiencing symptoms — greatly reduces the risk of suffering disability, according to a new study reported in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke.The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association recommends getting to a hospital within three hours of the onset of stroke symptoms. According to guidelines, clot-busting drugs may be given to treat stroke up to 4.5 hours after the onset of symptoms.The study found that survivors with mild to moderate strokes who were given the clot-busting drugs in the first 90 minutes of the recommended time window had little or no disability three months later compared to those who were treated between 90 and 270 minutes.”Ultra-early treatment increases the likelihood of excellent outcome in patients with moderately severe symptoms, and in secondary analysis also in those with mild symptoms,” said Daniel Strbian, M.D., Ph.D., from the Department of Neurology at Helsinki University Central Hospital in Helsinki, Finland. “All measures must be taken to reduce onset-to-treatment time as much as possible.”The study included more than 6,800 stroke patients at 10 stroke centers in Europe over 14 years. They were treated intravenously with Alteplase, a clot-busting drug that is given through an IV in the vein. Patients were separated into three groups based on stroke severity — minor (NIH stroke score 0-6), mild/moderate (NIH score 7-12), or moderate/severe (NIH score higher than 12). Those with mild to moderate stroke seemed to benefit most from the ultra-early care. Early treatment also helped those with minor strokes, but the likelihood of disability is already very low in these patients.Those with severe stroke did not benefit as much from the ultra-early treatment because they had severe artery blockage.”We need more research to offer something more for people with severe strokes,” Strbian said.

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Free-floating planets may be born free

Aug. 20, 2013 — Tiny, round, cold clouds in space have all the right characteristics to form planets with no parent star. New observations, made with Chalmers University of Technology telescopes, show that not all free-floating planets were thrown out of existing planetary systems. They can also be born free.Previous research has shown that there may be as many as 200 billion free-floating planets in our galaxy, the Milky Way. Until now scientists have believed that such “rogue planets,” which don’t orbit around a star, must have been ejected from existing planetary systems.New observations of tiny dark clouds in space point out another possibility: that some free-floating planets formed on their own.A team of astronomers from Sweden and Finland used several telescopes to observe the Rosette Nebula, a huge cloud of gas and dust 4600 light years from Earth in the constellation Monoceros (the Unicorn).They collected observations in radio waves with the 20-metre telescope at Onsala Space Observatory in Sweden, in submillimetre waves with APEX in Chile, and in infrared light with the New Technology Telescope (NTT) at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile.”The Rosette Nebula is home to more than a hundred of these tiny clouds — we call them globulettes,” says Gösta Gahm, astronomer at Stockholm University, who led the project.”They are very small, each with diameter less than 50 times the distance between the Sun and Neptune. Previously we were able to estimate that most of them are of planetary mass, less than 13 times Jupiter’s mass. Now we have much more reliable measures of mass and density for a large number of these objects, and we have also precisely measured how fast they are moving relative to their environment,” he says.”We found that the globulettes are very dense and compact, and many of them have very dense cores. That tells us that many of them will collapse under their own weight and form free-floating planets. The most massive of them can form so-called brown dwarfs,” says team member Carina Persson, astronomer at Chalmers University of Technology.Brown dwarfs, sometimes called failed stars, are bodies whose mass lies between that of planets and stars.The study shows that the tiny clouds are moving outwards through the Rosette Nebula at high speed, about 80 000 kilometres per hour.”We think that these small, round clouds have broken off from tall, dusty pillars of gas which were sculpted by the intense radiation from young stars. They have been accelerated out from the centre of the nebula thanks to pressure from radiation from the hot stars in its centre,” explains Minja Mäkelä, astronomer at the University of Helsinki.According to Gösta Gahm and his team, the tiny dark clouds are being thrown out of the Rosette Nebula. …

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This is your brain on Vivaldi and Beatles

Aug. 7, 2013 — Listening to music activates large networks in the brain, but different kinds of music are processed differently. A team of researchers from Finland, Denmark and the UK has developed a new method for studying music processing in the brain during a realistic listening situation. Using a combination of brain imaging and computer modeling, they found areas in the auditory, motor, and limbic regions to be activated during free listening to music. They were furthermore able to pinpoint differences in the processing between vocal and instrumental music.Share This:The new method helps us to understand better the complex brain dynamics of brain networks and the processing of lyrics in music. The study was published in the journal NeuroImage.Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the research team, led by Dr. Vinoo Alluri from the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, recorded the brain responses of individuals while they were listening to music from different genres, including pieces by Antonio Vivaldi, Miles Davis, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, The Shadows, Astor Piazzolla, and The Beatles. Following this, they analyzed the musical content of the pieces using sophisticated computer algorithms to extract musical features related to timbre, rhythm and tonality. Using a novel cross-validation method, they subsequently located activated brain areas that were common across the different musical stimuli.The study revealed that activations in several areas in the brain belonging to the auditory, limbic, and motor regions were activated by all musical pieces. …

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Distinct brain disorders biologically linked: Disruption to the gene TOP3B increases susceptibility to schizophrenia and a learning disorder

Aug. 4, 2013 — A team of researchers have shown that schizophrenia and a disorder associated with autism and learning difficulties share a common biological pathway. This is one of the first times that researchers have uncovered genetic evidence for the underlying causes of schizophrenia.The team found that a disruption of the gene TOP3B, an exceedingly rare occurrence in most parts of the world, is fairly common in a uniquely genetically distinct founder population from North-eastern Finland. In this population, which has grown in relative isolation for several centuries, the disruption of TOP3B is associated with an increased risk of schizophrenia as well as with impairment in intellectual function and learning.Furthermore, the biochemical investigation of the protein encoded by the TOP3B gene allowed the researchers to gain first insight into the cellular processes that might be disturbed in the affected individuals.Although the past two decades have revealed a wealth of information about the genetics of disease, we still know little about the biology behind schizophrenia. Many associations between schizophrenia and genetic risk factors have been reported, but only a very few can be considered schizophrenia susceptibility genes. This study uncovers an important biological pathway that appears to underlie schizophrenia and could contribute to the cognitive impairment that is an important component of this disorder.”This is a tremendous discovery for our team; not only have we uncovered vital information about the biology behind schizophrenia, but we have also linked this same biological process to a disorder associated with learning difficulties,” says Dr Aarno Palotie, lead author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland. “Our findings offer great hope for future studies into the genetic basis of schizophrenia and other brain disorders, potentially finding new drug targets against them.”The North-eastern population of Finland has three times the frequency of schizophrenia compared to the national average in Finland, as well as a higher rate of intellectual impairment and learning difficulties. The team used data collected from this unique population to sift through genomic data for genetic deletions that may influence people’s susceptibility to schizophrenia.The team identified a rare genetic deletion affecting TOP3B in the North-eastern Finnish population that increases a person’s susceptibility to schizophrenia two-fold and that also is associated with an increased frequency of other disorders of brain development such as intellectual impairment. They speculate that this deletion directly disrupts the TOP3B gene to cause its effects on the brain.Having identified the link between TOP3B and schizophrenia, the researchers sought to understand why disrupting this gene might increase susceptibility to disease, and for this purpose they investigated the function of the protein that it encodes.”Such an approach is only possible when researchers from different disciplines — in our case geneticists and biochemists team up,” says Professor Utz Fischer, author from the University of Wurzburg. “Luckily, when we teamed up with the genetic team we had already worked on the TOP3B gene product for more than 10 years and hence had a good idea what this protein is doing.”TOP3B encodes a type of protein that typically helps the cell to unwind and wind DNA helices — essential to normal cell function. …

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Adverse effects of phthalates on ovarian response to IVF

July 8, 2013 — Egg donation is now one of the major reasons why couples travel abroad for fertility treatment. Because this growing trend may circumvent regulations at home or raise concerns about financial inducement, it has also become one of the most controversial. Yet little is known about the women who provide the donor eggs in overseas clinics — their characteristics, their motivation and their compensation.A study performed by ESHRE, which surveyed (by questionnaire) 1423 egg donors at 60 clinics in 11 European countries, has now found that the majority of donors are keen to help infertile couples for altruistic reasons, but a large proportion also expect a personal benefit, usually financial.(1,2)The study was performed during 2011 and 2012 by ESHRE’s Task Force on Cross-border Reproductive Care and European IVF Monitoring Consortium, with the results presented today by the chairman of the Task Force, Professor Guido Pennings of the Bioethics Institute Ghent, Belgium. The donor’s age proved an important factor in her motivation to donate. While the overall average age of the donors in this study was relatively young (27.4 years, ranging from 25.6 in Spain to 31 years in France), there was a significant effect of age on altruistic motives: 46% of the donors under 25 noted altruism alone as their motive compared to 79% of those over 35; 12% of those under 25 were purely financially motivated compared to 1% of those older than 35. The younger you are, apparently, the more is money a motivation.Among the donor groups identified in the study population were:Students (18% in Spain, 16% Finland, 13% Czech Republic) Unemployed (24% in Spain, 22% Ukraine, 17% Greece) Fully employed (75% in Belgium, 70% Poland, 28% Spain) Single women (50%+ in Spain and Portugal, 30% Greece) Other findings showed that around one-third of all study donors had a university degree, and around one half all donors had a child of their own. Why do donors go through a demanding IVF treatment cycle to donate eggs? The study firstly found that, while altruism was the principal motive overall, the majority of donors did receive financial compensation. “The fact that a person receives compensation or money does not mean that she is motivated by that money,” said Professor Pennings. However, the study made it clear that financial compensation is still an important motivation for many donors, especially in certain countries. …

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People’s perception of the effect of stress on their health is linked to risk of heart attacks

June 26, 2013 — People who believe that stress is having an adverse impact on their health are probably right, because they have an increased risk of suffering a heart attack, according to new research published online today (Thursday) in the European Heart Journal.The latest findings from the UK’s Whitehall II study, which has followed several thousand London-based civil servants since 1985, found that people who believe stress is affecting their health “a lot or extremely” had double the risk of a heart attack compared to people who didn’t believe stress was having a significant effect on their health. After adjusting for factors that could affect this result, such as biological, behavioural or psychological risk factors, they still had a 50% greater risk of suffering or dying from a heart attack.Previous results from Whitehall II and other studies have already shown that stress can have an adverse effect on people’s health, but this is the first time researchers have investigated people’s perceptions of how stress is affecting their health and linked it to their risk of subsequent heart disease.”This current analysis allows us to take account of individual differences in response to stress,” said Dr Hermann Nabi, the first author of the study, who is a senior research associate at the Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health at Inserm (Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale), Villejuif, France.Dr Nabi and his colleagues from France, Finland and the UK, followed 7268 men and women for a maximum of 18 years from 1991 when the question about perceived impact of stress on health was first introduced into the questionnaire answered by study participants. The average age of the civil servants in this analysis was 49.5 and during the 18 years of follow-up there were 352 heart attacks or deaths as a result of heart attack (myocardial infarction).The participants were asked to what extent they felt that stress or pressure they experienced in their lives had affected their health. They could answer: “not at all,” “slightly,” “moderately,” “a lot,” or “extremely.” The researchers put their answers into three groups: 1) “not at all,” 2) “slightly or moderately,” and 3) “a lot or extremely.” The civil servants were also asked about their perceived levels of stress, as well as about other lifestyle factors that could influence their health, such as smoking, alcohol consumption, diet, and levels of physical activity. Medical information, such as blood pressure, diabetes and body mass index, and socio-demographic data, such as marital status, age, sex, ethnicity and socio-economic status, was also collected. Data from the British National Health Service enabled researchers to follow the participants for subsequent years and to see whether or not they had a heart attack or died from it by 2009.After adjusting for socio-demographic characteristics, civil servants who reported at the beginning of the study that their health had been affected “a lot or extremely” by stress had more than double the risk (2.12 higher) of having a heart attack or dying from it compared with those who reported no effect of stress on their health. After further adjustments for biological, behavioural and other psychological risk factors, including stress levels and measures of social support, the risk was not as great, but still higher — nearly half as much again (49% higher) — than that seen in people who reported no effect on their health.Dr Nabi said: “We found that the association we observed between an individual’s perception of the impact of stress on their health and their risk of a heart attack was independent of biological factors, unhealthy behaviours and other psychological factors.”He added: “One of the important messages from our findings is that people’s perceptions about the impact of stress on their health are likely to be correct.”The authors say that their findings have far-reaching implications. Future studies of stress should include people’s perceptions of its impact on their health. From a clinical point of view, doctors should consider patients’ subjective perceptions and take them into account when managing stress-related health complaints.Dr Nabi said: “Our findings show that responses to stress or abilities to cope with stress differ greatly between individuals, depending on the resources available to them, such as social support, social activities and previous experiences of stress. Concerning the management of stress, I think that the first step is to identify the stressors or sources of stress, for example job pressures, relationship problems or financial difficulties, and then look for solutions. …

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Designated drivers don’t always abstain: One in three are impaired, study suggests

June 10, 2013 — Maybe better call that cab, after all: A new University of Florida study found that 35 percent of designated drivers had quaffed alcohol and most had blood-alcohol levels high enough to impair their driving.Adam Barry, an assistant professor of health education and behavior at UF, and his team interviewed and breath-tested more than 1,000 bar patrons in the downtown restaurant and bar district of a major university town in the Southeast. Of the designated drivers who had consumed alcohol, half recorded a blood-alcohol level higher than .05 percent — a recently recommended new threshold for drunken driving.”If you look at how people choose their designated drivers, oftentimes they’re chosen by who is least drunk or who has successfully driven intoxicated in the past — successful meaning got home in one piece … that’s disconcerting,” Barry said.The results are published in the July issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.The researchers recruited patrons as they left bars between 10 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. across six Friday nights before home football games in fall 2011. The mean age of the 1,071 people who agreed to be tested was 28. Most were white male college students, while 10 percent were Hispanic, 6 percent were Asian and 4 percent were African-American.After completing a 3-5 minute interview about demographic data and alcohol-related behaviors, participants then had their blood-alcohol content tested with a hand-held breath-testing instrument.The non-driving participants had significantly higher levels than the designated drivers, but 35 percent of the 165 self-identified designated drivers had been drinking. Seventeen percent of all those drivers tested had blood-alcohol levels between .02 and .049 percent, while 18 percent were at .05 percent or higher.The National Transportation Safety Board last month recommended all 50 states adopt a blood-alcohol content cutoff of 0.05 compared with the 0.08 standard used today to prosecute drunken driving. The American Medical Association made the same recommendation in the 1980s, Barry said.Barry said he doesn’t know why a designated driver would consume alcohol, but factors could include group dynamics or the driver’s belief that one or two drinks won’t impair his skills if he is an experienced drinker.Some field-based research suggests designated drivers might drink because the group did not consider who would drive before drinking commenced. Barry also suggested that it’s tricky for anyone to accurately evaluate their own sobriety.”That’s the insidious nature of alcohol — when you feel buzzed, you’re drunk,” he said.There is no universally accepted definition of a designated driver, according to the research. …

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Formula for turning cement into ‘metal’

May 27, 2013 — In a move that would make the Alchemists of King Arthur’s time green with envy, scientists have unraveled the formula for turning liquid cement into liquid metal. This makes cement a semi-conductor and opens up its use in the profitable consumer electronics marketplace for thin films, protective coatings, and computer chips.

“This new material has lots of applications, including as thin-film resistors used in liquid-crystal displays, basically the flat panel computer monitor that you are probably reading this from at the moment,” said Chris Benmore, a physicist from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory who worked with a team of scientists from Japan, Finland and Germany to take the “magic” out of the cement-to-metal transformation. Benmore and Shinji Kohara from Japan Synchrotron Radiation Research Institute/SPring-8 led the research effort.

This change demonstrates a unique way to make metallic-glass material, which has positive attributes including better resistance to corrosion than traditional metal, less brittleness than traditional glass, conductivity, low energy loss in magnetic fields, and fluidity for ease of processing and molding. Previously, only metals have been able to transition to a metallic-glass form. Cement does this by a process called electron trapping, a phenomena only previously seen in ammonia solutions. Understanding how cement joined this exclusive club opens the possibility of turning other solid normally insulating materials into room-temperature semiconductors.

“This phenomenon of trapping electrons and turning liquid cement into liquid metal was found recently, but not explained in detail until now,” Benmore said. “Now that we know the conditions needed to create trapped electrons in materials we can develop and test other materials to find out if we can make them conduct electricity in this way.”

The results were reported May 27 in the journal the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences in the article Network topology for the formation of solvated electrons in binary CaO-Al2O3 composition glasses.”

The team of scientists studied mayenite, a component of alumina cement made of calcium and aluminum oxides. They melted it at temperatures of 2,000 degrees Celsius using an aerodynamic levitator with carbon dioxide laser beam heating. The material was processed in different atmospheres to control the way that oxygen bonds in the resulting glass. The levitator keeps the hot liquid from touching any container surfaces and forming crystals. This let the liquid cool into glassy state that can trap electrons in the way needed for electronic conduction. The levitation method was developed specifically for in-situ measurement at Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source by a team led by Benmore.

The scientists discovered that the conductivity was created when the free electrons were “trapped” in the cage-like structures that form in the glass. The trapped of electrons provided a mechanism for conductivity similar to the mechanism that occurs in metals.

To uncover the details of this process, scientists combined several experimental techniques and analyzed them using a supercomputer. They confirmed the ideas in experiments using different X-ray techniques at Spring 8 in Japan combined with earlier measurements at the Intense Pulsed Neutron Source and the Advanced Photon Source.

Research was supported by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology of Japan, the Japan Science and Technology Agency, and the Academy of Finland.

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